Is Trump Our Napoleon?
Political contradictions supposedly fade when Trump appeals to all Americans to trust him to make us strong, respected, and rich again, much in the same way as Trump himself excels in the business world. Trump’s success in real estate and his commercial savvy are supposed to be transferable to ensuring similar wins in government, in a way reminiscent of Napoleon's innate military acumen that was to be loaned out to the French Republic to ensure its political ascendance.
The desire for greatness is most acute among a people that claims that it has enjoyed glory in the past but has since lost it, due to the sell-outs and the weak in their midst. Although Trump is not shy in suggesting that American “weakness” is due to our malaise, he is more accusatory of “them” -- the opportunistic and predatory foreigners in China, Europe, Mexico, and Asia who took advantage of American largess, naiveté and namby-pamby leadership to rip us off. We pay “their” defense bills, keep “them” safe, and in return have to play on “their” rigged trade field.
Trump also claims that folks are treated as infants by politicians of both parties who never deliver on the promises that they make. Given that all politicians are fakers, Trump need not worry about detailing any of his promises: those who spell out assurances consistently break them anyway. As far as the intellectual class that hates Trump, we can almost hear his Napoleonic joking, “You don't reason with intellectuals. You shoot them.”
Trump feels no pressure to offer specifics. We doubt that he even reads his own position papers very carefully, given his seeming inability to review their talking points in interviews. Who cares?
Napoleon’s genius in transmogrifying himself from an obscure lowly artillery officer to emperor of Europe was due to a similar intuition that in demoralized France, worn out from both revolutionary fervor and Bourbon reaction, he alone could offer something similar and yet different from both these despised opportunistic factions. Napoleon would reluctantly employ authoritarianism but put it in service to the proverbial people rather than the aristocratic landed class and ossified clergy. He could cut through bureaucracy and corruption in the fashion that he had sent a “whiff of grapeshot” though mobs of rioters.
Napoleon’s enemies were not just the corrupt royal class and the freebooters who had betrayed the Revolution, but ostensibly a gang of opportunist foreign countries like Great Britain, Russia, Prussia, and Austria that all wanted to take advantage of French chaos by stealing their borderlands or their trade, and their preeminence.
Napoleon also never spelled out an agenda on how to make France great again because his own spectacular success was prima facie evidence that whatever he had done for himself he could easily do for his country. Success need not be defined, simply professed.
Obviously the wheeler-dealer Trump is not the general Napoleon, and we are not France of 200 years ago at war with Europe. But he appeals to a similar depressed public that feels the chaos of continual economic and social upheavals -- and lawlessness -- can easily cease and be replaced by a new national triumphant consensus, if only led by a dynamic man on a horse.
For now, Trump’s bluster, promised action and boldness apparently inspire more voters than his incoherence turns off. He is a would-be Napoleon in similarly Napoleonic times that pundits and critics likewise cannot quite figure out -- they are attracted to him even as they dismiss him as a buffoon. Yet a millionaire flamboyant reality-TV host is no more unlikely as a self-proclaimed savior of his nation than was an obscure Corsican artillery corporal promising to make revolutionary France “great again.” Unfortunately, republics, ancient and modern, do not have a good record of inviting in outsiders to save themselves from themselves.