The Trump-Voldemort Analogy

It’s over eventually and like it or not, we have to accept the results now. What interests me is the Trump-Voldemort analogy that people made some time ago during the campaigning period. Now that Trump is about to rise to presidency (*despite the fact that he hasn’t yet taken his oath*), it’s perhaps time to review the analogy.

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Picture from The Guardian

I have to first say that I have not been closely following the whole US election so there are probably things that I will miss regarding Trump’s positions. I must say I know Voldemort better than Trump, and hence the following will be more like character analysis than political commentry, although the two can hardly be separated, whether in the Harry Potter universe or real life.

Similarities

This analogy was sparked off when Trump articulated his plan to prevent all Muslims from entering the US. This is when people started finidng similarities between the then-presidential-candidate and the ultimate evil in the Harry Potter series.

First of all, Trump’s speech reeks racial and religious discrimination. Many articles are also announcing that Trump’s victory is the victory of white supremacy. Although he will probably not deport the Muslims residing in the US, his hostile attitude towards the racially and religiously different is clear and undeniable. Here is a parallel to Voldemort’s determination to establish a new world order with only the pure-blood by exterminating all the ‘Mudblood’. Both spread hate speech and promote intolerance.

Another parallel between Trump and Voldemort is their support of torture. Trump openly declared that ‘torture works’ and that something stronger than waterboarding was needed. His stance is ‘directly and unambiguously a violation of the internationally accepted laws of armed conflict’, according to an article on The Register. This is not unlike how Voldemort loves using the Unforgivable Curses to torture (and kill) people who are against him. The fact that the curses are unforgivable points to an agreed humanitarian standard in the wizarding world, perhaps legally backed by something like the United Nations Convention against Torture in our world.

One more similarity between the two is their division of people into the successful/powerful and the loser/the weak. Rather than uniting people of different backgrounds, abilities, temperaments and beliefs, such kind of success/power discourse only serves to divide, because this discursive existence is dependent on the perpetual presence of a ‘loser group’ as opposed to the successful/powerful. Instead of empowering everyone and respecting differences, this only encourages people to strive to become the successful and leave others behind.

Differences

Rowling, in response to the Trump-Voldemort memes, wrote this on Twitter. Is Trump really worse than Voldemort? Perhaps.

One big issue with Trump that we can hardly be unaware of is his sexist attitude. It seems like he is so deeply rooted in sexism that even his daughter cannot rescue him. He just kept letting inappropriate comments slip. Voldemort, although a male, makes no gender-related remarks. This simply is not his concern. What we might notice, however, is that the Harry Potter universe is also very much male-centred. Basically all the important characters are male: Harry the boy hero, Dumbledore the male mentor, Voldemort the male nemesis, Fudge and Scrimgeour the two male Ministers of Magic. Females can at most occupy the deputy position: Hermione, McGonagall, Umbridge. It does look like a world in which Hillary Clinton has a thin chance to rise to presidency / minister position.

Another difference is that, in contrast to Voldemort, who possesses magical prowess and knowledge, Trump appears a lot more ignorant. If we take a look at Trump’s statements on scientific issues, we will be appalled by how anti-intellectual he can be: proclaiming global warming to be a hoax, and complaining there are no vaccines to cure autism (which obviously is not a physical issue but psychological). See here for more – I’m not sure whether everything quoted on this page is wrong, but some of them definitely reflect Trump being ignorant as any layperson can be, and yet he was speaking as a presidential candidate. Voldemort, on the other hand, knows what to do to resurrect to power, and has a very well conceived plan to take over the Ministry, the press and the school. (In this regard, I’m actually not sure whether it’s better that Trump’s ignorant than being knowledgeable and evil.)

Yet another difference which, once again, I’m not sure would make Trump better or worse than the Dark Lord, is his ability to inspire public support. Voldemort only attracts supporters because he is in power. The relationship between the Dark Lord and the Death Eaters is based on interest and fear only, with the exception of Bellatrix Lestrange, who genuinely admires Voldemort. A lot of the Death Eaters like Igor Karkaroff actually panics when their Dark Marks burn, indicating the return of the Dark Lord. Even Lucius Malfoy has no loyalty to him but only dreads avenge. Trump, on the other hand, has real public support. He has got at least half of the United States to back him, and unlike Brexit, there don’t seem to be people voting for Trump but not actually expecting or even wanting him to win. The problem with this is, if he is indeed comparable to the historical leaders like Adolf Hitler and Mao Zedong, who also gained wide public support in their respective countries, we might actually witness another historical mistake made by the mass. The mass might even carry out all the racist and sexist assaults without the actual endorsement of Trump’s government. All the worse, because Trump is going to be a US president in the 21st century, consequences can be direr and more worldwide. For a more detailed analysis, please read this.

I sort of think Donald Trump might not be as ideologically pure as Voldemort. My thinking on Trump is that he feels like more of an opportunist – I don’t know know how much of this stuff he’s saying he actually really, really believes.

— Daniel Radcliffe, video here

Compared to the extremely vague adjective ‘bad’ used by Rowling, Radcliffe gave a more detailed response, which I think is a very apt observation. Here is a super long list of contradictory statements made by Trump and we can never be quite sure what he will do in the coming four years. On an optimistic note, all the crazy things that are quite against the American (and indeed universal) values he suggested during the campaigning period might not be realised after all. He might just act along the realisitc and practical line. In contrast, Voldemort, as a fictional character, is flatly evil. As Radcliffe pointed out, he is ideologically pure, purely evil. He is the symbol of all that is undesirable, the externalised form of the darkness within everyone of us, the shadow that we fear: racism, intolerance, hatred and so on – to be vanquished at the end by our fictional hero.

After all, the reality is a lot more complex than the novel series which very much resembles the fairy tale genre. The real world is no fairy tale and there is no guarantee of a happily-ever-after ending. Yet, fairy tales (and children’s literature in general, if you like) teach us what we need in face of adversities. Instead of projecting the evil figure onto the president-to-be, it might be more useful to think of vanquishing the Voldemort within us. After all, if President Trump was indeed the Dark Lord, this would only be made possible because of the Voldemort residing in us.

A Story of Children’s Literature Researchers

I’ve read an amazing story about children’s literature researchers. Not me, sadly.

The reason why I got to read this story is that one of the Glasgow lecturers here is in the story – Evelyn Arizpe, director of MEd in Children’s Literature and Literacies at University of Glasgow. She gave a guest lecture yesterday which I attended, and we were shown the following, in addition to a lecture fused with zeal.

These are historical items! An 18C chapbook and a doll with letters and words on its body – probably one that would have been sold by John Newbery back then?

It’s exciting to be able to touch these, but what is more exciting is a story in which she was a part. She told us a little bit in class, but for the full story, please do go and have a read of the Prologue of a book entitled Reading Lessons from the Eighteenth Century by Evelyn Arizpe and Morag Styles. (There’s one in CUHK University Library – though on loan at this moment. That might be the only copy in Hong Kong!)

That’s a fascinating story of some children’s literature researchers inspiring one another, joining at different stages of the project, in the search of the history of a mother writing for her children in the 18th century, Jane Johnson.

Let me summarise a bit for people who don’t get to read it. Styles, one of the authors of the book, was first inspired by an American researcher Shirley Brice Heath, who brought to her knowledge a precious collection in Lilly Library at Indiana University – that of Jane Johnson’s. Fascinated by Johnson’s works, Styles was determined to pursue further in collaboration with her colleague Victor Watson.

The two of them, together with the visiting scholar, immediately went on a trip to London to study the wills of the Johnson family, and then to Witham-on-the-Hill, where Johnson lived. It was a small village and the people there were somewhat surprised by the visiting of the scholars. With the kind help of the people there, they got to see what Johnson’s house would look like, and also read a book related to Johnson’s daughter.

This is just the first part of the story, but I fear that any longer description will lose your interest. The scholars continued with the project, with a lot of coincidences and help of interested people (including Evelyn Arizpe, of course), a lot of trips and a lot of research on online archives, they got to dig up a lot of old documents (!!!) and unravel the obscure history of the eighteenth-century reading household.

The burning passion scribed into the book can hardly be missed. The prologue was clearly written with great enthusiasm and the excitement they felt must have been hundred times greater than what pops up on paper. (Read it if you have the chance!)

How I wish I could have the opportunity to do research like they did!