Saturday, February 18, 2017

Donald Trump: Is he the Kaiser Wilhelm of our time?

This isn't the first article to be written on the subject (one of the earliest articles, from more than a year ago, is seen here). There have been numerous articles written on the personality and psychology of Donald Trump, claiming that he is a narcissist or, worse, a potential sociopath. The author instead looks to explore the personality and psychological parallels between Donald Trump and Kaiser Wilhelm in more detail, and let the parallels speak for themselves.

The author wrote a piece on Kaiser Wilhelm's personality a few years ago, in particular looking at the relationship that developed between him and Enver Pasha, a like-minded belligerent in effective control of the Ottoman Empire's war machine.

Observers and historians have noted some of the personality similarities between these two leaders, separated a hundred years apart, highlighting the similar tendencies in character towards arrogance, boorishness, shallowness, exuberance and unpredictability. Other similar details of both their life histories are worthy of study.
In some senses, these two men came of age at around the same time: Donald Trump becoming the figurehead of his family's company in his late twenties, and Wilhelm II becoming Kaiser of the German Empire around the same age. Likewise, they also had some similar traits in childhood and while growing up. Both Donald and Wilhelm were troublesome children during their schooling, showing some violent tendencies, as had been recorded about Wilhelm, and as Donald himself has openly alluded to. Equally, both took a period of military schooling to iron out these anti-social traits into something more productive. In Donald's case, it could be argued that the disciplinarian atmosphere helped to channel his energies into focusing on the family business; with Wilhelm, the military aspect took on a wholly-absorbing character, which stayed with him for the rest of his life.

In other ways, it can be argued how each person's relationship with their parents affected their personality as an adult.
Wilhelm's parents - his father, the heir to the throne (who would later die after only a few months as Kaiser), and his English mother, a daughter of Queen Victoria - cared very much for their son, who was tragically disfigured with a withered left arm from a botched birth. However, it appears that Wilhelm did not return the sentiment, seeing his parents as soft liberals. In particular, he had a very troubled relationship with his mother, which later would become evolve into a conflicted relationship with the land of her birth.
So we see that Wilhelm's embrace of the military and his "strong" Prussian sense of identity could be traced to the rejection of his father's perceived "softness"; equally, his love-hate relationship with Britain, and ultimately an integral part of Germany's foreign policy, arguably came from his rejection of his mother. He initially wanted Britain as a strong German ally, and when that failed, Britain had to be beaten.
Donald Trump's parentage is also interesting, as he is of German stock on his father's side, while his mother is Scottish. In other words - and by strange coincidence - Trump, like Kaiser Wilhelm II, is from a "German" father and a "British" mother.
However, it is clear that Donald's relationship to his parents was much more conventional. His mother and father were seen as nothing if not role models, once Donald had developed into a more disciplined adult. The drive he developed for business seems to have come from his innate competitive spirit, and the desire to make a name for himself. He has in the past called himself a "warrior", and talked of his formative experiences with his father's business as a youngster being key to developing his dog-eat-dog view of the world. In that sense, it could be argued that his drive to expand the Trump Corporation into Manhattan from its roots laid by his father in Brooklyn and Queen was the wish to supersede the successes of his father: he would use the "good name" that his father had established to create an empire of his own. In that respect, he certainly succeeded. In Frank Trump, Donald Trump had the kind of father figure that someone like Kaiser Wilhelm probably wished would have had: instead of wanting to emulate his father, like Donald Trump did, Wilhelm turned to the military and his own Prussian identity to make up for what he perceived as his own father's "failings".
In this comparison, we can see that the roots of Wilhelm's insecurities and malignant narcissism may well have come from this aspect of his childhood; on the other hand, Donald Trump's gross narcissism may well simply have been something that was always there.

Donald Trump's relationship with his mother's home country is also worth mentioning, as it can be argued that, at least to some extent, he shares the same "love-hate" relationship that Wilhelm had for Britain. Trump's property empire is international in scope, and includes golf courses in Scotland. He famously has had controversies with the building of a golf course in Aberdeenshire, which can also be seen as a result of Trump's driven personality. More recently, he traveled to Scotland a few days after the Brexit vote to congratulate Scotland, seemingly not realising that Scotland had, in fact, mostly voted to remain in the EU. Since becoming President, his relationship with Britain as a whole has become even more tortuous: receiving the attention of the British Prime Minister for trade talks and an official invite, while receiving an "un-invite" by the British Speaker of parliament. Such grating diplomatic blunders and mis-steps were also characteristic of Kaiser Wilhelm.

We have talked about the driven aspects to both Donald Trump and Kaiser Wilhelm's personalities. Both share a strong desire to lead, and to be seen to be a leader. In Wilhelm's case, this was seen with his admiration for the the Russian Tsar and the autocratic model, going so far as to wish to become allies (he abjectly failed in this mission). While Germany was not an autocracy, the Kaiser still had personal control of the military and the cabinet, if not the parliament. It was due to this that he was able to personally mould German foreign policy without oversight, and surround himself with like-minded belligerents.
It could be argued that Donald Trump sees his Presidency (or would like to see it) as being able to mould the country and the world as he sees fit, as the de facto "leader of the world". To an extent, all Presidents may like to see it this way, though the US Constitution clearly marks out the limits of a President's mandate. However, it is also evident that Donald Trump sees himself as different: he has all the hallmarks of being a demagogue in the mould of, for example, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan. So far, his slew of "executive orders" indicate a desire to trample on the limitations that ordinarily restrict presidential powers, even if that is unconstitutional or even illegal.
Like Wilhelm, Donald Trump's political role models appear to be "strongmen": Trump has professed respect for Vladimir Putin and his manner of ruling, and seems to have adopted a flexible ("realpolitik"?) approach to Russia. His policy of "America First" is in the mould of many other authoritarian leaders, while also shadowing some of the foreign policy aims that Kaiser Wilhelm had, such as protectionism, military might and defense of national interests.

Lastly, both these individuals seem to have shared a chaotic and impulsive style of governing. We have already looked at how Kaiser Wilhelm took personal control of military and diplomatic affairs, even against the advice of his generals and diplomats. The same signs can be seen in the first weeks of Donald Trump's administration, with his senior staff seemingly unable to keep up with his frequent contradictory statements.
With these unpredictable personalities as leaders, both saw the result being that individuals like-minded to the leader would prosper; Wilhelm surrounded himself with belligerents, while Trump seems to have as his key advisers those who share in his, at times apocalyptic and fatalistic, world-view.

It's early days in the Trump Presidency, and already people on his own side are wondering if (or rather, when) it will all end in tears...

No comments:

Post a Comment