The Emperor of Yankeeland - Kaiser Donald I

"But our good master cannot resist not only giving free rein to his personal feelings on every question, but also expressing them publicly." said of German Kaiser Wilhelm II by Count Alfred von Wandersee.

          When Donald Trump ascended to the presidency with almost 3 million fewer votes than his opponent, I immediately began to worry about how nations stumble into catastrophe. Germany's precipitation of World War I came immediately to mind, given the bellicose nationalism and racism of Trump's campaign rhetoric.


            Since November, I have been reading John C. G. Röhl's monumental biography of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Both Trump and Kaiser Willhelm II are accidental leaders of powerful nations. Trump was elected by narrowly carrying Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, although he lost the popular vote which shows that the people rejected his program. Trump's insistence on massive vote fraud is merely a means of trying to bully a mandate for a program that the voters rejected if you believe in the democratic principle of one person, one vote. Trump could be a decent president if he understood this and obeyed the will of the people. But his ignorance of the relationship between politics and government, plus his egomania prevents him from sharing power even with the voters.


            Kaiser Wilhelm was also an accidental sovereign. His grandfather, Wilhelm I, King of Prussia and the first German Kaiser, died in 1888, after seventeen years on the throne. It was under Wilhelm I and his Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, that Germany became the predominant European industrial and military power. Frederick, Wilhelm I's son and the father of Wilhelm II, ascended the throne but was already fatally ill from cancer of the throat. Frederick had served for only ninety-nine days before his twenty-nine-year-old son ascended the throne. And therein lies the tale. Had Frederick III served a normal reign, the whole history of Europe and the world might have been different. Frederick, the son-in-law of Queen Victoria, was more of a constitutionalist than his handicapped, absolutist, autocratic son.


            "Kaiser Wilhelm II had reached the zenith of his personal power, objectively speaking. And yet he was clearly far from satisfied. He showed less restraint than ever in giving vent to his autocratic, indeed aggressive claims to power in defiance of the Reich (Federal) and Prussian (state) government, the Reichstag (Congress) and the overwhelming majority of the German people whose attitude towards him was becoming increasingly critical. Every restriction placed on his power irritated him: he wanted to be in command and expected unconditional obedience. 'I know no constitution; I know only what I want,' he exclaimed. 'All of you know nothing,' he asserted peremptorily to his admirals. 'I alone know something, I alone decide!'" (p. 843, Wilhelm II, The Kaiser's Personal Monarchy,1888-1900 by John C. G. Röhl)


            "With his grandiose desire to make his mark, Wilhelm not only drove the new Weltpolitik (Global politics)[1] forwards at a far greater speed than the experienced officials in the Reich Chancellor's palace and the Foreign Office considered wise. His sudden and unpredictable initiatives on the world stage also had the effect of irritating and alarming the governments of the other powers. Repeatedly driven to the edge of desperation, the statesmen in London, Paris and St. Petersburg saw themselves confronted not only with a dangerous international rival but also with an excessively powerful and hyperactive ruler who seemed to be not quite responsible for his actions. No less disturbed were the German diplomats, who had occasion enough to throw up their hands in horror at the Kaiser's inconsistencies." (p.927, ibid.)


            "She noted in her diary in April 1904 that all German diplomats were complaining about 'the initiatives and arbitrary action taken by H.M. [His Majesty] who is not open to any advice, conducts only his own very personal policy and is leading glorious Germany into disaster unless God helps us!' The 'forceful personality' of the Kaiser and his autocratic style were having a corrupting effect on the diplomatic service, the provincial administration, the officer corps, the upper echelons of society in general, and even on some academics. Diplomats complained of the Kaiser's habit of praising reports which recounted 'any comic or racy tale, a piece of bravado, a student prank,' whereas he was bored by serious analyses and found fault with them....What I find so distressing is the Kaiser's mentality, which lies behind all these actions: he refuses to take advice from his legal, responsible servants, instead, being a slyboots and a tyrant, he hopes he will be better served by creatures who owe him their unearned position, and sows envy, hatred, mistrust, and servility among his most senior officials, thus opening the door to every kind of baseness." Hildegard von Spitzemberg (p. 124 - 125) Wilhelm II: Into the Abyss of War and Exile 1900 - 1941,


            Röhl's introduction to this chapter concludes: "I shall attempt to show, on the basis of documentary sources, the appalling degree to which Wilhelm II was responsible for the fact that in the eyes of the other great powers the German Reich rapidly became a malevolent rogue state, which was not prepared to abide by the recognized rules of the international community but which, on the contrary, was lying in wait for any opportunity to overturn the existing world order to its own advantage." Sound familiar?


            In early 1900, Count Waldersee commented with dismay: "I find my view confirmed increasingly, that the Kaiser not only wishes to rule autocratically, but in fact does rule autocratically. He no longer needs the advice of anyone, and demands unquestioning execution. . . If Ministers summon up the courage to mention difficulties in the country or the Reichstag, he always thinks they are spineless. There is no such thing as opposition. . . No one has his own opinion anymore, or at least no one dares to assert it, each of them silently submits, knowing that if he raised difficulties he would be removed. Where are the men of character to be found! Flatterers and cowards are being reared. . . How long can it go on like that it is impossible to say. . . But we can be sure of one thing: that if serious times should come, there will not be enough men around. The Kaiser ruins everyone he deals with. That such a system must 'lead to a bad end' was 'absolutely clear and indeed very many people feel it now.'  If setbacks or mishaps arose, which would be particularly dangerous in matters of foreign affairs, the survival of the monarchy itself would be threatened. For then people would say 'the Kaiser did everything himself and he is to blame', the General prophesied." Wilhelm II: Into the Abyss of War and Exile, p. 102 - 103.


            "Holstein was highly critical of the combination of threats of war and premature withdrawal which characterized the Kaiser's foreign policy....'He likes to begin his foreign policy with an attempt at intimidation, but retreats if the opposition does not at once give in.'" ibid, p. 462


            "In mid 1905, Wilhelm aligned himself so passionately with the 'Front' against the secretary of state that Tirpitz, as Berghahn writes, 'was utterly amazed by the Kaiser's state of excitement' during one audience. The 'fury' and 'ill-humor' with which the Kaiser reacted to the arguments that Tirpppitz produced against Koester's and Senden's ideas caused the secretary of state [Tirpitz] to contemplate resignation as early as in the spring of 1903." ibid, p. 468


            "'It displeases him that he is not yet in sole charge, and above all that he is not yet seen in well-informed circles in the navy as the only one in charge. The sad and distressing thing about such a talented monarch is that he values the appearance more than the essence. What is crucial for him is not the actual matter at hand but the question of whether he is at once seen as the only figure of authority. He completely overlooks the fact that only the essence, the thing itself, is lasting and that what lasts is credited to him alone,...'" ibid, p. 471


            "The Kaiser could not tolerate independent-minded men around him, the Hofmarschall wrote. 'He had a sixth sense for this kind of person. 'He does not grapple with them for long, and then he casts them aside. There is no question of their influencing him...None of them has ever succeeded in asserting his view against the Kaiser, and none has ever had a lasting, reliable, strong influence on him.'" ibid, p. 498-499


            "The monarch would not tolerate any independent expression of opinioin and systematically weaned all those around him away from any tendency to contradict. 'The Kaiser has a dramatic but not a political instinct, he considers the momentary effect but not the consequences, and is for the most part unpleasantly surprised by them'". ibid, p. 501


            "Even in the explosive field of international policy the Kaiser continued to make mischief without hindrance. In March 1908, in a letter to the American President he refused to accept the appointment of the career diplomat David J. Hill as ambassador in Berlin, apparently because he did not consider him sufficiently wealthy. The news that the Kaiser had written 'yet another of his ill-omened private letters, this time to Roosevelt' provoked a fresh storm of indignation in the German press. Spitzemberg regarded this new affair as 'the worst and most embarrassing example of tactlessness' committed by Wilhelm II and bewailed the fact that 'no bad experiences are of the least help with the Kaiser...'" ibid, p. 517


            In 1908, Wilhelm gave an interview to the American clergyman and journalist Dr. William Bayard Hale without the knowledge of his Chancellor that was so belligerent and racist that those who knew about it were scared that it would start a war if its contents ever became public. Although the contents were publicly suppressed, diplomats obtained copies of the interview. "Roosevelt now recornized the unredictability of the 'jumpy' Kaiser as a danger to world peace. 'If he is indiscreet enough to talk to a strange newspaerman in such a fashion it would be barely possible that sometime he would be indiscreet enough to act on impulse in a way that would jeopardize the peace;, he commented anxiously. From this time Elihu Root also regarded Wilhelm II and his Reich as 'the great disturber of the world.'" (ibid, p. 626)


            "Wilhelm's attitude to the press fluctuated between contempt and aggression. He was convinced that most foreign newspapers were bribed by foreign Powers to denounce him and his Reich. The press was of course completely in the hands of 'European pan-Judaism', he declared in 1908. More than once, when he ws particularly angered by an article, he threatened to send one of his Flügeladjutanten to the newspaper's offices to shoot the editor." (ibid, p. 656)


            "'The personal policy of the Kaiser is at the root of all evil...If this manner of conducting policy by impromptu inspirations, whose consequences are never thought through to their conclusion, does not cease, I can see no hope. And with all due consideration for the monarchy, I do not know whether a great, hard working people can today still be circumscribed by such characteristics of a single person." (ibid, p. 657)


            "He asserted that the fundamental cause of the growing concern throughout Germany, not only among the perpetually carping 'horde' of Socialists and Democrats but also among the 'hundreds of thousands of warm-hearted, unreservedly pro-monarchical compatriots', lay in the autocratic personality of the Kaiser, which was absolutely incomprehensible 'except in terms of his firm belief in the divine right of Kings'. There was 'simply no field left in which he did not demand recognition as an expert'. Wilhelm II insited on keeping all the reins in his hands and on making all decisions, even on minor matters,...And so he goes on treading a perilous path beside the precipice of a dilettantism that destroys his prestige; he makes his own life and that of others inordinately difficult; and above all he impedes the machinery of government by seeking to be its driving force, whereas even the most competent man, in his place, is only entitled to be its chief supervisor. The penchant for over-hasty judgements, Wilhelm's impulsivity, the naïve subjectivism . . . and finally the urge to assert supreme command everywhere, an urge which refuses to tolerate anything but yes-men and keeps all strong characters at bay, for its suspicion never sleeps;" (ibid, p. 658)


            "Instead of recognizing his mistakes and drawing lessons for the future from the disaster caused by his quasi-absolutist manner of ruling, Wilhelm II still refused to accept any blame. Although he had no alternative but to restrain himself in his speeches for the time being, in his letters and converstaions - above all with foreign sympathisers - he gave vent to extravagant tirades of hatred for those who he considered had 'betrayed' him.... Among his entourage, the feeling of sitting on a powder keg did not diminish, but increased markedly." (ibid, p. 694-5)


            "The journalist had then asked Foreign Secretary Jagow, who did not know of the speech, what was to be made of it, and had received the reply that His Majesty had at the time been 'exceedingly nervous and irritable and that when he was in that state he often said things which were better left unsaid, and to which much attention should not be paid.' Krause for his part alerted the minister to the enormous danger if a country was ruled by a sovereign 'who from sudden accesses of nervousness or irritation was capable of speaking as he had done before a lot of eager and probably hot-headed young officers.' To Goschen, Krause added that the danger could arise from this was indeed great, but that he thought it 'extremely improbable' that Wilhelm would ever actually steel himself to declare war. However warlike his language might be, 'there was not much fear that he would ever take it upon himself to declare war. . . except under the very greatest pressure from his people.'" (ibid, p. 987)


            "One week after the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Kaiser, believing that victory would now follow in the west, declared any discussion of a 'peaceful future for the world' to be 'beside the point!' and set out his own vision in these terms: 'God willing we shall be able to impose the coming peace upon our enemies, which we must do. They will only sue for peace when they have been beaten so badly that they have had enough. Once they admit to that they will have to accept a peace which takes into account the new and heavy loss of blood suffered by the German people solely as a result of their pigheadedness. The peace must - if needs be at their expense and without regard for their feelings in the future - contain such real guarantees for us that a world combination such as the present one can never again be put together against us. That is to say a genuine, proper, common or garden peace of the kind that has so far always been signed after a victorious war. There is no place in such a peace for dreams of human happiness or humanitarian cosmopolitanism, only one's own naked self-interest and the guarantee of one's own security and greatness must count. The vnaquished must submit to his fate!'  He rejected out of hand any suggestion of an international order not based upon the military and economic predominance of Germany and her allies. When the Berliner Tageblatt complained that there was no mention in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk of multilateral disarmament or arbitration or any kind of League of Naitons, the monarch commented: 'because that is all rubbish! for which sreious people don't give a toss!'" (ibid, p. 1161-2)


            "The Kaiser, on the other hand, was in their view a cold, self-centered egotist with 'the soul of a child' and a tendency to hide behind grandiloquent bombast." (ibid, p. 1201)


            "'All his life, evidently in keeping with his entire personality, he must have lived in a world of his own imagining which he then imposes upon reality and experience. . . The view of the world which he made for himself and outlined for us was wrongheaded to a grotesque, truly tragic degree.'" (ibid, p. 1215)


            "If the Kaiser read something in the newspapers that did not fit in with his own preconceptions, then it was simply a lie. He showed no understanding whatever of the problems facing Germany at home [after the war, when the Kaiser was living in exile in Holland]. 'Each and every event is seen solely from the point of view that every government since the revolution has been incompetent. The only one to have governed well was 'He' himself. But he had been chased away with black ingratitude. Now the Germans were getting their just deserts and it was only right that they were suffering. He goes in for a great deal of metaphorical sabre-rattling, everyone in Germany is so pitifully soft .  .  . All this from the man who through his lack of energy, his hesitancy, his sabre-rattling at the wrong time and place has done so much damage! But one can now see how everything came about as it did. Especially if one add the Kaiser's great receptiveness to flattery and adoration. The sins of his immediate entourage among others in this regard are quite incalculable.'" (ibid, p. 1220)


            While many if not most of young Trump's contemporaries were either fighting in Vietnam, or fighting against the war in Vietnam, or risking their lives registering Black voters in the south, or doing something for their country, as President Kennedy requested, Trump was inheriting a large fortune and lining his pockets with more in his family's real estate business, even by discriminating against minorities in renting its properties. Trump's draft dodging and tax dodging shows he has a grandiose opinion of himself, that he is apart from other people and immune to their strictures and circumstances. Trump ran a campaign where he claimed everything was terrible and only he, like a monarch, could fix it. The only flaw in Trump's argument is that if everything that came before was so terrible, how did the United States end up being the sole superpower and the envy of the world?


            The downfall of great people and nations, at least since the time of the ancient Greeks,  has almost always been caused by hubris, excessive pride or self-confidence, arrogance, conceit, haughtiness, self-importance, egotism, pomposity, and superiority. In the case of Kaiser Wilhelm II, it led to the greatest man-made disaster in human history; World War I. Let's hope it keeps that title.


            Trump could be a good president if he only understood politics, which he doesn't. He is an entertainer. He even denies that he lost the popular vote, a clear call for compromise by the voters. Instead, Trump prefers to sacrifice his agenda. He insults the very legislators he needs to enact his bills, preferring the sound bite to passing legislation.


            In a book about the Supreme Court, one justice said, "I would rather have a justice against me, than a sick justice." The telling point is that sick people are intractable with their illness dominating all other facets of their character. The salient issue is whether Trump is sick. Clearly, he can not control himself on Twitter or when speaking. The fact that what he says sabotages his putative program makes no impact. This means he is either unwilling or, more worryingly, unable to learn from his mistakes. The clear similarities between Kaiser Wilhelm II and Donald Trump leads one to believe that Trump's personality is the problem. He has a kind of Tourettes where there is a disconnect between his mouth and brain. He relishes antagonizing minorities and clearly has difficulty dealing with women as equals. Hillary, of course, was correct when she said that Trump did not have the temperament to be president. Unfortunately, the fact that he is president is her fault. I was going to conclude with the plea "God help us all," but I'm an athiest. That means we must all get to work because no one but ourselves and our own hard work is going to save us from Trump.


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[1] Bismarck's policy was basically to make Germany predominant in Europe and leave France, England, Russia, Japan and the United States to quarrel with each other over dominance in the colonies. Kaiser Wilhelm II, on the other hand, sought to make Germany a global power on a par with Great Britain. However, Germany's international ambitions precipitated conflict with its competitor European neighbors.