Taking Umbridge with Donald Trump

Trumbridge (via iFunny)
Trumbridge (via iFunny)

JK Rowling recently tweeted that Donald Trump is far worse than Lord Voldemort—harsh words considering Voldemort, the chief, nose-less antagonist of Rowling’s Harry Potter series, was considered to be the darkest and most evil wizard of our time. Rowling was responding to this story from the BBC, which explained why people are comparing Trump to a fictional wizard. It’s true that Trump’s actions, his bloated and bigoted rhetoric and his contempt for, well, humanity, make it easy to compare him to the Dark Lord, but that doesn’t mean we should.

Because, like Rowling attests, he is so much worse than Voldemort. If Trump is any Harry Potter character, he is Dolores Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minster of Magic and High Inquisitor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, wearer of pink, lover of kittens and torturer of children.

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As far as Bad Guys go, Lord Voldemort is a good (bad?) one. He murders indiscriminately, champions a hateful, racist ideology and will stop at nothing to kill a teenager. Strange priorities, but at least he has goals. Umbridge, however, for those who are not familiar, represents a different and far more sinister form of evil: she is a life-long bureaucrat, an unrepentant, proud bigot, a glutton for power, morally compromised and completely within her rights to do what she does. She is empowered by the wizarding government to interfere with the education of young wizards, to create restrictions to silence decent, to censor entire groups of people and to remove those from power who challenge her regime. Sound familiar?

What is particularly terrifying about Umbridge (and Trump), however, is that she is incredibly familiar. We know people like her. We see them in the news. They are our neighbors. Voldemort’s villainy is monstrous—he is barely human, deformed, his soul quite literally ripped to shreds. Umbridge is just as human as everyone else. In her we can see ourselves, or a least what we, humanity, are capable of.

When I see Donald Trump on the news (something I try to avoid), I think of how easy it is for humanity to become blind to itself, as if there have not been people like him before that have used the same rhetoric and stretched the same plastic smile over their faces. I want to climb up on top of the Washington Monument with a bullhorn and shout at people why education in the humanities, particularly in literature and history, is critical and necessary to create educated voters immune to bombastic rhetoric and alarming anti-intellectualism. If there is one thing that I do not understand, it is how so much of America does not see in Trump the pattern of hate that so many novelists, poets and dramatists alike have lamented and resisted in their work.

I don’t mean to imply that Donald Trump is a muggle-killer, nor do I mean to go down the lane comparing him to a fascist (because as much as I want to, it’s inflammatory and accomplishes nothing but to play into the same rhetoric that many Republicans have used to describe Obama). There is a difference between volleying caustic rhetoric between political camps and studying the similarities and divergences between our political leaders and fictional characters. One blames, the other sends out a watchman. One promotes scorched earth; the other removes weeds.

As Bad Guys go, Trump is a bumbling one, but one it would be unwise to ignore. He lacks the finesse of Umbridge, the foresight of Die Hard‘s Hans Gruber, the shrewdness of Pride and Prejudice‘s Lady Catherine, and the tunnel vision of Othello‘s Iago. He does have, however, the brutishness of Jaws (yes, the shark), the goals of Big Brother and some degree of cunning– in a Burgermeister Meisterburger kind of way. And that’s what makes him dangerous, even if he doesn’t make it to the Oval Office. The fact that he has so many supporters reveals that whatever is in Trump might be in all of us.

So, cheers, Jo, and here’s to an election that hopefully doesn’t spawn a seven-book series.