We’re told that great leaders make history. Like so much of what we are taught, that’s a load of bunk. Yes, great leaders make it into the history books, but they do not make history. You make history. I make history. All we dirt people together make history. Government-run schools don’t teach us this because it makes us easier to control.
The “Great Man Theory” [Link] tells us that history can be largely explained by the impact of great leaders. This theory was popularized in the 1800’s by the historian and social commentator Thomas Carlyle [Link] The Great Man Theory downplays the importance of economic and practical explanations. It is an appealing theory because its simplicity offers the path of least resistance. That should ring an alarm.
Herbert Spencer [Link] forcefully disagreed with the “Great Man Theory.” He believed that great leaders were merely products of their social environment. “Before he can remake his society, his society must make him.” Tolstoy went so far as to call great leaders “history’s slaves.” However, this middle ground still misses the mark.
At the other extreme is “history from below” [Link] aka ‘the people’s history.’ “History from below” takes the perspective of common people rather than leaders. It emphasizes the daily life of ordinary people that develop opinions and trends” as opposed to great people introducing ideas or initiating events.” Unfortunately, this too is only half the equation, and it is no surprise that it appeals to Leftist and Marxist agendas.
Having studied politics and history ever since the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, I determined that although history is partly the environments and individuals shaping each other reciprocally, it is more than that. It is you and I who make history with every decision we make, every dollar we spend, everything we learn, every vote we cast and every opinion we voice. It’s even what we don’t do. It is mostly organic and cannot easily be explained in a simple, linear fashion the way the aforementioned political philosophers tried.
Great leaders are merely the right person at the right time and place. However, they do not lead so much as follow from the front. They stick their finger in the air to see which way the wind blows. They may be brutes, bullies or demagogues, but they are sensitive enough to understand the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times and so, they adjust their message accordingly.
That is one reason Jimmy Carter was a failed President. He was a nice guy, but he did not get an accurate reading of the times. Instead, he acted on the wishful thinking that is characteristic of liberals.
One of the significant shortcomings of many political philosophers is their ignorance of human nature. That is why Collectivism in all its forms appeals to the downtrodden. “Share and share alike” is a beautiful ideal so long as you get other people’s stuff, but the flip side of the coin is not quite so appealing.
I heard a radio interview with a self-avowed Communist:
“So do you believe in ‘share and share alike?”
“Yes, I do.”
“And, if you had more than one house, you’d give them away and keep just one for yourself?”
“Yes. I would.”
“And, if you had more than one vehicle, you’d give them away and keep just one for yourself?”
“Yes, I would.”
“And, if you had more than one shirt …”
“Whoa, wait a minute! I have more than one shirt.”
I can’t remember the rest of the interview as I was laughing too hard.
The Great Man Theory is one extreme, its critics are somewhere in the middle and ‘the history of the people’ is at the other end of the spectrum. Despite this, we are still fascinated by great leaders. That is human nature. Whether we are slaves at heart, or lack self-confidence or some other explanation is endlessly debatable. However, the fact remains that we are fascinated by great leaders and our inability to understand them further disproves the accepted theories.
Adolph Hitler is the ultimate example of our fascination with a great man. According to Alex Ross’s “The Hitler Vortex,” [Link] tens of thousands of books have been written about Hitler. “Books have been written about Hitler’s youth, his years in Vienna and Munich, his service in the First World War, his assumption of power, his library, his taste in art, his love of film, his relations with women, and his predilections in interior design (‘Hitler at Home’).”
Tens of thousands of books failed to explain Hitler. Ross, too, does no better when he writes, “What set Hitler apart from most authoritarian figures in history was his conception of himself as an artist-genius who used politics as his métier. It is a mistake to call him a failed artist; for him, politics and war were a continuation of art by other means.” WTF? Are we to believe Hitler was simply an artist who used the world as his canvas? Equally pointless is the notion that, “Hitler debased the Romantic cult of genius to incarnate himself as a transcendent leader hovering above the fray.”
Although he was a brilliant orator, Hitler’s failures are too innumerable to list. [Link] He was certainly a failure as a painter and his General staff considered him an incompetent military strategist (fortunately for the Allies.) However, Hitler was merely the right man at the right time and place to achieve power. As Ross explains, Hitler was, “the result of a large protest movement colliding with complex patterns of elite self-interest, in a culture increasingly prone to aggressive mythmaking and irrationality.” That sounds all too close to home, doesn’t it?
Enter Donald Trump; the right man at the right time and place. He’s a brute, a bully, and a demagogue, but he understands the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times and he adjusts his message to appeal to his base.
I have known many bullies; on the playground and in the boardroom. A bully may achieve short-term gain, but for long-term pain. It is very easy to destroy corporate culture, but extremely difficult, if not impossible, to mend a toxic workplace after the bully was dismissed. Now, extrapolate this to the world under Donald Trump.
John Feeley is the former U.S. Ambassador to Panama portrayed in The New Yorker magazine article “The Diplomat Who Quit the Trump Administration.” [Link] After his first meeting with Trump, he wrote that Trump “saw every unknown person as a threat and that his first instinct was to annihilate that threat. ‘He’s like a velociraptor. He has to be boss, and if you don’t show him deference he kills you.’”
Feeley fears that “the country was embracing an attitude that was profoundly inimical to diplomacy … ‘If we do that … we will become weaker and less prosperous.’” He is correct in that regard. China is building a large, new embassy at the mouth of the Panama Canal visible to every ship “as they enter a waterway that once symbolized the global influence of the United States.”
Feeley is also correct in warning that the Trump administration’s gutting the diplomatic corps will have negative repercussions. Throughout Latin America, leftist leaders are in retreat, and popular movements reject corrupt governance. Yet, Amerika is losing “the greatest opportunity to recoup the moral high ground that we have had in decades.” Instead, the U.S. is abandoning the region to China. Feeley calls it “a self-inflicted Pearl Harbor.”
China is replacing U.S. influence in Latin America and Chinese banks “provided more than a hundred and fifty billion dollars in loan commitments to the region … In less than two decades, trade between China and Latin America has increased twenty-seven-fold.” Although that began long before Trump, “We’re not just walking off the field. We’re taking the ball and throwing a finger at the rest of the world.”
Feeley says that he felt betrayed by what he regarded as “the traditional core values of the United States.” Sorry, Feeley, but Amerika lost its core values long before Trump was elected. Trump is not the cause; he is the symptom, the result of the declining Amerikan Empire.
Hunters know that one of the most dangerous animals is a wounded one. The same is correct about failing empires because they are a danger not only to others but to their own citizens as well. The elites are running out the clock in order to loot as much as they can before it hits the fan.
We dirt people will continue to suffer from stagnant wage growth while the so-called increase in national wealth goes to a tiny minority. [link]
Moreover, nobody wins a trade war that raises consumer prices even if Trump eventually triumphs.
The economy staggers under the weight of phony wars, fake finances, fake GDP, fake CPI, fake employment, fake pensions and fake everything. [Link] The national debt increases $1 trillion every year, consumer debt is at an all-time high [Link] while the tax cuts benefit only the ultra-wealthy. Also, the fake news tells us everything is wonderful. Don’t believe it. “If everything is so awesome, why are Americans drinking themselves to death in record numbers?” [Link]
It is said that every few generations, money returns to its rightful owners. That is what’s happening now.
Amerika emerged relatively unscathed from the Second World War whereas many other countries were bombed back into the Stone Age. The Marshal Plan helped rebuild countries that were to become both America’s future customers and its competitors. Amerika’s busy factories transformed from war production to consumer goods, the demand for which was created by “the Father of Spin” Edward Bernays’ marketing propaganda. [Link]
As well, the U.S. stole the gold that the Nazis had stolen from others, [Link] and that wealth in addition to robust, productive capacity temporarily propelled the U.S. far ahead of other nations. However, it would not last. Eventually, the undeserved prosperity of the 1950’s and ‘60’s began to run out of steam as other nations rebuilt and competed with the U.S. President Nixon defaulting on the dollar in 1971 by “closing the gold window” signaled the end of Amerika’s good times. The subsequent debt creation now unconstricted by a gold basis helped to cushion the blow for several decades, but wealth was now flowing to Asia along with factory jobs.
For 5,000 years, China was a world superpower with only a short, two-century hiatus that is now ending as China again emerges as an economic superpower. Such a massive shift in wealth cannot be attributed to either leadership or the people below. It is a painful reversion to the mean. All the finger-pointing and wailing and gnashing of teeth … not even bombastic Trump and his tariffs can stem the tide and make Amerika great again as money continues to flow back to its rightful owners.
The USA is a declining, bankrupt, warmongering police state and most of its indoctrinated citizens think they live in a free, peaceful country.
China is a corrupt police state, but most of its citizens know it.
We have met the enemy, and he is us. The future awaits.