Donald Trump is no Adolf Hitler. He’s not even much of an off-Broadway Saddam Hussein. (Although Don Jr and Eric do a pretty good drag act as Uday and Qusay). Anderson Cooper got close after this morning’s low energy fin-de-suckhole presser with “an obese turtle on his back flailing in the hot sun”, but as we compulsively doomscroll while waiting for the mad orange fuck-trumpet to play the final notes of his Fanfare for a Sad Trombone, I thought we might have a drink together and consider which failed autocrat the soon-to-be-disgraced former President most recalls.
Tempting as it might be to Godwin the column by leaning on Tangerine Hitler metaphors, it would also be otiose and inexact. At our peril, we default to Hitler as a template for framing illiberal figures on the Right. But as much as the Trumpenführer gives postmodern Nazis a fat you could crack fleas on, he has none of Hitler’s florid ideological obsessions. His psychoses are personal, not political.
If you lower your sights from the maximum Nazi, however, there is a figure from the Third Reich who evokes an eery comparison. Hermann Görring.
Erik Larson, author of The Splendid and the Vile, a magisterially kick-arse study of Churchill during the Blitz, describes the Luftwaffe’s human blimp as “large, bouyant, ruthless and cruel”.
Görring deployed the sheer strength of his “ebullient and joyously corrupt personality” to overcome Hitler’s misgivings about his fitness for high office in a way that would totally trigger the PTSD of every Republican Trump murdered during his primary campaign.
Görring grew up in a castle, pretending to play at soldiers, but having been packed off to a military academy he found the reality of soldiering less attractive and sold his violin to pay for a train ticket home where he took to his bed feigning illness to avoid going back. Cadet Bone Spurs dodged the draft with a sketchy note from his doctor, before going on to develop an obsession with the pomp and ceremony of military culture that everyone from the French to the Saudis learned to game.
They were both crooks.
Trump’s criminal history comfortably dwarfs Görring’s, if only because he had more opportunity for top shelf criming over a long career as a celebrity gangster, but in a side gig as a world class art thief Görring ran a vast network of crooked dealers and standover men who grabbed up thousands of paintings, sculptures and tapestries including works by Van Gogh, Renoir, Botticelli, and Monet. He had an appetite not so much for the finer things as for all the things, “especially those rendered in gold”, and he used the power and instruments of the German super state to enrich himself in a fashion that almost, but not quite, matches Trump invoicing the Secret Service hundreds of millions of dollars for golf buggy hire at his own resorts
(The buggy hire scam wins simply because it’s so delightfully whimsical. Almost as whimsical as Trump trousering nearly a million bucks worth of trinkets he liked the look of at the US Embassy in Paris).
Almost all of Görring’s plunder and loot ended up back at his personal estate, a grotesque wonderland which foreshadowed Trump Tower in the same way that Görring’s decorative sensibilities anticipated the Trumpian aesthetic of throwing staggering shit tonnages of gold leaf and white tiger pelt at everything from the toilet bowl to the ceiling rugs.
Hermann Görring, like Donald Trump, could appear deranged to rational observers, but his interrogators at Nüremberg found him to be simply a “a great actor and professional liar.” Most telling of all, the worse he was, the more devoted were his fans.
The public loved him, forgiving his legendary excesses and coarse personality. The American correspondent William Shirer, in his diary, sought to explain this seeming paradox: “Where Hitler is distant, legendary, nebulous, an enigma as a human being, Göring is a salty, earthy, lusty man of flesh and blood. The Germans like him because they understand him. He has the faults and virtues of the average man, and the people admire him for both. He has a child’s love for uniforms and medals. So have they.” Shirer detected no resentment among the public directed toward the “fantastic, medieval—and very expensive—personal life he leads. It is the sort of life they would lead themselves, perhaps, if they had the chance.” – Erik Larson. The Splendid and the Vile.
This, right here, I think, explains a little of the most unsettling aspect of Trump’s near win, this week.
For sure, it now looks like he’s gonna get beaten like a red-headed stepchild. Perhaps by the time you read this, Biden will be over 300 electoral votes and up by five or even six million in the raw count.
But so fucking what?
It should never have been that close.
Nearly seventy million people looked at the last four years and decided they wanted more of that shit. More cruelty, more incompetence, more corruption, more death.
They actively voted for it.
Because it is the sort of life they would lead themselves, perhaps, if they had the chance.