This morning two friends were discussing, in the context of the fulsome praise now being showered on Bush 41, what sorts of encomia would pour forth for Donald Trump when 45 shuffles off this mortal coil. They both thought that the tradition requiring only good things to be said upon the death of a president to be followed, no matter how fantastical the lies that would have to be told on this particular occasion might be.
I disagreed, for a couple of reasons:
(1) I suspect that, shortly after he leaves office one way or another, it will be discovered that Donald Trump had no supporters at all among American elites, and most particularly among Republican elites, however much the evidence of things like their contemporaneous actions and statements suggested otherwise at the time.
Trump, it will turn out, was not really a conservative or even a Republican. Therefore when he dies it won’t be necessary to pretend that he was anything other than what he is, which is to say a man without a single redeeming quality, who is no more capable of inspiring love, friendship, or even genuine loyalty than a baboon is capable of composing a sonnet cycle.
(2) I know this violates all sorts of internet rules, but in this respect the contrast between Donald Trump and certain problematic political leaders such as Hitler and Stalin is striking.
Hitler and Stalin were moral monsters of the first order, but it’s also clear that they did inspire tremendous devotion, and not only in the attenuated sense whereby a demagogue whips an anonymous mob into a frenzy at a rally (Trump of course manages to do that), but in the much more personal and sincere sense that they were loved and indeed worshiped by many of their closest political confidantes.
A good part of Hitler’s inner circle committed suicide in the wake of his death, not merely out of fear of the Reds — although that was certainly part of it — but because they had no desire to live now that their Fuhrer was gone. For example Goebbels and his wife murdered their six young children before killing themselves, while men like Molotov and Malenkov wept apparently genuine tears of grief at Stalin’s death bed, even though they were well aware that his death could quite possibly save their lives (with the Doctors Plot hysteria in full swing, Stalin was giving every indication of undertaking yet another purge of the party leadership).
Trump, by contrast, seems to inspire nothing but loathing and contempt among anyone who has ever actually known him. He is also remarkable in that, unlike any other American president, he managed to ascend to the office without possessing a single virtue of any sort. To reference only the most recent examples among the progenitors of American Fascism Lite, Nixon was intelligent, Reagan was genial and appeared to actually love his second wife, Bush 41 was personally courageous, Bush 43 isn’t personally racist (OK I’m stretching now), etc. The point being that the tradition of not speaking ill of the dead requires finding some non-facially preposterous good thing to say about the departed.
In Trump’s case, that thing will be the same apercu the rabbi of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple offered up when asked to say something good about the notorious Harry Cohn, the freshly-dead founder of Columbia Pictures. At least that’s the way I’m betting.