Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
We are in the German State Of Hessen visiting German friends that we have known for almost 35 years, after making the trip up from Munich. In our conversations with our German friends who are conservative supporters of Angela Merkel and the CDU, the question of the stability, suitably for office, and the Character of the American President came up, and they are frightened by his actions and wonder how a country like ours could have elected him. That made me revisit the question of the President’s character, or lack thereof, and compare him with other vain, immature, and unstable leaders. Character matters, especially when we elect someone to be President of the United States. President Trump may be a character, but he has none, and that is the most dangerous thing about him.
Theodore Roosevelt noted: “Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.”
As the crises of probable impeachment hearings and potential war in the Middle East, and a growing trade war with Chine swirl around the White House I think that it is important to see the President’s words and actions in light of a number of factors. One of those, as Theodore Roosevelt noted is character. Thus it is important to know how the character other leaders at other times influenced how they treated people, reacted to criticism, and led their nations.
In the American experience one is hard pressed to find a President with a similar temperament and character that corresponds to Donald Trump. Yes, Nixon had some similarities, Andrew Jackson as well, but both men even at their worst did, at least in public restrain themselves, and Nixon, when confronted with the reality of certain impeachment did the country a favor by resigning. James Buchanan, whose pro-slavery positions helped ignite the American Civil War, and Andrew Johnson, whose anti-Reconstruction policies and actions led to his impeachment, which fell short of conviction by one vote in the Senate, were as corrupt and cruel as Trump, but neither rose to Trump’s level of contempt for our institutions and Constitution.
But that was a different time. There were leaders in the Republican Party who chose to honor the Constitution and their oaths over blind party loyalty or their determination to pass a certain legislative act. Their resistance to President Nixon was instrumental in his resignation in 1974, especially that of conservative icon Barry Goldwater.
But there seem to be few current members of the GOP congressional delegations willing to stand either for fear of the Trump base, or blind determination to press on with tax cuts even if it means the sacrifice of the Constitution, nuclear war, or their own integrity. It seems that Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse are now beginning to show some backbone, but most of the Republican Senate still seems willing; even after the revelations of what appears to be the President using his office to influence the President of the Ukraine to help undermine the campaign of one of his leading Democratic Party rivals, Vice President Joe Biden.
Of course no amount of the President’s lies and corruption have yet swayed most of his supporters, so I don’t think, unless individual Republican Senators decide that their political survival depends on abandoning Trump, that the GOP will do anything. His base remains solid, and armed members of private “militias” are begging the President to call them into action to eliminate his political enemies and members of the press who press his administration for the truth. I actually saw one of the videos a couple of days ago. Basically such people and their organizations are lawless gangs, despite their words, and they include active and former members of the military. They, are willing to kill for Trump, especially those who believe that he was chosen by God to be President, but I digress, Trump is not Hitler, and his thugs are minor leaguers compared to the SA and the SS.
But I do think that there is a leader who in temperament was much like President Trump, who ended up helping to lead his nation and the world to the abyss of World War. That is not Adolf Hitler who many people often compare the President. I think that Trump’s authoritarian tendencies and his reliance on his radicalized base, including armed mobs in the street, and hyper-partisan allies in the right wing media, especially Fox News and Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp which serves as his de-facto state media are similar, but they do not speak to the President’s unstable, narcissistic, and paranoid behaviors. I think that the better comparison is to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany with whom the President seems to share many similarities.
In his book The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, Christopher Clark wrote of Wilhelm in words that are strikingly reminiscent of the President.
“It was one of this Kaiser’s many peculiarities that he was completely unable to calibrate his behaviour to the contexts in which his high office obliged him to operate. Too often he spoke not like a monarch, but like an over-excited teenager giving free rein to his current preoccupations.”
‘I am the sole master of German policy,’ he remarked in a letter to the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII), ‘and my country must follow me wherever I go”
“Wilhelm frequently –especially in the early years of his reign –bypassed his responsible ministers by consulting with ‘favourites’, encouraged factional strife in order to undermine the unity of government, and expounded views that had not been cleared with the relevant ministers or were at odds with the prevailing policy.”
“It was in this last area –the unauthorized exposition of unsanctioned political views –that the Kaiser achieved the most hostile notice, both from contemporaries and from historians. There can be no doubt about the bizarre tone and content of many of the Kaiser’s personal communications in telegrams, letters, marginal comments, conversations, interviews and speeches on foreign and domestic political themes. Their exceptional volume alone is remarkable: the Kaiser spoke, wrote, telegraphed, scribbled and ranted more or less continuously during the thirty years of his reign, and a huge portion of these articulations was recorded and preserved for posterity…”
Max Hastings wrote that Wilhelm “was a brittle personality whose yearning for respect caused him to intersperse blandishments and threats in ill-judged succession.” Sean McMeekin in his book July 1914 wrote that Wilhelm had an “insecurity complex, a need for constant attention and acclaim. As one of his many critics put it, the kaiser needed to be “the stag at every hunt, the bride at every wedding, and the corpse at every funeral.” He also noted “Eager for praise, taking offense at the merest slight, the kaiser was a difficult man to work for. Bismarck had disdained to gratify Wilhelm II’s fragile ego after he became emperor in 1888, which led to his sacking two years later.”
Like President Trump the Kaiser did experience some push back from different governmental ministers, and was somewhat restrained during the month leading up to the war, but his constant belligerence, instability, and unscripted remarks helped set the diplomatic and governmental crisis that led to the war. Of course this was not his fault alone, the Austrian-Hungarians, Serbians, Russians, French, and British all had a hand, but the Kaiser, through his words and actions during the three decades preceding the war bears much responsibility for what happened in 1914. If the Kaiser had had a Twitter account he would have certainly used it in a similar manner to President Trump.
But Germany had no checks and balances to restrain Wilhelm. He was an absolute monarch. Americans do still have institutional checks and balances to Presidential overreach or abuses should we choose to follow the Constitution, but for that to happen the leadership of the Republican Party must also act, as did their predecessors during the Nixon administration to put principle or party, and rule of law over blind obedience. This is not about partisanship; it is about the Constitution, our form of government, and yes, even the prevention of nuclear war.
Character and temperament are very important in times of crisis and elevated tensions. Character is also fate. We should all tremble when we think of the lack of character and maturity shown by our President.
6 responses to “Brittle Personalities with Yearning for Respect, the Danger Of the Lack Of Character in Leaders: President Trump and Kaiser Wilhelm II”
Bottom line for GOP’s lack of courage is… political survival at all costs. We can say the same for most politicians around the world in my own humble opinion.
I think you are correct. Unless there is an existential threat, most will try to find a way to remain in office.
Some freshman Democrats have had the same reaction as the majority of GOPs. I have read this yesterday. They are waiting for more facts!
I did not know anything about Kaiser Wilhelm II. Thanks for the history lesson Padre Steve.
You are so welcome.
Here, finally, is an historical comparison I can find enough commonality to agree with as a general guide. The principle difference is that most Germans were indifferent to their Kaisers pronouncements; they considered him amusing—I think you used “a character” about part of the view of Trump—and not really a threat to anything they cared about.
But Wilhelm’s “amusing” remarks were deeply offensive to other countries and their peoples, and the long-standing bitterness between continental Powers was only made worse by him. In the end, his bungling cost his country the entirety of the hard-won primus inter pares that von Bismarck had won for it, and left it precisely where he was always complaining it was: encircled and all but alone. He laid all the hard groundwork for Anglo-French rapprochment, after all.
Trump is far more dangerous the Wilhelm, not only because he could employ more dangerous weapons, but because the immoral shamelessness of Mitch McConnell and the supine nature of Corporate news provides cover for Republican Senators who imagine they will “step in” if it were to truly get “too bad”; they convince themselves, like the German people of the 2nd Reich, that Trump is just “a character”, but really OK as long as they get the work of putting politically conservative Federal judges in place (and mostly preserving their rich-guy tax cuts).
But the Democrats have a hand in this crisis too. They are unable and unwilling to grasp that the Mueller Dog just won’t hunt. That here, in his flagrant and baldly-stated extortion of a foreign leader as President of the United States, the public has a clear, uncomplicated, uncontested, impeachable offense. Forget all the rest. Stop chasing every scent trail. Pare down the pack and get him on Ukraine.
Instead, the circus continues. Which plays into the eight thinking Republicans’ hands and lets them have lots of wiggle room; Impeachment still means all kinds of junk from as far back as 2015, so of course they can say they don’t see that happening.
But give them a stark, public choice between saying it is acceptable to betray an American client state to get help in your political campaign while using your private lawyer and the Attorney General of the United States as private messengers and public leverage—and your going to get some moderate R votes that have to swing away from Moscow Mitch (a name he hates as much as he loves “The Undertaker (of Legislation)”.
Why must all our politicians be so venal and grubby and small and vain? The handful that rise above—as Speaker Pelsosi did—are overwhelmed by the Committee chairs unwilling to give up their chance for the spotlight to do their duty to the Constitution and the Country and their Constituents. You couldn’t tell Republican from Democrat without the ‘D’ or the ‘R’ to help you.
I despair, Padre. I really do.