What is it about Donald Trump that brings out the literary analogies? First a Salon columnist compared him to Odysseus’s Cyclops, then the New Yorker’s John Cassidy saw him as Gulliver, and most recently Rachel Maddow of MSNBC and others have compared him to Frankenstein’s monster.
I’ve written about the Cyclops parallel here, but let’s take a look at the other two. A week ago Cassidy wrote that
Trump looms over everything, with the other candidates snapping around his ankles. It’s bit like Gulliver and the Lilliputians.
He also predicted that the G.O.P will turn on Trump as the Lilliputians turn on Gulliver:
[I]f his campaign goes on like this for much longer, the G.O.P. could be forced to resort to the same tactic that the Lilliputians used on a visitor who had outstayed his welcome, and put him on trial for treasonous acts. That’s impractical, sure, but Republican leaders would be overwhelmed with delight if Trump, like Gulliver, decided to return from whence he came.
Cassidy doesn’t get the book entirely right but his point still holds. Gulliver isn’t put on trial because he overstays his welcome but because he won’t fall in with the Lilliputian schemes. Gulliver singlehandedly defeats the navy of Blefescu (France), Lilliput’s major rival, but instead of being grateful, Lilliput wants him to wipe out Blefescu altogether. When Gulliver refuses to do so on principled grounds, he is charged with treason and condemned to have his eyes shot out so that he will blindly follow orders.
Trump likewise refuses to become a blind tool of the Republican powerbrokers. His refusal to promise to endorse the eventual G.O.P nominee in the first Fox debate was seen as treasonous. We’ll see if Trump bolts the Republican Party as Gulliver bolts Lilliput.
Here’s one difference: Trump is far more savvy that the gullible Gulliver, who is unaware of all the political machinations going on around him. Trump seems very aware.
Cassidy is right that everyone is relieved when Gulliver decides to leave, not only Lilliput but Blefescu as well. I suspect both Republicans and Democrats would like to see Trump out of the picture so that we can finally escape the reality television show in which we find ourselves.
As for the comparison with Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, many have pointed out that Trump attacking Fox News is like the monster turning on his creator. Rachel Maddow of MSNBC specifically mentioned Shelley’s work two days ago, pointing out that Trump has appeared on Fox News many more times than any of the other candidates.
Their current horror as Trump attacks them may be little different than Frankenstein’s horror upon first seeing his monster in action:
I started from my sleep with horror; a cold dew covered my forehead, my teeth chattered, and every limb became convulsed; when, by the dim and yellow light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters, I beheld the wretch—the miserable monster whom I had created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs. I took refuge in the courtyard belonging to the house which I inhabited, where I remained during the rest of the night, walking up and down in the greatest agitation, listening attentively, catching and fearing each sound as if it were to announce the approach of the demoniacal corpse to which I had so miserably given life.
Oh! No mortal could support the horror of that countenance. A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch. I had gazed on him while unfinished; he was ugly then, but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived.
Fox’s horror, of course, is over fear that its monster will hand the 2016 election to Hillary Clinton, which is why the network tried to kneecap Trump at the first debate. It had no more success than the scientist dispensing of his creation. But that isn’t the end of the parallels with the novel.
After Frankenstein destroys the bride that he is making for his monster, the monster doesn’t go after Frankenstein but his wife. In like manner, Fox’s monster has been going after Fox star Megyn Kelly. Amanda Marcotte of Talking Points Memor, savoring the delicious irony of Fox accusing someone of sexism, points out how it has no one to blame but itself:
Conservative media and Fox News in particular have spent years – decades, if you count talk radio – training their audiences to believe that exhortations against sexism and racism are nothing but the “political correctness” police trying to kill your good time. Indeed, one reason that Trump was able to get so much attention for his presidential run in the first place is that Fox has spent years building him up, knowing that their audience enjoys vicariously needling imagined liberals and feminists with his loud-mouthed insult comic act.
Marcotte then uses the Frankenstein analogy:
[T]his is the monster they created. They should know what it wants and what it’s capable of. But instead, they seem to think that if you just shake your finger at the right wing base and tell them to be nice to the lady who dared talk back to their hero, Donald Trump, they will somehow realize that they’re not actually courageous warriors holding back the forces of political correctness, but that they are instead just a bunch of jerks. But it doesn’t work that way.
Frankenstein ends in the desolate wastes of the Arctic with the monster in mad pursuit of his creator. The scientist can only shake loose of his creation by dying. Similarly, moderate Republican Bruce Bartlett believes that the GOP in its current incarnation must die, shaking free of its Southern Strategy and its reactionary white voters. Maybe that’s what it will take for the current horror story to end and for the GOP to become a centrist party once again.