Print Music Editor Oliver Leader de Saxe analyses the origins of the most powerful men in the world
The last few months have been a watershed moment for the callousness of the ruling establishment. From Boris Johnson’s infamous address to the people proclaiming “many families are going to lose love ones before their time” whilst simultaneously cutting back on contact tracing, to Donald Trump tear-gassing peaceful protestors for a photo-op, it’s difficult to contemplate how figures so unrepentant in their arrogance, so unapologetic in their actions, could ever be granted the public trust to take office, let alone how they came to be in the first place. Who’s responsible for the men and women supposedly responsible for the whole nation? Who’s to blame?
Like Trump, Boris’ privileged upbringing has bred a distinct pedigree of narcissism
These are the questions posed by Dr Mary L. Trump, the egomaniacal president’s estranged niece, in her tell-all memoir Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man. And there is no uncertainty in who Mary blames for her uncle’s fragile mental state; the toxically masculine shadow of his father, Fred Trump, stands tall over the formative years of one of the most unstable geniuses around today.
Mary, who has a PhD in psychology, has no qualms about referring to Donald Trump’s father as a sociopath, pointing out how “he treated his children variously with contempt.” It doesn’t take a sweeping Freudian analysis to see how such a distant paternal relationship crippled the man’s emotional intelligence. She states that Trump Sr. robbed his son of “ability to develop and experience the entire spectrum of human emotion”, raising a brutal, unempathetic businessman in the place of a rounded human being. And this isn’t even taking into account the fact that the Trump household was a hotbed of racism and anti-Semitism, something which may explain the current POTUS’ strong affiliations with the far-right and white supremacy.
But it’s only when you look at the childhood of the current premier in the UK that you can begin to establish a pattern. Like Trump, Boris Johnson’s childhood was defined by the absence of his equally pugnacious father, so much so that he wasn’t even there for his son’s birth. Like Trump, he was trapped within a bubble of privilege by his parents. Several biographies have made note of his complacency when studying at Eton, which did nothing to dent his entrance into Oxford. Even after conspiring to have a fellow journalist beaten up and making up quotes while working in the press, Boris Johnson has only failed upwards into the highest echelons of power in his never-ending quest to fulfill his childhood ambitions of becoming the “world king”.
Even a good father can inadvertently set their sons or daughters on the path to ruin
And just like Trump, Boris’ privileged upbringing has bred a distinct pedigree of narcissism. Both Trump and Boris were arguably spoilt as children, with Trump’s toys and tantrums stoking the fires of envy and fear in classmates, whilst Boris was coddled within the privileged private education system which has been responsible for many a career sociopath. It is this arrogant superiority complex which boils over into their politics. When asked to apologise for his government’s failures in managing the Coronavirus, Boris refused with the indignant pride of someone whose fragile ego matters more than consequences of his own actions. Similarly, Trump has had a track record in refusing to yield to experts, famously spurting out that he didn’t believe New York needed so many ventilators as medical professionals across the globe looked on in unabashed horror. Even if we don’t hold Stanley Johnson and Fred Trump directly culpable for the failures of their children, it’s difficult not see how their influence and parental choices cultivated two of today’s most controversial political mavericks.
That being said, we must still be cautious with punishing people for the sins of their forbearers. In the words of Shakespeare “good wombs have borne bad sons” and vice-versa. There’s something undeniably vindictive in how media outlets have ridiculed Trump’s youngest son Barron, a fourteen year old teenager on the receiving end of cruel speculation due to his unfortunate family tree. However, I still think there’s a distinction between tabloid speculation and the interrogation of hard truths. I don’t think it’s unfair to look at the presidency of George W. Bush for example, and say his attempts to escape his father’s shadow in some small part led to ruinous interventions abroad and questionable domestic policy at home. Even a good father can inadvertently set their sons or daughters on the path to ruin, all intentions aside. And if we want to understand those in positions of power better, this is something we need to come to terms with.
There’s a tendency in today’s politics to compartmentalize contemporary problems into distinct, little boxes. We love hearing about bad apples and dirty anomalies, tales of isolated cases and horror stories, because it hides the fact our socio-political institutions are systemically broken. But we can’t ignore a problem like Boris. We can’t brush Trump under the rug. These are men created by patriarchal power structures, by absent fathers and toxic homes, by the schools and universities and companies that keep the dusty cobwebs of the old world intact. The Stanleys and Freds of the world may not be responsible for all its ills, nor will combating the influence of the political patriarch fix everything. But if we want a fairer, safer future for everyone, I can’t think of a better place to start.