Steve Fraser has an interesting essay on the parallels and differences between William Randolph Hearst and Donald Trump:
Like Trump, Hearst was born wealthy. Like Trump, he was a ruthless competitor in the industry he came to dominate: newspaper publishing in Hearst’s case, real estate for The Donald. Like Trump, Hearst did not have to chase after publicity; he was the story. In his case he made sure of that by owning newspapers in cities all over the country, and if there happened to a city without a Hearst paper he bought one or started one. Garnering the lion’s share of attention has never been a problem for Trump, who benefits from living in the age of journalism of the picaresque, of reality masquerades, of news as entertainment. Known as “The Chief,” Hearst, like Trump, was a seasoned practitioner of the Great Lie. Both men lived large. Hearst was a sport, liked to party, married a showgirl, dressed brashly, spent lavishly (one thinks immediately of San Simeon, his grotesque palace in California where the haunting final scenes of “Citizen Kane” are set). Despite his enormous fortune, the Establishment of that era frowned on all this. Like Trump at a different moment in time, Hearst was their bad boy.
Patrician enemies first laughed and then grew alarmed. They deplored him as a “low voluptuary,” called him a “degraded, unclean thing.” As his political ambitions surfaced, they spied “a new horror in American politics.” And that was what really rankled. So long as he thumbed his nose at the social protocols of the Social Register elite, he was considered noxious, not dangerous. Once his more grandiose yearnings to run the country became clear, matters grew more serious.
Hearst, like Trump, had nurtured those desires for years before acting on them. When he did, he let loose with a kind of wild bilious rhetoric that only The Donald could match. Historians credit the jingoism of his newspapers with helping incite the Spanish-American War. During it he accused the secretary of war of poisoning American soldiers with “ancient” and “diseased’ beef. But what really bothered the country’s elites was his fulsome assault on the plutocracy.
How strange! He belonged to that plutocracy. Here is just where “The Chief” and “The Donald” converge and radically diverge. On the one hand, both held in contempt the sachems who ran the two major political parties, in Hearst’s case the Democrats, in Trump’s the Republicans. Neither held any elective or appointive office before reaching for the top. Both had the resources and chutzpah to stage their own campaigns, dealing with and bulldozing party hierarchs when they had to or because they enjoyed doing it.
Like Trump, Hearst showed total confidence he could realize his ambitions with or without an established political machine, boasted for that reason he couldn’t be bought, and set out to create one for himself. He had his own media megaphone after all, and used it to tap into something new in American political culture then that has become old news today. One of his closest advisers commented: “The American people – like all people – are interested in PERSONALITY… Hearst appeals to the people – not to a boss or corporation…” “The Chief” represented, according to one observer, “a strange new element. He is the first one-man party to have gained anything like national headway in the history of our democracy… His power has been gained purely by advertising himself… He is a celebrity who is guaranteed four million readers every day.” Sounds familiar.
One of Trump’s rather terrifying charms is his ability to conjure up various echoes of many a departed demagogue: from Mussolini, to Huey Long, George Wallace, Ronald Reagan, and the historical version of Charles Foster Kane. (Vladimir Putin would be a good addition to this list if he were not so obstinately alive).
Of course any historical analogy one draws should acknowledge that Trump is also sui generis, which I understand is Latin for oh my God this cannot really be happening. But it is.