“You English are mad, mad, mad as March hares”
With these utterances, through a half-smirking mouth of soft white teeth and a voice coated with a sharp martial authority, the apex of any national prestige was forfeited, and a reputation's unwinding would soon begin.
The interviewer adjusted his seating arrangement, determined to capture his subjects every word. For what followed was the simultaneous measurement and shining example of the curious emotional paradox mixed with impulsive imperial aggressiveness that so characterized the subject of the interviewer’s piece. Out came a litany of acts and self-less accomplishments, so long aged and repeated in the subject’s mind that they had come to be parroted as truth. Military blunders were recounted as brilliant machinations. Crude diplomatic endeavors which ultimately had made the subject’s country look unpredictable were branded as dazzling steps toward the ultimate goal of peace. Paranoia about the phantom “secret enemies” that subsisted on the fringes of the political landscape and whose sole purpose was to sabotage the subject’s true intent was loudly expressed.
By the end of the interaction, the subject had touched on every sensitive political emotion and laid bare furious rhetoric which would become synonymous with the people for whom the subject of the interview represented for years to come.
The date was 1908, and the subject was the Emperor of Germany, Frederick William Victor Albert of Prussia. By royal decree, and to discern him from the multitude of other Fredericks and Alberts of his day, history would refer to him as Kaiser (Emperor) Wilhelm II. The occasion was an interview for the British publication “The Daily Telegraph,” conducted by the fabulously named Colonel Edward James Montagu-Stuart-Wortley. The intent of the piece was to have a frank and organic conversation with the Kaiser, to give the British public a peak behind the curtain of the mustached ruler and his black eagle-helmed persona. Ultimately the aim prevailed, as the true Wilhelm was ever apparent and obliquely blunt. His fiery remarks in the piece would not only damage the image of Germany as an up-and coming political powerhouse to be reckoned with, but more scathingly so would turn his country into an international laughing stock. Wilhelm’s domestic image suffered irreversibly, and the sour seeds of World War 1, which had been slowly sowed for years, began to sprout. The piece is widely regarded as a benchmark in what not to do politically, as the monarch comes off as aggressive, grandiose, suspicious, combative, and, most alarming of all, unstable.
Why does this smack of the present political tide in which we find ourselves awash?
Oddly enough, America has seemingly piloted its way into the sphere of political brashness and impulsive reactionary bluffs of which notorious monarchies, empires, and yes, republics, have sometimes found themselves in.
We have found ourselves saddled with a leader who is unstable.
Unstable, unsuited, unqualified, ill-prepared, ill-talented and poorly equipped for the mechanics of the office in which he now holds.
I’m speaking of course, of our own incredulous ruler, Donald J. Trump.
As a Republican who was born in the generation of Reagan and found political maturity in the era of Obama, I admit my experience in this stratum could still be considered in its infancy. Much like every child, my political leanings were passed on to me by my elders, as a rubric of my foundation. They read much like a tale of an ancient hero whose adventures helped shape our cultural identity. We reverently bowed to the visage of number 40 as the epitome of conservative Republican values. We applauded 41 as he brilliantly pieced together an international coalition of military forces for an intervention in Kuwait. We quietly pouted as 42 spurred us toward a growth of more than 22 million jobs under a single administration. We breathed a sigh of relief when 43 came to power and, in our minds, “rescue us” from the liberal landscape we had been wandering in. We watched with initially mixed feelings as 44 descended upon us in the midst of war and recession, only to have him slowly right our listing ship of state and sail it gratifyingly back to the soft coasts of moral decency and prosperity.
And then, like a fiery dragon from the sky, 45 swooped down amidst a sting of orange brilliance and perched himself atop the steeple of this land's most precious office. Chest puffed up with antagonizing bluster and a factual stance that is comprised of pieced together click-bait, 45 has demonstrated a persona which can only be likened to that of the notorious German Emperor. A ridiculously over-zealous and blind approach to “winning” or “victory," seasoned with an utter disconnection from the bare realities of the mechanics of governing. Coupled with a desire to look resolute and effective, he confuses trivial day to day tasks with actual policy making. Lacking all grasp of diplomatic decorum, his style can be seen as eerily reminiscent of how we would all act if we saw our favorite president on television and emulated it…when were age five. He seems to possess a fervent desire to imitate those who genuinely authored greatness, rather than take on the task himself.
Much like Wilhelm, we see that Trump is attempting very hard to play the part of the leadership figure. His definition of the quintessential role of authority right now appears to be whatever may come to his mind, and it can change on a daily basis. He tweets to restructure the American military to cut the "unmanageable" financial weight of caring for transgender soldiers, and then he disgustingly claims that our most capable anti-terrorism method is dipping bullets in pig's blood. These efforts to come across as effective and purposeful are in fact revealing a sense of flimsy ego. Trump’s desire to look forceful is playing out as insulting and braggadocios. More so, any movement on his part in an attempt to unite the county has had a disproportionately contrary effect. So much so that those who at the onset walked the “give him a chance” line have been forced to choose a side.
In his day, Wilhelm’s erratic leadership method was met with stark division and contrast. There were those who were overjoyed at his obstinate Wagnerian power-style, which seemed to be in vogue with Germany’s hyper-masculine sense of itself, and loved that his unrestrained demur and bombastic make-up conveyed the sense of a strong central leader of a nation whose words would be followed with actions. Conversely, there was a larger, more vocal segment of the German population who genuinely thought of their Emperor as “mad”. Everyday Germans, who most European monarchs thought of as no more than pocket-editions of the Kaiser, would begin to call for his abdication loudly after the “Daily Telegraph” article.
Trump now finds himself weathering the same self-inflicted bureaucratic chop, as an ever-growing assortment of members of congress begin to call for impeachment. Yet unlike Wilhelm, who was granted 20 years on his throne before the damaging article, Trump is facing this within his first 9 months. His sparring with the “fake new” pundits was, at first, a subject of hilarity; now, it has taken on frightening overtones as it demonstrates a sense of neurosis within the administration. Simple press briefings have become gladiatorial pits, in which the president willing throws himself. Then, when threatened with facts, he begs off and plays the injured party. On more than one occasion, we have heard him utter the preposterous assertion that no other politician in history has been treated as he has. Within the last month, as war tensions are simmering among allies and aged foes alike, our leader had the temerity to quip that our enemies will be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen." It was a statement that even the most devoted of Trumps political sycophants in D.C. had advised against. Original appointees of the administration have been dismissed with almost comic speed, which suggests fissures within the legislative nerve-center. Our executive branch has begun an authoritative free-fall, leaving all Americans to an uncertain fate.
Slivers of the American public who still support Trump are spinning these calamities as the natural evolution of an effective leader. His military ramblings have been sold as stoically staring a foe an emerging foe in the eye and daring them to make a move. The battles with the news media have been peddled for Trump to be seen as the crusader, anointed by the people to strip away the rusted immoral armor that sheaths Washington. Whenever his lack of facts is presented, it is explained away as his true message being lost by the “lying” media. When his supporters are again countered with the numerous slanted assertions he has made in the past regarding the deficit, international trade, incorrect fiscal accountability, and his knowledge of proper presidential behavior, they resonate his chief attractive quality: he’s an outsider
Unfortunately, we can’t completely lampoon Donald Trump for his lack of political experience, as even this endeavor has never fully altered the choice of a president. Dwight Eisenhower’s triumphs on the battlefield certainly did not endear him immediately as a substitute for political familiarity. Many claim that Herbert Hoover’s attractive purse from his role as a mining engineer was the chief launching point for his executive aspirations. And lest we forget Grant, the man who went from America’s top command post during its darkest period to seemingly sleep-walking through two terms and setting off a merry-go round of scandals.
The crucial focal point here is that these presidents with no official political experience outwardly still maintained a deep veneration for the office. They governed with the knowledge that their role as leader would have consequential effects and could mold a nation. The ability to act in a far-seeing manner allowed them to be effectual at particular points. They were aware that when they acted, the nation acted, when they spoke our nation in turn spoke. Though politically a minor, Eisenhower adopted a keen hierarchical and pragmatic approach to his governing style, which was efficient in contending with domestic industrial issues. Near the end of his tenure, the normally reserved Eisenhower would candidly warn the populace of the dangers of a militaristic ambition. Hoover’s experiences abroad and relief efforts in Europe after the First World War presented him as politically charming and internationally cultured. While the crash of ’29 (which he was never directly responsible for) has forever blighted this man's legacy, in the troughs of depression he would tirelessly attempt policy after policy to stabilize the frantically failing markets. What Grant lacked in legislative backbone he made up for in brute effectiveness with the first signing of the “Force Act” in 1871. This was the first step in our central government fighting back against domestic terrorist groups such as the KKK. Though filled with flaws in their own right, and never snugly fitting our ideal personification of how a leader should act, these men had a deep sense of responsibility of the role. Their presidencies may not be highlighted as the summit of American prosperity, but we could count on them to act “presidential” when necessary. More so, none of these occupiers of the White House had their mental sense challenged so openly and so broadly. The notion of “unfit to govern” would describe these men much more adequately than “unfit to lead."
With Trump it is a vastly different tale, one with horrifying consequences. We have yet to see any of the aforementioned effectual qualities from Trump. No far-seeing agenda that doesn’t change on a daily basis. No meticulously thought out economic path to take advantage of the period of abundance we nationally find ourselves in. Events such as Charlottesville presented an opportunity to notch a home run of popularity and unify the country. Instead he opted to bunt and then frantically attempt to reach home plate. He has undertaken this role in a vein that leads one to believe that, about 26 months ago, someone made a bet with him that he couldn’t win the election.
Well, he did…
Owing to the centennial of the “War to End all Wars”, we look back and attempt to appreciate history for its lessons and harsh truths. The case of Wilhelm leaves us with a deeply bitter historical lecture on the trappings of inadequate governorship. Leaders who are ineffectual in turn make a nation ineffectual. Rulers who spew fire and hate often are saddled with the ruin of their empire. Those in office who seek only to achieve their own goals and personal satisfaction, alienate themselves into seclusion. For better or for worse, the role of President of the United States acts not only as the chief authoritative entity but as an identity-centric weather vane. It will point out, for the entire world to see, the internal temperament of a nation. Our president's successes are our own successes, just as his failures are our own failures. Like Wilhelm, Trump wields real power and influence in his nation. We are therefore irrevocably bound to him for the duration of his term, and we will be the ones who must endure this saga.
The fate of the curious German Kaiser was sealed near the bloody end of the war. He abdicated his throne and lived out his days bustling around his plush estate in the Netherlands, never taking any responsibility for his complicity in the war's origination. He was unable to see that his disposition, teeth-baring proclamations, and utter lack of leadership was a contributor to Armageddon. It was always some unscrupulous minister who failed to carry out the Kaiser’s orders, or the evil intentions of another nation that left Germany, and by proxy Wilhelm was blameless for the catastrophe. Our own national narrative speaks to this same moment in our history, as the coming term will be poignant to the say least. We are captained by a fiery, brash, bumbling reprobate who would sooner tweet his misspelled thoughts rather than present them in an intelligent manner. He retreats almost weekly to his own luxurious imperial estates and conceitedly squawks about how much of an economic effect his mere presence has had on the country. He is given to suspicion of fact, both moral and scientific. He continues this march toward the future by holding an embarrassing glut of “campaign” rallies that see his speeches as a mere recycling of all the "hurts" that have been done to him that week. He confuses international courtesy with testy and dimwitted attempts to appear to be strong.
Weren’t we getting an outsider?
This appears to be the same old story that has been told before…albeit missing the remarkable mustache. For those who, at this moment in time, continue to boast that Trump will finally “get it right” or that “God is working through this man," I have only one statement for you.
You people are mad, mad, mad as March hares.