Love him, hate him, regard him with stunned stupefaction, or think him slightly less awful than Hillary Clinton, everyone has to acknowledge that, as a national leader, Donald Trump is unique.
To Jonathan Chait, he is more than unsettling, expressing the views of a Mussolini-in-waiting in the tones of a Don Rickles riff. But what do we make of a dictator who talks in the voice of a Borscht Belt comedian? Perhaps that he is a Borscht Belt comedian, who somehow contrived to slip out of his element and into a parallel world.
In the political world, Trump breaks norms all the time, but because they’re the norms of an alien setting. In the worlds he belongs in, he is only too normal, and people much like him abound.
The first of his worlds is the that of the excessively fortunate, who have always been everyone’s boss. The son of a rich man, he was born with a job and given a fortune to start his own company. Of course, he assumes he’s the king of the mountain, and his word should be everyone’s law.
His second world is that of entertainment celebrities, at the top of the heap in the kingdom of privilege. These are people who could give Louis XIV lessons in arrogance. Surrounded by flacks, they tend to be autocrats and do not shrink at violence against the right people. Barbra Streisand was enraged when the Los Angeles Times employed some conservative columnists. A comedienne posed with the ‘severed head’ of the president. Bette Midler applauded the not-so-good neighbor who broke six of a senator’s ribs.
In these milieus, Trump would seem normal; it’s just in his job that he seems strange. Former President Ronald Reagan came out of films, but as Lou Cannon notes, he always had a parallel life going in politics, beginning in school, when he always ran for the highest office available and managed to win every time. He was also an actor, who portrayed other people, while Trump has played only himself. In this, he resembles a comic like Rickles, but also the shock jock Don Imus, whose slaps at Lynne Cheney and Hillary Clinton as ‘lard butt’ were calmly accepted — but who was derailed when he referred to the young members of a high school girls’ sports team as “hoes.” (The rule seems to be that nonpoliticians, especially young ones, don’t ask for trouble and shouldn’t be slandered, while people in politics deserve what they get.)
The rule also seems to be that crudeness isn’t for everyone: When Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tried to turn the tables on Trump during the 2016 primary, it was ineffective. This style may be a nonstarter when attempted by more normal types.
But if Trump isn’t much like our previous presidents, he’s not like a tyrant either. Jails haven’t been filled with his critics, who rant and rave freely. Canada (and Poland ) remain uninvaded. Lebensraum in particular doesn’t seem to excite him. Prison camps are uncrowded, and also unbuilt.
One main thing to fear is that he never had to deal before with different centers of power and tends to resent them. Another appears to be his extreme self-absorption, which results in tons of abuse being showered on people who don’t want to drench him with praise.
The flip side is that he is open to influence by people who use this to gain his allegiance — people such as a certain Soviet leader, who do not have our interests at heart. There are many things to dislike about Trump, but fascistic ambitions may not be among them. In his heart, he doesn’t seem to want Paris; he just seems to want a parade.
Noemie Emery, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."