One striking aspect of the Trump Phenomenon is that his opponents impute to him many politically incorrect views that he hasn’t actually said. For example, Trump is widely assumed to be critical of affirmative action, but he actually favors it. When Justice Scalia offered the “mismatch” argument against affirmative action in college admissions last year, Trump criticized Scalia in the same terms as everybody else did.
What seems to be happening is that Trump has increasingly come to be seen as a sort of archetypal figure notorious for enjoying the freedom to tell the blunt truth without being fired. So much BS has piled up in our culture that our collective guilty consciences have enlarged Trump in the media imagination into a sort of all-purpose subversive truth-teller of Hatefacts.
Everybody else is terrified of being Watsoned out of a job for letting slip an Occamite explanation, but Trump can’t be fired because he’s the one who says “You’re fired.” Or something. (We’re dealing with archetypal logic here, so don’t expect tight causality.)
The classic fictional version of awkward honesty is the little child in “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) wrote elegant pseudo-folk tales like The Ugly Duckling that are often confused with the genuine fairy tales collected and selected by the Grimm Brothers from multiple sources. One difference is that the real folk tales tend to be just plain strange — the Old, Weird Europe incarnate — while Andersen’s fairy tales make sense to modern adults. Indeed, Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” sounds like proto-Orwell.
After I wrote that I thought: Let’s check to see if George Orwell himself noticed the connection. And, yup, it turns out that in 1943, two years before publishing Animal Farm, Orwell adapted “The Emperor’s New Clothes” for the BBC. The recording probably no longer exists — Orwell had it put on disk, but lamented later that the disks were likely trashed — but the script at least is in a box in the Orwell papers archive.
Here’s a translation of the original (i.e., not the Orwell version):
The Emperor’s New ClothesThe more things change, the more they stay the same.
A translation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “Keiserens nye Klæder” by Jean Hersholt.
Many years ago there was an Emperor so exceedingly fond of new clothes that he spent all his money on being well dressed. …
Every day many strangers came to town, and among them one day came two swindlers. They let it be known they were weavers, and they said they could weave the most magnificent fabrics imaginable. Not only were their colors and patterns uncommonly fine, but clothes made of this cloth had a wonderful way of becoming invisible to anyone who was unfit for his office, or who was unusually stupid.
“Those would be just the clothes for me,” thought the Emperor. “If I wore them I would be able to discover which men in my empire are unfit for their posts. And I could tell the wise men from the fools.Most people are afraid of being fired and those who aren’t (e.g., tenured professors) are afraid of being called stupid.
Yes, I certainly must get some of the stuff woven for me right away.” He paid the two swindlers a large sum of money to start work at once.The dissident anthropologists Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox (who, despite their children’s lit names, are real people) point out that the psychology of the twist at the end is implausible: 99% of the time the crowd would viciously denounce the little child as particularly stupid and unworthy of his job as a little child.
They set up two looms and pretended to weave, though there was nothing on the looms. All the finest silk and the purest gold thread which they demanded went into their traveling bags, while they worked the empty looms far into the night.
“I’d like to know how those weavers are getting on with the cloth,” the Emperor thought, but he felt slightly uncomfortable when he remembered that those who were unfit for their position would not be able to see the fabric. It couldn’t have been that he doubted himself, yet he thought he’d rather send someone else to see how things were going. The whole town knew about the cloth’s peculiar power, and all were impatient to find out how stupid their neighbors were.
“I’ll send my honest old minister to the weavers,” the Emperor decided. “He’ll be the best one to tell me how the material looks, for he’s a sensible man and no one does his duty better.”
So the honest old minister went to the room where the two swindlers sat working away at their empty looms.
“Heaven help me,” he thought as his eyes flew wide open, “I can’t see anything at all”. But he did not say so.
Both the swindlers begged him to be so kind as to come near to approve the excellent pattern, the beautiful colors. They pointed to the empty looms, and the poor old minister stared as hard as he dared. He couldn’t see anything, because there was nothing to see. “Heaven have mercy,” he thought. “Can it be that I’m a fool? I’d have never guessed it, and not a soul must know. Am I unfit to be the minister? It would never do to let on that I can’t see the cloth.” …
The Emperor presently sent another trustworthy official to see how the work progressed and how soon it would be ready. The same thing happened to him that had happened to the minister. He looked and he looked, but as there was nothing to see in the looms he couldn’t see anything.
“Isn’t it a beautiful piece of goods?” the swindlers asked him, as they displayed and described their imaginary pattern.
“I know I’m not stupid,” the man thought, “so it must be that I’m unworthy of my good office. That’s strange. I mustn’t let anyone find it out, though.” So he praised the material he did not see. …
All the town was talking of this splendid cloth, and the Emperor wanted to see it for himself while it was still in the looms. Attended by a band of chosen men, among whom were his two old trusted officials-the ones who had been to the weavers-he set out to see the two swindlers. He found them weaving with might and main, but without a thread in their looms.
“Magnificent,” said the two officials already duped. “Just look, Your Majesty, what colors! What a design!” They pointed to the empty looms, each supposing that the others could see the stuff.
“What’s this?” thought the Emperor. “I can’t see anything. This is terrible!
Am I a fool? Am I unfit to be the Emperor? What a thing to happen to me of all people! – Oh! It’s very pretty,” he said. “It has my highest approval.” And he nodded approbation at the empty loom. Nothing could make him say that he couldn’t see anything.
His whole retinue stared and stared. One saw no more than another, but they all joined the Emperor in exclaiming, “Oh! It’s very pretty,” and they advised him to wear clothes made of this wonderful cloth especially for the great procession he was soon to lead. …
So off went the Emperor in procession under his splendid canopy. Everyone in the streets and the windows said, “Oh, how fine are the Emperor’s new clothes! Don’t they fit him to perfection? And see his long train!” Nobody would confess that he couldn’t see anything, for that would prove him either unfit for his position, or a fool. No costume the Emperor had worn before was ever such a complete success.
“But he hasn’t got anything on,” a little child said.
“Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?” said its father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, “He hasn’t anything on. A child says he hasn’t anything on.”
“But he hasn’t got anything on!” the whole town cried out at last.
The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, “This procession has got to go on.” So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn’t there at all.
But what if he were an … unusual child? What if the child had such an adamantine ego that nobody could hush him up? What if he were Little Donnie Trump?