You, my dear readers, know that one of my personal perks in writing these columns is that I live in the comments section. And while I answer as many as I can, I endeavor to read every one, and find them all entertaining and worthwhile. And with that in mind, I owe a shout out and debt of gratitude to one of my readers, DitchGator, on our affiliate site, Daily Sound and Fury, whose magnificent observation is the inspiration for this article.
Certainly no former President, living or dead, and few other people of note, living or dead, have invited comparison the way that Donald Trump does. And while he is a truly unique individual, in more ways than one, his various characteristics tend to beg to be compared to past historical figures, both living and dead.
Trump has been compared more than once to Il Duce, Benito Musselini, mostly for the facial similarity, as well as his habit of holding his head back and sticking out his jaw, as if daring you to knock that chip off of his shoulder. He has been often compared to Adolf Hitler, not only for his blatant racism and nationalistic oratory, but also for his ability to hold, control, and influence his audience with his words. And most frequently, he has been compared to Richard Nixon, not only for his own delusional belief in his own presidential omnipotence, but also for his base criminal mentality and actions.
I believe all of those comparisons to be valid, in their own ways, and for their own reasons. But there is one comparison I have yet to see made, and it is the most striking and disturbing, not only for its accuracy regarding Trump himself, but also for its accuracy in describing his base followers.
And that comparison is between Donald Trump and Charles Manson. And despite any obvious similarities, the more you know about Manson the man, the more striking the comparison becomes. I am old enough that I was alive and aware of the terror unleashed upon Los Angeles by Manson and his “family.” Not only the crimes, but Manson himself fascinated me as a study in flawed character. I have read the iconic chronicle of Manson and his crimes, Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor who knew Manson well enough to be able to untangle his twisted mentality and put him away, so many times that the pages eventually separated from the bindings. And the comparisons are downright eerie.
Manson did not grow up affluent, but like Trump, Manson grew up around a criminal influence. Trump’s father was not of sterling business repute, and Manson started a life of crime early, with a burglar uncle who used to hoist him through small windows that the child could fit through, so he could come to the front door and unlock it. Manson and Trump are both inveterate con men, whose belief in the infallibility of their own bullshit was utter and complete. Both men were racists, who only occasionally bothered to try to cover up that fact. And both men found themselves to be morally and intellectually superior to others, especially their followers.
Both men were masters of manipulating their public persona. Trump used to call tabloid reporters pretending to be his own PR man, both to inflate his perceived wealth, as well as to perpetuate the myth of his status as a sexual stud. When Manson started trying to convince his young followers that he was the son of God, he used similar subterfuge. Manson was actually born Charles Milles Manson, but to impress his gullible followers he slyly changed it to Charles Willis Manson, because if you broke his names down properly, his entire name read Charles Will Is Mans Son. What more evidence did his “family” need?
Both men preyed on the vulnerable and insecure. Manson built his family with disillusioned and discarded teens, most of whom had had problems with their parents, especially a dominant father. Manson became the benevolent father figure in their lives. Trump has feasted on the financially downtrodden and politically abandoned souls, speaking to them in their own terms, and stoking their most primal fears, while taking on an almost Messianic role, promising that he alone can fix it.
And both were devastatingly destructive, both to their followers, as well as other innocents. Manson personally ordered the deaths of seven strangers over two nights, personally participating in two of them, the LaBianca murders. There were other murders committed by his followers, both before and after. And while Trump has not personally ordered a murder, he has ordered violence, in promoting assaults against protesters at his rallies. And his over the top rhetoric helped to create the atmosphere that unhinged the inhibitions of the man who murdered Heather Heyer. The New Zealand shooter was lavish in his praise of Trump, and the Pittsburgh synagogue gunman parroted Trump language. And the van of the mail bomber in Florida was almost a shrine to Trump.
But as striking as all of those comparisons are, I have purposely saved the worst for last. As DitchGator pointed out in his comment, both Manson and Trump have stoked racial fears and tensions for their own personal gain. In the concept of Helter Skelter, actually the title of a Beatles song that “spoke to” Manson, he envisioned and preached an impending black-white race war. Manson foresaw it as originating with the killing of some “rich white pigs” by black militants, an event he tried to copy. He foresaw the war spreading globally, with the black man eventually winning, and taking over the earth. But because the black people were inferior, they couldn’t handle power, so Manson and his family, then grown to the biblical number of 144,000 would emerge from hiding and take over ruling the world.
Trump stoked racial fear and animus to promote the summary execution of The Central Park Five in full front page ads in New York newspapers, five men who turned out to be innocent. And Trump stoked racial fear and animus against not only blacks, but Hispanics and Muslims as well, to fire up his core base to help put him in the White House. And as we speak, Trump is once again stirring up racial fear and hatred, with racist family separation and demeaning immigrant detention at the southern border, as well as stoking up hatred against both blacks and Muslims with his assailing of The Squad to try to remain in power for another four years.
So, while there have been several valid comparisons between Trump and other public figures, in both the world and US, living and dead, to me, the most striking similarity is between the two men that nobody had compared until now. And as striking and compelling as those comparisons are, it should serve as a scathing indictment of the sad current state of our national and political discourse. After all, when the world looks, this is what it sees. And what we, all of us, appear to be.