Thursday, January 19, 2017

Trump's real German analog




Donald Trump takes office on Friday, and the world holds its breath.  Has a major nation ever been led by such a man—a flighty, unstable narcissist, self-indulgent to the core, who acts on impulse, wears his emotions on his sleeve, and bullies his subordinates with pithy, brief comments?  How exactly will the presence of such a man in the White House challenge the American people and the people of the world?

There is a very important historical precedent for Trump, dating from more than 100 years ago, on the other side of the Atlantic.  The leader in question was German—but not the Austro-German whose name seems to be on so many people’s lips.  The man in question was the German Emperor William II, the famous Kaiser Wilhelm, who ascended to the throne in 1888 at the age of 29 and ruled until driven into exile in the midst of defeat and revolution in November 1918, at the end for the First World War.  That war grew out of the biggest obsession of William’s imperial career: to make Germany not simply great, but greater—not merely the leading European nation, which it already was, but also a world power on the scale of the British Empire or the United States.

To illustrate the profound similarities between William and Donald Trump, I would like to begin with an appreciation written in 1897, when William was 38.  The author, Philip Eulenburg, was a nobleman and one of his intimate friends; the recipient was Bernhard von Bülow, a diplomat who had just become foreign minister and who would serve from 1899 until 1909 as Chancellor, the leading official of the empire.  Eulenburg’s advice on how to handle the emperor would undoubtedly serve the leading figures of the new administration very well.

“Wilhelm II takes everything personally. Only personal arguments make any impression on him.  He likes to give advice to others but is unwilling to take it himself.  He cannot stand boredom; ponderous, stiff, excessively thorough people get on his nerves and cannot get anywhere with him. Wilhelm II wants to shine and to do and decide everything himself.  What he wants to do himself unfortunately often goes wrong.  He loves glory, he is ambitious and jealous.  To get him to accept an idea one has to pretend that the idea came from him. . . . Never forget that His Majesty needs praise from time to time.  He is the sort of person who becomes sullen unless he is given recognition from time to time form some one of importance.”  (I owe this quote and much of the data here to the wonderful, multi-volume biogarphy of William by the British historian John C. G. Rohl.)

William also held grudges.  Although Donald Trump spent much of his life within the eastern establishment, he has now developed a hatred for the liberal elite and lashes out against anyone who dares question him on twitter.  William resented anyone who questioned his imperial authority.  Even though Germany had had a constitution since 1866 and his chancellors could not govern without the support of the Reichstag or parliament, he saw himself as a divinely ordained absolute ruler.  He frequently threatened to stage a coup d’etat and do away with the Reichstag altogether, and he regarded the two largest parties—the Social Democrats and the Catholics—as subversive elements whose leaders, he frequently said, should be shot.  

Like Trump, William could not control himself.  In Chancellor Bülow’s own memoirs, he told how he frequently accompanied the emperor on visits around Germany and had to beg the press not to print his latest intemperate remarks.  His famous “marginal notes” on state papers—his comments in his own handwriting—read like Trump’s tweets.  He frequently excoriated his own ministries and officials, as well as foreign leaders and domestic political opponents.  He also made commitments to foreign leaders without consulting his subordinates, and sometimes created European crises by insulting them in public.  He was sure he knew what foreign leaders intended, and his certainty that Russia would go to war with Germany as soon as it felt ready—an idea with very little basis in fact—played a big role in his aggressive policy in July 1914, which led to the First World War and his own and Germany’s downfall.  In one marginal note he actually claimed that sovereigns like himself could see the future in ways that statesmen and diplomats very rarely could.  And while these remarks were for the eyes of his leading subordinates alone, Trump has already stated or tweeted similar criticisms of military leaders and the intelligence committee for all to see.

The First World War might easily have broken out at various times between 1905 and 1914, but William’s civilian, military and naval leadership held him back during several previous crises.  That was not all.  In a famous passage in his memoirs, Bülow—who knew him as well as anyone—insisted that William did not want war, “if only because he did not trust his nerves not to give way in any really critical situation,” and knew that he could never command an army, lead a naval squadron, or even captain a ship. Whether Trump, another bully, will also prove to be a blowhard in office remains to be seen.  

William came to power at the age of 29 at the end of an age of confidence and stability, and reigned for 30 years before he fled to Holland in disgrace.  Trump is already 70, comes to power in the midst of a world political crisis, and knows he cannot remain in office for more than 8 years.  He seems in more of a hurry to put his own stamp on events—and the Republican Congress shares his feeling of urgency.  As a modern President of the United States, with Congressional majorities behind him, he is much closer to enjoying the absolute power that William only dreamed of.  Some subordinates inevitably will try to curry his favor by telling him what he wants to hear, while others may try to make him see reason and restrain his emotional impulses.  Trump is a commentary on the wretched state of our political life.  William II inherited his throne, but the American people elected Donald Trump.  William’s example suggests that Trump is truly a grave danger to our future as a nation. His tenure may well force his subordinates—whom he will select—to make difficult choices, and could force the Congress to choose between partisanship and fidelity to the Constitution.  Let us hope they are all up to the task.

11 comments:

SDW said...

William's behavior would certainly raise the question of Bipolar Disorder at the present time. If I remember correctly from what I remember reading ten years ago, his staff had to periodically take him out of circulation for months at a time because of erratic behavior. There are no reports that he was suicidal but one son did commit suicide over a love affair. suggesting the possibility that Bipolar Disorder ran in the family.

Prior Friar said...

This is a very good article, and an interesting analogy.
What I would like to comment about is the voting public in post WWI Germany and today's Trump supporters. I lived in Germany in the early 1980's, not in the military but rather working in a theater. I lived, worked, shopped, and socialized with ordinary German citizens. They got to know me well and I was accepted into society enough that I was allowed to "dutzen", address people by the familiar form of the word "you".
I got to know many people who came of age during Hitler's rise to power and served in WWII. Some were still unrepentant Nazi's, who openly expressed disappointment at losing "a war we should have won". The Nazi's were never a majority party, but Hitler spoke to their anger as successfully as Trump has to Americans. My impression is that many of the non-Nazi Germans of the 1930's and today's Trump supporters are interchangeable. Those Germans would have voted for Trump, and many of Trump's supporters (had they been raised in Germany) would have supported Trump.
I just hope that the American institutions like the military would not make a deal with Trump as the German military did with Hitler.

ed boyle said...

Your post fits a definite pattern which should remain uncommented. At any rate the generational theory predicted the arrival of exactly this type of person in a crisis. The crisis calls the leader. He is the ideal of the economic and political elite, egoistic con man, just more so, a one man band. The elite are also sociopathic but living off of each other in isolation from the people. Trump is like the king who can help the commoners directly while the nobility eye the spoils and one another with envy. He is more like JFK, independently wealthy with his own family base. Obama was the perfect servant of the elite. They let him into their circles so long as he did not rock the boat.Clintons were also parasites in this manner. They kept kowtowing to neocon neoliberals PC globalists with Chelsea's senatorship or presidential run in mind. Caesar was born to money,was pro commoner and toppled existing order. A commoner or ex slave climbing the social ladder would have never dared to do anything extraordinary if he were to become ruler, fearing laughter no doubt about bad table manners, social faux pas, etc.. I think all the creators of an American nobility have a problem on their hands. They can't acknowledge nobility and commoners structure in Amrica based on wealth and US globalist multiculturalism as fact and that this goes against the innherent interests of most Americans and obers. This is like the fish in the water who never heard of water. Trump is draining the lake.

Bozon said...

Professor
Interesting article. I don't think Wilhelm caused WWI. Most Americans have been taught that since Wilson. Plenty of scholars who have studied it agree Germany not the main cause. Kennan said something like 'Wilhelm's bark was worse than his bite'. You even point out Bulow's remark that Wilhelm was actually fearful of war, although I don't believe that either.

I had been willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt about warmongering, thinking he was much more savvy than that. Until I read the piece you referred to about the interview with you about Strauss and Howe, and to the Vatican presentation of Bannon you found.

These references at least indicate that Trump is influenced by some historical doctrines, conservative Christian Apocalypticism, and Strauss and Howe's crisis theory which has been railroaded by the right. He is also beholden to Conservative Jewry, but I may have gone too far in calling him a puppet of conservative Jewry. Let us say at least he shares some of their goals, as shown by doctrines shared by them and sold to conservative Christian stooges of Breitbart. And by his interest in Jerusalem, as his first foreign policy political point.

In terms of warmongers, he thus would bear a close resemblance to Lincoln, whose very election also signalled war to his adversaries. You had claimed I think that his election might trigger civil unrest and possibly civil war here. I doubt that that is where his intended foes lie, but it is possible. He has shown he is unsympathetic to blacks.

Who are Trump's intended adversaries? Not Southerners.

They are leaders of hostile, rival, and proto hostile powers in other civilizations all over the world, China, Russia, japan, The Middle East

all the best

pbrower2a1 said...

Fitting. Very fitting. Wilhelm II was not an evil man in the sense that Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or Saddam Hussein was. He did not intend to do great evil, but he unwittingly unleashed a whirlwind of horrible events from which the world still reels.

A more stable leader might have used the prestige of his great empire (and Germany truly was great going into 1914. He could have sought a negotiated agreement between Austria-Hungary, Serbia, and Russia as an honest broker; he might have even gotten the UK and the USA on his side. But that is contrafactual history. In a better universe, World War I does not happen, and neither do the Bolshevik Revolution, the rise of a man whose evil was more profound and deliberate than the last Kaiser, the Holocaust.

History may move faster today, and not all to the good. Donald Trump has even more power than Wilhelm II because of a servile Congress and greater mastery of media. Not that anyone could have predicted his specific bigotry before he was inaugurated, he has shown it far faster.

Practically all political leaders are different; just as Barack Obama has no perfect analogue among Presidents even if one ignores his ethnic origin (his closest in behavior, achievements, and temperament is probably Eisenhower)Donald Trump has no good analogue in American politics.

Unpleasant as it is to say, I remember meeting people much like Donald Trump when I was a youth in blue-collar schools in the 1970s, and I didn't like them then. They were juvenile delinquents who, like Wilhelm II and Donald Trump, were intemperate, arrogant, and impatient. Some of them had to face reality to survive in the economic reality that requires people to respect bosses and customers and grew up to be positive contributors to society with the suppression of their bad tendencies. Some maintained their bad tendencies and ended up in prison. In the privileged world of Donald Trump, the future plutocrat and President would never have to compromise his worst tendencies. Vile people can arise from among people who know every privilege.

Adrien Van der Donck said...

It should not be lost on David E. Kaiser that Pat Dollard, a fascist who calls himself “a conservative filmmaker,” a Breitbart troll, and follower of Steve Bannon. was traced back as the probable source of a cut-out forged email attributed to historian David Kaiser, comparing the rise of President Barack Obama to the emergence of Adolf Hitler during the Weimar Republic.

Mr. Kaiser’s most admired work of history is “No End Save Victory,” an account of the judgment and restraint of Roosevelt in holding the nation back from heading into World War Two until its machinery could be adequately ramped up to deliver the physical armaments and supports needed for that massive effort.

Kaiser’s theory, as he notes below, provided a pheromone-like attraction to amateur historian and professional fascist, Stephen Bannon, an adherent to Howe & Strauss’s trauma room theory of the evolution of American Democracy using the chrysalis of War to morph into the next predatory manifestation of ‘a new order. .This is history according to Steve Bannon..

David Kaiser was targeted and seduced by Steve Bannon, who likely used his catpaw, Pat Dollard (Dullard) to post a misattributed article sliming Kaiser, that compares Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. http://historyunfolding.blogspot.com/2009/05/foreign-policy-wisdom.html

Bannon’s frontal approach to David Kaiser, asking him to take part in an interview for his “documentary,” which Kaiser mistakenly terms, “fair in its treatment of me,” had entirely different goals than he understands.

Its goals are the goals of a Nazi propagandist, which might best be described as, “validation by proximity.” By the very act of allowing himself to be interviewed by Bannon, Kaiser validates the connection between them and adds credence to the attribution of an ‘association’ whereby Bannon can ‘validate’ the sheer fantasy of his cutout, Dollard’s misattribution that Kaiser agrees that Obama is linked to the emergence of American Fascism in the “Fourth Reich” to emerge from the chaos of the coming Trumpian War with Iran, and god knows who else. The analog would be to Jesse Owens agreeing to be filmed in recreations of his broad jump by Leni Riefenstahl for her 'documentary' on the 1936 German Olympics, which is in reality a validation for Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.

Adrien Van der Donck said...

Citizen Kane / Trump Triumphant
by: J.W. Phillips

The American party system is a synthetic product that was essentially self-invented and self-created by a similar process that created organized crime. It is is a product of need, and primitive rituals of social dominance that tend to be more codified and structured in tribal societies that are organized by moiety and clan designed to avoid incest and ameliorate or at least effectively arbitrate conflict over local territory. But the process is the same.

Electoral democratic process is based around conflict, deception, creating models of social peer pressure, and recruitment of young warriors, or the import of peripheral tribal alliances.

It is amusing, against this background and its haphazard creations, that we then attach and laminate certain standards of values, ideology and even philosophy and methods of economy in a clumsy superimposition upon what is a primitive and coercive process. But, that is what we do, by party platform, white paper, and the reliance upon the political shaman whether imported or recruited from academia for that purpose by a Joe Kennedy or today, a Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or Jeb Bush.

We have also frequently relied upon the alliances between the religious shaman running ongoing and constant operations designed to create and maintain a following, and their power to ally their flock behind the candidate of their shaman’s choosing. Williams Jennings Bryan would be an example of one of the highest reaching of such shaman. Today’s Mike Huckabee would be a more hapless modern day, wannabe example.

The advent of the internet combined with popular culture’s creation of the celebrity social archetype have brought this election cycle its most recent variant of the American Political Phenomenology: Trump. Trump is a twitter powered shaman but, his empirical chimera of a policy based on impulse reactions intuiting audience response found its earliest model in William Randolph Hearst, who Trump unsurprisingly admires, but, unable to muster the attention span of a book reader, or even an eighth grader with ADD, does so at a step once or thrice removed, through the medium of the film, via screenplay and editing room, ‘Citizen Kane’, the filter provided by Orson Welles, the Mercury Players, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

Adrien Van der Donck said...

It is highly doubtful whether Trump has ever cracked open David Nasaw’s hagiography, “The Chief,” or William Swanberg’s more critical biography, that hews more closely to the conflicted feelings of intense animosity that Hearst’s careless path left in its wake. Interestingly, Nasaw’s immersive biography is so thoroughly a by-product of Hearst’s faceted fecundity that wherever it fails in contextualization and historical evaluation it succeeds in projecting the complexities and random ambivalence that guided Hearst as a forerunner of the American Billionaire self-promoter as aspiring Philosopher King.

Hearst described himself as a progressive Democrat at the same time as Woodrow Wilson- a lifelong academe and faculty sachem, mined that same vein with the impressive credentials of having been the dean of Princeton and author of a definitive History of the American People, before taking on that role. Hearst’s definitive portrait of America came out of an empire the remnants of which today, still manages to churn out 15 dailies and 30 weeklies employing upward of 5,000. In its heyday Hearst had double that number of dailies in as many cities and was considered one of the most influential forces in American politics. Compare that to Trumps “achievements” amounting to a failed consortia of casinos, various ugly branded buildings, and failed brands, and it becomes evident that Trump’s greatest success is the creation of Trump the fantasy brand- the man himself, and his serial marriage produced clan.

By dint of television reality shows augmented by tabloids and mutated via Social Media Trump has become a sort of Greek God. A Mortal, but with the Power and attributes of a modern age God. Trump is the sex-driven, homoerotic alpha fantasy for the sado-masochistic alt.right, game boys.

Hearst seemed at once remote, but constantly manifest through his publications. Weird, shy but garrulous, tall with a large head and imperious penetrating stare, but accompanied by a high, in fact, squeaky speaking voice, yet backed by the power of an empire that could magnify that voice and its fancies into a wall of posters or blazing headlines. He could start a war, or imagine one, and he did. He was puritan who married a showgirl to have a family, placed them in the sequestered top three floors of an apartment building that he bought from its owner when they balked at the idea of his breaking through three floors to create ceilings high enough to unfurl his medieval tapestry collection, and then carried on an open thirty year affair with another showgirl, and formed a motion picture company ostensibly for the sole purpose of creating her very own film career.

All this from a man who was personally shy and insular, and as revealed by his diaries, aware of the backfires and unintended consequences of many of his antics, which comes across a century later as ‘reflective and surprisingly self-deprecating’ to certain critical reviews of Nasaw’s portrait, but could just as easily be explained as the ‘warm tolerance,’ and Christian forbearance and self-forgiving that is the predictable product of a terminal narcissist bright enough to be confronted with their own record of disastrous failures accompanying certain great adventures.

How like Trump seems Hearst seen from the perspective of the present tense, - yet Hearst was exponentially grander in scale of actual span of material ownership, business accomplishments and accumulation of things, including artwork and real estate. Hearst never got his gold ring, however. He never attained the cult status of God-Emperor. Hearst failed at every try at elective office, while at the same time suffered diminishment by the lens of culture and history. Paradoxically, the anamorphic distortions of this same lens through the medium of ‘reality’ television provided Donald Trump, with a mirror that could be distorted to his own imagined self-image.

Adrien Van der Donck said...

Trump most resembles any president barely so much as he resembles Hearst. Trump is satisfied and content to know him and admire him just through a movie that Hearst hated bitterly, and sought to have banned from public view- one of his many failures – along with diverting the railroad cars bringing cattle to the slaughter pens on Manhattan’s far West Side, where their bellows were compared to the howling from those suffering in hell, and reportedly disturbed Hearst in his apartment overlooking Riverside Park. Like Trump, Hearst loved to sue, and sue the New York Railroad he did. But, to no satisfaction.

And, like Hearst, Trump has accumulated a mob, but until fortune smiled on his unlikely gambit to swing an election by whining and threats combined with the fortuitous intervention of the director of the FBI, Trump he lacked a disciplined army. Now he is, chillingly to many, The Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces. The first president to compare surviving a war to having gotten through the disco era without any fatal or disfiguring sexual transmitted diseases.

By summoning his power as a Greek God Trump can gather a swarm of thousands of fans via Twitter, and wielding a handheld wireless microphone, he can whip them into a frenzy. But, at some point, like any demagogue he is forced to cede control to the mob’s best responses or it may turn on him. In order to be perceived as in power of his mob he must ride the wave of where they carry him before they tire or grow bored. All the while the rest of the Republican factotum and media pundits look agape in a mixture of fascination and horror.

Power abhors a vacuum and never lacks for whores. But, the repellency of Trump’s random brutalizing of minorities, women, invalids, war heroes, and any random person who has the misfortune of providing a distraction from something stupid he did or said elsewhere, has screened the gravel of the stream in a most disconcerting way. Yet, Trump presents himself as a champion of the people and as a ‘populist’ although one with a few billion in assets. Again, rather like Hearst. Trump emerged as a bully and a narcissistic predator. The Kaiser was brought up as a monarch to believe he was chosen and empowered by God. Trump was brought up to believe that if he wasn't caught he was innocent, and if he could humiliate others he was victorious.

David Kaiser said...

Thank you, Adrien van der Donck.

Pat Dollard and Pam Geller were identified as the two suspects for originally writing the text of the email. However, the identity of the person who decided to put my name on it is unknown. The email first surfaced right after the 2008 election but it wasn't until early 2009 that it started circulating under my name.

Adrien Van der Donck said...

David, Did Pat Dollard or Pam Geller ever deny putting your name on it? Just curious. Misattribution seems to be a common Breitbart tendency, or at least that's the impression they've succeeded in conveying to me.