Despite their spat, Donald Trump and JK Rowling may have more in common than they think and here’s why

The magical world of Harry Potter may not be as utopian as once thought

Alastair Benn
Wednesday 04 July 2018 16:15 BST
Trump corrects tweet boasting about his writing after it has spelling mistakes

Donald Trump tweeted out on Tuesday morning: “After having written many best selling books, and somewhat priding myself on my ability to write, it should be noted that the Fake News constantly likes to pour over my tweets looking for a mistake. I capitalize certain words only for emphasis, not b/c they should be capitalized.”

It wasn’t the most edifying of moments and he quickly corrected himself, deleting the original and correcting “pour” to “pore”.

This moment of exquisite irony was not lost on the novelist JK Rowling:

“hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha someone told him how to spell ‘pore’ hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.”

It’s good fun to see one the world’s most famous novelists troll Trump on his spelling in real time, but there’s a far more interesting dimension to this clash of personalities – Rowling’s books show both why Trump won and why Hillary Clinton lost in the 2016 US presidential election.

Voldemort, from Rowling’s series of Harry Potter novels, is a modernised version of John Milton’s Satan – obsessed with power for its own sake. “To be weak is miserable”, said Satan, while in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Voldemort said: “There is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to seek it.”

Evil has its social expression in an obsession with blood lines, ancestry and magic as an inherited attribute. See Draco Malfoy’s quip: “You’ll soon find out some wizarding families are much better than others, Potter.” And on wizards from non-magical backgrounds: “They’re just not the same, they’ve never been brought up to know our ways.”

The parallels between Trump and Voldemort are obvious, both in leadership style and ideas. The America first agenda is brazen “blood and soil” nationalism. Voldemort exercises power through personal patronage and personal loyalty using his small coterie of Death Eater followers; Trump operates like a gangster boss, running on a sixth sense instinct about who to trust and is obsessed with familial loyalty.

In contrast with the creative nihilism of Voldemort’s vision of wizarding life, the “good side” sees magic as a universally accessible force that everyone can tap into. Dumbledore: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

And that mystic of individual liberation and action is complemented by an inclusive attitude towards the magical world’s minority groups. Hermione starts a Society for the Protection of Elfish Welfare at school to champion rights for House Elves, who are treated as slaves by wizarding families; Remus Lupin, a werewolf, is treated with compassion by Dumbledore, but is shunned in general.

But it’s also profoundly problematic in lots of ways. Muggles are routinely patronised as somehow less gifted, or less special, not because they are smaller, or less interesting individuals, but because they are Muggles tout court – the Dursley family, who make up almost all the cast of Muggle characters, are basically a series of “little England” suburban tropes.

But it seems to me that it is the Muggles who are never included in any of the liberation rhetoric – the vast resources of the magical world are never shared for the benefit of Muggles generally. Muggles are left with only their primitivity for comfort, their ignorant “little” lives, with only scientific innovation, derided as a crude imitation of magical powers.

For, in the magical world, there is no economic growth and very little economic inequality – the wizarding family we spent most time with, the Weasleys, are sort of down-at-heel nouveaux pauvres aristocrats. There is very little real injustice between wizards and so, the notion of inequality is introduced through exclusion on the basis of identity – it is the fact of elf identity or werewolf identity that is worth fighting for.

Hillary staked her campaign on a “rainbow coalition”’ of minority groups in contrast to the “basket of deplorables” who were “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, you name it.”

Now she’s absolutely right about that; but it never seemed to amount to a broader vision that appealed to all of America’s dispossessed, particularly the “muggle” blue-collar workers who voted en masse for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, only to turn to Trump in 2016.

Rowling basically builds her story around a conflict between two forms of identity politics – a bad side, which cleaves to notions not so very different from Trumpian ideas of nationhood and the other, a celebration of cosmopolitanism that makes its appeal to some of the world’s dispossessed at the expense of others.

But in modern America, truth seems to be much so stranger than fiction: Hillary was no Harry and Trump, well, he won…

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