My friend John Podhoretz wrote an amusing and illuminating essay for Commentary comparing Donald Trump to the Norse trickster god Loki, who at first seems amusing, a joke, until you see the mischief and mayhem he spreads in his wake. Then you see that far from being a joke, Loki is a deeply malevolent figure. After all, his hijinks help to precipitate Ragnarök, the Norse version of Armageddon.
There’s a lot to the comparison between Donald Trump and Loki, I think, but John’s musing got me to thinking about other people Donald Trump reminds me of. Let’s sidestep the pitfalls of Godwin’s Law and leave history’s serious demagogues alone. A comment on the internet suggesting that a “Trump Militia” was forming to protect the comb-over-in-chief naturally put people in mind of Blackshirts. But I suspect that the demagogue Trump most closely resembles encouraged his followers to wear black shorts, all the suitable shirts having already been taken.
I mean of course Roderick Spode, 7th Earl of Sidcup, the amateur dictator and bully who first made his appearance in P. G. Wodehouse’s immortal book The Code of the Woosters (1938) and went on to grace the pages of several future novels, his last appearance being in Much Obliged, Jeeves in 1971. Google seems to agree, since a search for images of Roderick Spode turns up a few of Donald Trump haranguing his acolytes.
In case you’ve forgotten, Roderick Spode, as a character in The Code of the Woosters explains, was “the founder and head of the Saviours of Britain, . . . better known as the Black Shorts.”
“His general idea, if he doesn’t get knocked on the head with a bottle in one of the frequent brawls in which he and his followers indulge, is to make himself a Dictator.” “Well, I’m blowed!” I was astounded at my keenness of perception. The moment I had set eyes on Spode, . . . I had said to myself “What ho! A Dictator!” and a Dictator he had proved to be. . . . “Well, I’m dashed! I thought he was something of that sort. That chin…Those eyes…And, for the matter of that, that moustache. By the way, when you say ‘shorts,’ you mean ‘shirts,’ of course.” “No. By the time Spode formed his association, there were no shirts left. He and his adherents wear black shorts.” “Footer bags, you mean?” “Yes.” “How perfectly foul.”
Indeed. By the time Donald Trump appeared, all the shorts had been spoken for, too, so he had to make do with baseball caps.
Spode is a menacing figure, but also a preposterous one. Bertie Wooster, though initially terrified by the overbearing brute, recovers his nerve and ticks Spode off properly: “The trouble with you, Spode,” he says in one gratifying passage,
is that just because you have succeeded in inducing a handful of half-wits to disfigure the London scene by going about in black shorts, you think you’re someone. You hear them shouting “Heil, Spode!” and you imagine it is the Voice of the People. That is where you make your bloomer. What the Voice of the People is saying is: “Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags! Did you ever in your puff see such a perfect perisher?”
Wodehouse is a little vague about Spode’s policies, but is he any vaguer than Trump has been about what he would do were he able? Trump wants to “build a wall” and slap tariffs on Chinese goods and other imports. Spode wants “an immediate ban on the import of foreign root vegetables into the United Kingdom” and “the compulsory, scientific measurement of all adult male knees.” Which is sillier?
The more that I think of it, the more Donald Trump seems like a latter-day Spode. And the followers of both, alas, seem about equally astute. Here’s Spode at a rally, and the response of one of Bertie’s dimmer pals:
Roderick Spode: Citizens of Totleigh-in-the-Wold, I say to you that nothing stands between us and our victory except defeat! Tomorrow is a new day! The future lies ahead!
Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps: D’you know, I never thought of that.
The similarities continue. Spode had an embarrassing secret. He was not only an aspiring dictator. He was also a successful designer of ladies undergarments, the founder and proprietor of Eulalie Soeurs, a famed Bond Street emporium. It was Bertie’s discovery of Spode’s secret, vouchsafed him by Jeeves, that allowed him to stand up to Spode and threaten to expose him. After all, as Bertie reasoned, “You can’t be a successful Dictator and design women’s underclothing. One or the other. Not both.”
What is Donald Trump’s Eulalie? The fraud that was Trump University? I would have thought that diddling innocent people out of tens of thousands of dollars would count, and so do the legal systems of California and New York, where three separate class action suits against Trump are proceeding apace. There is also the house of cards that his spurious business empire, plagued by bankruptcies and failures. (Remember the Trump Shuttle? Trump Vodka? Trump magazine? All gone. And let’s not forget his involvement in the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants: plenty of scope for skimpy wear there!) Or how about the Trump line of steaks or ties or Trump wine (“How did they get the cat to sit atop the bottle?”) or the “Billionaire’s Martini”? Joseph Rago detailed these and other embarrassments in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago.
A lot of the resemblances between Donald Trump and Roderick Spode are just amusing. But there is a darker current here as well. Consider the pledge of allegiance Trump has been in the habit of demanding that people at his rallies, right arm extended, perform. Not only is the similarity of the gesture to the Fascist salute disturbing, but why would an American politician ask people to pledge allegiance to him? That’s what monarchs and dictators do, not presidents in a democratic republic. Here, the people are sovereign. Someone should remind Donald Trump of that little fact.
As it happens, someone has: Ted Cruz, who, responding to Trump’s pledge of allegiance wheeze, noted that no candidate is going to “make America great again.” That’s a task, Cruz said, “for we the people.” “[T]he only hand-raising I’m interested in,” he continued, “is on January 20, 2017, when I hope to raise my right hand and have my left hand sitting on the Bible when I make a promise, a pledge to every American to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
You’d think it would be enough to rouse Trump’s supporters from their dogmatic (Donmatic?) slumbers. Will it? Tomorrow, when Florida, Ohio, Missouri, North Carolina, and Illinois vote in the GOP primary, will tell us a lot. I would have thought that by now the public had uncovered Donald Trump’s Eulalie. Let’s see if they have.