Famed journalist H.L. Mencken had a way with words and a crystal ball, predicting in 1920:
“On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and a complete narcissistic moron.”
A coarse racist and Nietzsche admirer who disliked democracy, Mencken himself was no sweetheart. By “plain folks” he clearly meant those he regarded as simpletons, the herd of inferiors holding back the tiny-in-number superior minds who know what’s best for the rest of us. Oh, yeah, sure they do.
If a repugnant elitist, Mencken was also prescient. Omit “plain” and his quote is on the money—describing perfectly the lug who is about to take over the White House like Godzilla clomping into a closet filled with crystal. To say nothing of the gang of Mothras, Rodans and three-headed Guidorahs sweeping in with him.
Trump-Godzilla similarities can’t be ignored. Both front a sprawling franchise. Both are crudely designed with no sense of humor or awareness of their mutation. Both are guided entirely by impulse. Both tend to hulk and lumber while leaving destruction in their wake. Both anger easily and breathe fire when rubbed the wrong way. Both have a distinctive roar. Both are best appreciated with your brain turned off. Both disdain reading and thoughtful discourse. Both have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, though unlike Trump’s, Godzilla’s hasn’t been defaced.
But our present crisis is not funny, is it? We’re not characters in a campy Japanese monster movie and Trump is not computer generated or an actor in a latex lizard suit, though if ever a plot screamed out for a rewrite, his stunning rise to the presidency tops the list.
In fact, what someone once said about the Draculaic resilience of Richard Nixon—you’d have to drive a silver stake through his heart to get rid of him—may also apply to Trump.
I’ve been hitting the books and book reviews lately. For reasons that should be obvious, I’m drawn to accounts of the unlikely power surge of Adolph Hitler in the 1930s—while much of the planet responded passively as if witnessing actors in a play with no real-life relevance.
Although Ian Kershaw is arguably the preeminent Hitler biographer of our time, Volker Ullrich’s recent “Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939” earned high marks in The New York Times. Now look, we’ve no evidence Trump is lethal and loopy or that Hitler was a hotel and real estate mogul who invaded much of Europe and murdered millions on the side. Yet frightening Trump-Hitler parallels surface in Ullrich’s book, as reviewed by Michiko Kakutani.
Kakutani: “Hitler was often described as an egomaniac who ‘only loved himself’—a narcissist with a taste for self-dramatization and what…Ullrich calls a ‘characteristic fondness for superlatives.’ His manic speeches and penchant for taking all-or-nothing risks raised questions about his capacity for self-control…”
If that doesn’t sharpen the picture, Ullrich writes that a former German finance minister found Hitler “so thoroughly untruthful that he could no longer recognize the difference between lies and truth.”
Ullrich also notes that Hitler staged big theatrical rallies, vowing “to lead Germany to a new era of national greatness,” though vague about how he would do it. Still, his supporters saw him as a “man of iron” who would facilitate change. And much like Trump, as well, Hitler was initially laughed off by some Germans as merely an “evening’s entertainment.”
I was most struck, however, by a passage in Erik Larson’s earlier “In the Garden of Beasts,” that portrays William E. Dodd, the first U.S. ambassador to Hitler’s Germany, observing:
“The strange indifference to atrocity that had settled over the nation, the willingness of the populace and of the moderate elements in the government to accept each new oppressive decree, each new act of violence. It was as if (Dodd) had entered the dark forest of a fairy tale where all the rules of right and wrong were upended.”
Today we call that a bizarro world in which up is down…down is up…and Godzilla is about to become President.