As the New Year starts, the world seems to be stepping into a new era — literally. As if, all of a sudden, the Gregorian calendar is no longer valid and the world needs to start counting from the beginning. On January 20 of the year 2017, according to the old calendar, the new Trumpian calendar will start the first day of the first month in Year 0001.
The world is obsessed with Donald Trump. I work with the news and do commentary stories and reporting, so I have to read through and filter a lot of material every day. In the 25 years that I have been working in the field of the professional news business, I never experienced one single news story that would occupy so much space as Donald Trump currently does. Perhaps terrorism can match Trump for the story that we all live and chew at the moment, but little — if anything — else does.
So no matter where we look — wherever our already Trump-saturated minds may seek asylum — Donald Trump always pops up again out of nowhere.
It happened to me when I got back to work after the long, never-ending Christmas holidays. Four days ago, a friend called and asked me if I had seen the portrait of Mao in which he was given the features of Trump. I had not. I remembered Mona Lisa with the face of Mao with a small wart on his (or, perhaps, her) chin.
“It is a very fine drawing,” my friend said. He told me to look on his Facebook page, where he had posted it. As it happened, the portrait accompanied a piece that came from New Zealand, passed through Rome, and bounced to upstate New York, where my friend lives. The piece is written by Geremie Barmé, a widely known sinologist who currently works in New Zealand, where he runs the online publication China Heritage — where his piece, “A Monkey King’s Journey to the East,” has been published. In spite of a few twists to the story — Barmé’s Monkey King, clearly modeled after Trump, travels to the East instead to the West, as he does in the original story — the piece is written with a scholarship that extracts some worrisome analogies between the two leaders:
The similarities between Mao Zedong and Donald Trump don’t end with the autocrat’s mindset touched on in the opening paragraph of this essay, or with the clash between tiger-like brio and the dyspathy of the monkey. The will to autocracy means that both figures share (with elected or self-appointed strong men historically and worldwide) some disturbing parallels…
Taking into consideration that the two autocratically minded leaders are acting 50 years apart, and therefore in different historic and technological circumstances, Barmé took the liberty of comparing Mao Zedong’s quotes to Trump’s tweets. He found common points in their attitudes towards the press, as well as in their narcissism and paranoia with inclinations towards conspiracy theory. Naturally, Barmé is stronger when depicting Mao, but his observations on Trump are still pertinent. “Once heaven is in great disorder a new kind of order can emerge,” Barmé quotes Mao, explaining that, “He believed that throwing the political establishment and social order into confusion would liberate the true potential of people to achieve what was otherwise seemingly impossible… Mao needed Deng to rebuild institutions and get the country working again. But even as the civilian economy slid towards ruination, Mao knew to keep the army on side and although, like Trump he disparaged intelligence, he talked freely of the power of the A-bomb and nuclear weapons to cow enemies.” From the most far-away place possible, Barmé senses the looming danger of the coming dark age.
But not everything is so scientific and serious, I learned. Barmé’s writing and theme induced me to to dig more. Even though I wrote on a somewhat similar topic in November, I ignored the existence of an ocean of observations, stories, videos and jokes on the similarities between Mao and Trump. I thought that Mao had been forgotten by the present generation of writers. But Trump obviously evokes Mao in many ways. Of all the things that America can offer, it had to be Mao? There is a serious piece from the Diplomat on the Chinese press’s early warning to Trump, during the election campaign. Or another piece from last spring in which the New Yorker subtly tried to warn voters not to vote for Trump because of his paranoia and xenophobia, which resemble Mao Zedong’s attitude 50 years ago. Can I add that Mao, when he started the Cultural Revolution, was the same age Trump is today?
But the vast majority of material on Mao and Trump that one can find on the internet are sarcastic. These writers seem to ignore the fact that the president-elect is also known to have a very thin skin, and that he is quite capable of turning against people who make unflattering comments about him. Unless, of course, he actually likes Mao and does not mind all of these analogies.
Among other things, I discovered that Trump already has his own Little Red Book of Quotations. But the piece I enjoyed the most is a video that appeared on the Chinese net the moment Trump was elected. It has probably been watched and ridiculed by more people than who actually voted for Trump. It is a parody on the cultural revolution song “The East is Red,” with Trump replacing Mao as the Red Sun.