…The right of law-abiding citizens to own firearms without registration…The elimination of Government competition with private enterprise…”Those who work living better than those who won’t work.” [The] platform begins with a prayer to Almighty God, can you beat that?
–broadsheet for far-right-wing presidential candidate John Schmitz, 1972
It is tempting—but ultimately inaccurate– to reference Nazi/Fascist analogies when describing the ongoing mass of pathologies known as Donald J. Trump. There is no real need to go abroad to Italy or Germany for parallels. Nativism, brutality, authoritarianism, sexism, greed—these all have deep, entrenched roots in American history and society. Donald Trump and all he represents are star-spangled domestic products, as durable as the flag and apple pie.
That said, it is still difficult to slot Trump into a recognizable political context. Given his unhinged, erratic behavior, it can be difficult to slot him into any recognizable context—political and non-political. This makes his rule all the more frightening.
The color gold is a predominant, significant motif in Trumpland. The Oval Office’s drapes, for example, are now–at the behest of its new occupant– gold. The maniacally self-aggrandizing Trump often utilizes gold to scream out his wealth and power. In reality, gold and gilt for all to see are a manifestation of that odd phenomenon when more actually connotes less: the hyperbole undercuts the desired effect. A restaurant that makes prominent mention of its “fine dining,” for example, is really implying just the opposite. The fanciful attempt to link Trump to the bedroom practice of “golden showers”—as if this, of all things, will finally sink his popularity—is, intentionally or not, a succinct send-up of the Donald’s love of all things gold: His fervent devotion even includes urine.
There is also something weirdly anachronistic about this emphasis on the color gold. Trump himself is weirdly anachronistic: Not just in terms of gold, but his entire persona: the hairstyle, his trophy wives, the hyper-branding, and his views on race, indicative of a Super Fly–era worldview of crime-ridden, rampaging ghettoes.
Calling Donald Trump an enigma imbues him with an undeserved complexity, but his behavior is akin to a poor, socially disadvantaged person who, amid one obstacle after another, claws his way to the pinnacle of wealth and power. In reality, of course, he is the pampered, Ivy-educated scion of New York City wealth. Trump embodies another unfortunate tendency: very lucky people espousing the politics of resentment and revenge. In this respect he is a kindred spirit to Richard Nixon, the youngest vice president in American history, who thought of himself as perpetually disadvantaged and beleaguered.
The closest antecedent to Donald Trump’s toxicity is probably George Wallace. This analogy, though, does fall short. George Wallace’s persona, for one, was entirely different than the Donald’s. And with Wallace, what you saw was what you got (which is in no way a compliment): a Southern, white-power populist. With Donald Trump, it’s not entirely certain what you are seeing.
Ultimately, the most accurate analogy I can muster has nothing to do with George Wallace. Instead, it is a personal recollection: a late-night encounter at a deserted New York City subway stop. This was shortly before the first Gulf war. I must have looked particularly swarthy that night, as I quickly attracted the attention of a florid-faced man in a rumpled suit, tie askew. “Fuckin’ Arab,” he snapped out at me without preamble. My face obviously registered surprise, for he quickly continued, leaving no room for ambiguity: “Yeah, you,” he bellowed out. “I’m talking to you.” The man was visibly drunk. ‘”Fucking Arabs… killing our people.” I am, in fact, Jewish and not Arab. But since both groups are Semites, there may have been some internal logic at work here. Then he grew louder: “I’ll kick your ass! I’ll kick your fucking Arab ass!”
It was very late. Nobody was around. There were only, it seemed to me, a few potential outcomes to this encounter. None of these outcomes were particularly pleasing. But then to my surprise, as suddenly as this drunken man in a suit had appeared, he just as suddenly lost interest and staggered away.
That man on the subway platform was garbed in a suit; presumably holding down a job and functioning on a day-to-day basis. His ignorance was profound on many levels. He was disruptive and full of racist, violent threats. And this encounter, more than anything else, seems like the most apropos comparison. Except that Donald Trump doesn’t seem to be going away.
Hail to the chief.