Donald Trump and Douglas MacArthur: The Parallel Lives of Two American Demagogues

Douglas MacArthur ascended to the pinnacle of power at the inception of the American Century when his nation established itself as the world’s preeminent superpower. Donald Trump’s turn came at what appears to be the end of US dominance as we turn inwards and relinquish the mantle of global hegemon to the rising power of China. These two men have arguably inspired both greater adoration and more visceral antipathy than any other pair of Americans. Their long uneven climb to power and rapid fall from grace informs us not only about the weaknesses and strengths of the nation’s constitutional system, but also that of ourselves as a people.

The more one studies MacArthur and Trump, the more their remarkable similarities of ego, fate and path to power shine through. The parallels in their rise and fall reflect the peculiarities of the American Experiment and the nation’s belief in its exceptionalism. It should be of no surprise that General MacArthur thought he should be president and President Trump has often referred to MacArthur as his favorite general. Both men rode waves of historical luck and self-promotion to great heights of power, challenged the nation’s constitutional order and engendered utter devotion or loathing from millions of Americans.

Of course, between the characters of any two men there are significant differences: Trump was likely a terrible student who “does not have time” to read books, while MacArthur excelled in school and maintained a large personal library. Trump is a prodigious prevaricator who often lies for no apparent reason and undermines his cause, while at least the General’s departures from the truth were to accomplish an obvious goal. MacArthur truly seemed to believe himself a man of destiny and to be smarter than those around him. In contrast, Trump’s overly boastful nature seems more a reflection of deep-seated feelings of inadequacy. Nevertheless, the number of parallels in the lives of the two men are extraordinary. Consider the following points of similarities in the character and lives of MacArthur and Trump as both:

· Followed a famous father into the ‘family business’ and rose quickly, building on the fame of a surname in a quest to outdo his progenitor.

· Were driven by an overbearing parent who worked behind the scenes to promote the son to rapid prominence.

· Relentlessly managed their public personae through adroit use of the press and the technology of the day.

· Consistently took credit for anything positive that happened under their watch while refusing to take responsibility for any failings.

· Involved themselves in scandalous affairs with much younger women. One actually engaged in statutory rape and the other seemed to condone its practice in public statements.

· Held the Constitution in contempt where its wording interfered with their ability to advance their personal interests.

· Intentionally projected a similar physical appearance — tall ‘manly’ men who were vain and protective of their image. They were both unusually youthful and vigorous in their 60s and 70s when at the apex of their careers. They were equally narcissistic, loved being in the camera’s eye and combed-over their hair to hide a balding pate. Both affected the costume and accoutrements of authority.

· Found their most fervent admirers in the Republican Party and those willing to dispense with the legal niceties of democratic government.

· Demanded unconditional loyalty from their subordinates and were dismissive of intelligence reports brought to their attention which did not conform to their world view.

· Had enormous egos, spoke of themselves in the third person and bragged about being great experts in many a field of endeavor. They were most certainly not team players.

· Engaged in questionable financial transactions.

· Harbored authoritarian tendencies in which they were both able to revel at the apex of their careers.

This is an excerpt from “Trump and MacArthur: The Parallel Lives of Two American Demagogues” by James Ellman released January 20th, 2021 by Seacliff Publications.

It is available for sale in paperback and ebook on Amazon at:



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