With Donald Trump the US has acquired its most dangerous leader ever. Swedish author and historian Peter Englund looks for the story of the president in a time that is characterized by modern media's incessant flow.
With modern media we find ourselves in that kind of flow, and it is stronger and more confusing than ever before. While we are living through things in chronicles we interpret them in stories. And as no stories have been made yet, we look for parallels, analogies. This is not an infallible way of going about things. Parallels can be shallow, analogies wrongly chosen. The randomness or unpredictability, which is inherent in all that is human, can throw even the most well informed prognosis. But a lot of the time we have no choice. Also: what would otherwise be the point of the story?
With Donald Trump, the US has acquired its most dangerous leader ever. Could he become Hitler? That is questionable, for the US in 2017 is not Germany in 1933, and ”the Donald” lacks the destructive intelligence of ”der Führer”. But he does have other things. Trump has the aggressiveness of Hitler and also the same lack of interest in the practical side of politics. He has the self-control of Mussolini, the truthfulness of Stalin, Kaddafi’s modesty, Mugabe’s disinterest in money. He has Mao Zedong’s burning greed for facts and Homer Simpson’s concentration span. It is rewarding to talk about the new president’s vices. Mockery can only be welcomed, as something is obviously seriously wrong with him. But at the same time it is crucial to go beyond. People found it hard to take Hitler seriously when he began propagating on Germany’s political stage.
Could he become Hitler? That is questionable, for the US in 2017 is not Germany in 1933, and ”the Donald” lacks the destructive intelligence of ”der Führer”.
Trump’s left hemisphere and evil genius, Steve Bannon, is, as we all know, an extreme right-wing apocalyptic, who beside his Islamophobic hallucinations fantasises about a war with China. (Bannon seems corroded by the same whims that contaminated so many people in Europe prior to 1914, namely the belief in war as a cathartic power). The fact that Trump has given a major post to a Sinophobe by the name of Peter Navarro, might be less known. The new president reads no books, he barely reads anything – he has ordered summaries not to be longer than a page, and with no more than nine bullet points. But one piece he has really familiarised himself with, and publicly cited, is Navarro’s alarmist ”The Coming China War” from 2006, where the view on trade is close to feudal. A picture where one either wins or loses – and where a global confrontation over commodities is pictured as more or less inevitable. This brings us back to 1914, or 1941, where similar ideas about interests that could not be paired, helped to ignite great wars.
It is important to note that the dictatorship of China is neither Serbia nor Poland, a little country stuck between super powers. It is a super power in its own right, the second largest economy in the world. And the people in power in Beijing have, for the last few years, behaved more and more aggressively. This has been shown by their provocative behaviour in the South China Sea, where not only have they hijacked an ever bigger part of the area but also started to build artificial weapon strewn islands. If a shooting war between the US and China starts it will probably start there. (Here we oversee a totally different threat, the one from North Korea, where the megalomaniac Kim Jong-Un continues his deadly game with nuclear weapons.)
The previously mentioned fact, that Trump will not be able to fulfil his vague and generous promises from the campaign, could be an aggravating circumstance. We want to believe that the disappointment will lead to his supporters turning their backs on him. (His ratings are down to 40 per cent already, which is an all time low: it took another unsuccessful president, Richard Nixon, four years of fumbling to reach the same ratings). At the same time history has taught us that this type of frustration can also be transformed into a hunt for scapegoats, internal or foreign. These dark energies will always find an outlet.
The main brake for the adventures with external policy can be found in the US, in the form of an ever-growing opposition both inside and outside of the political and bureaucratic system. We must also remember that Trump’s party is not really his. (Again in sharp contrast with you-know-who in 1933). Republicans both in the Congress and in the Senate, now caught in their own cynicism and cowardice, will stand by him as long as he is useful and keeps the stock market value somewhat intact, but many of them despise him deeply. And when he threatens to pull them down with him in his own Armageddon – he will be sacrificed. Sticking to Germany-analogy: just as the elites of Germany did with their emperor in 1918.
Översättning: Evelyn Jones