Is Donald Trump the American Kurtz?

English: Joseph Conrad

English: Joseph Conrad (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the classic book, Heart of Darkness, which inspired the film Apocalypse Now[1], Joseph Conrad tells the story of Charles Marlowe who has been sent to Africa by an unnamed company to find one of its agents—Kurtz. Kurtz went deep into Africa to find ivory for the company. He had been very successful with large shipments, but the company had lost touch with him.

When Marlow tracks down Kurtz at the trading station, he finds that he has become like a demigod among the natives. On the trip back with Kurtz, Marlow reads his report for the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs. The report, despite its cogency, lacks a practical solution. What Marlow finds instead is a disturbing hand written postscript. His eloquent report on civilization to suppress savage customs ends with: “Exterminate all the brutes!”

Trump like Kurtz has been absorbed into the life of the natives.[2] With his wealth, wide array of sexual partners, and now political power, he has become a demigod to the white nationalists. To reward their loyalty and support, he celebrates the “unspeakable rites” done in his name.

When Trump humiliates the CIA by using the Wall of Stars as a political backdrop, he attacks the “establishment”. He is in charge. When Trump makes Supreme Court nominees take part in a dog and pony show, reduces the law’s guardians to game show participants. He tells the natives the law serves him. When he berates leaders from Australia and Mexico, he appears to be the tough negotiator. He lets foreigners know he is wise to their tricks. Yet, for the natives these rituals are esoteric minutia to his greatest display of power, his greatest success, and his most important spectacle.

Trump has rewarded his followers immediately and publicly. He has given them a public spectacle that humiliates Muslims. Tired of the liberal tolerance that defines America, the natives hungered to inflict intolerance on a hated minority. When the Border Patrol stops, questions, and sends back Muslims, his followers roar their approval. What is especially pleasing is that the hated federal government and the law, both of which kept them in check, are seen to do their bidding. Trump, though, knows his powers are limited so he must hide his true nature with the veneer of national security. After eight years of apologies, American natives will show the world that the strong do what they want and the weak suffer what they must.

The more Trump believes in his power, the faster he, and America, race to the heart of darkness. On this journey, all that matters is the force of his personality. With each success, with each ritual, with each spectacle, Trump’s mask slips a bit more to reveal what he has always been. At the heart of darkness is nihilism where all that matters is his will. To reach that point, Trump will reward his followers with their greatest wish and what will be his greatest success–He will kill America.


[1] The film was based on this book with the story shifted to Vietnam and set during the Vietnam War. For more information on the film see

[2] Other people have compared Trump to Kurtz although with much less detail.


About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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One Response to Is Donald Trump the American Kurtz?

  1. “This devoted band called itself the Eldorado Exploring Expedition, and I believe they were sworn to secrecy. Their talk, however, was the talk of sordid buccaneers: it was reckless without hardihood, greedy without audacity, and cruel without courage; there was not an atom of foresight or of serious intention in the whole batch of them, and they did not seem aware these things are wanted for the work of the world. To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire, with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe. Who paid the expenses of the noble enterprise I don’t know; but the uncle of our manager was leader of that lot.
    — Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

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