There may be “something profoundly affecting in large masses of men following the lead of those who do not believe in men,” as Walt Whitman said in his poem “Thought,” but the hard-nosed realpolitik types of Eisenhower’s allusion are not in that following. (If Trump was Dick Cheney—well, maybe there would be more interest.)
The twentieth century left a bad taste in the mouth with Mussolini and Hitler, over-the-top compulsive showmen. (I don’t include Franco or Stalin with that sort of fascism. Franco was a throwback to medieval Catholicism, and Stalin was a proletarian czar.) Donald Trump, if he resembles any of these characters, is a wet-noodle Mussolini. Hitler was psychotic. He’s a case all on his own. But Mussolini was a street brawler, while Trump is all talk, posture, and bluff.
But there really are “leaders” who belong in the circus as lion tamer, sword swallower, sideshow barker, and ring master—that irrepressible P. T. Barnum impulse that pops up occasionally in the gene pool. Trump is a tycoon circus barker. He craves the limelight. He’s a world-class showman. But he’s not a serious candidate for a coup master. He may be crude and even nasty, but he’s not a mafia hitman.
There may be a coup in the not-so-distant future as civilization steadily cracks up and Ike’s military-industrial complex seizes temporary control, but we’re not there yet. And a coup can be prevented if red and blue can learn to be chummy in the park. That’s the key to a democratic future.