A doppelganger in German folklore is a biologically unrelated look-alike of another; what some call a twin stranger. I wonder if Donald Trump and Bob Dylan ever met. Because, as odd as it seems on its face, these two icons share more than a few uncanny similarities in career and public perception.
I know, I know. Scores of burnt-out ex-beatnik/hippie seniors living in gentrified urban neighborhoods who can quote Dylan lyrics verbatim despise Donald Trump. And many MAGA hat-wearing ardent Trump supporters consider Dylan an incoherent mumbler of dubious talent. One would not be caught dead with the other, and both groups pride themselves on their disdain for the opposing icon. Yet the parallels between the career trajectories of Trump and Dylan run many and deep.
A key commonality between the two is that there is, well, much not to like. Dylan’s early career of acoustic folk protest songs I find tinny and much too romanticized by an accommodating rock press. His penchant for discarding those around him who no longer furthered his career ambitions was less than admirable. Trump’s insatiable ego and hunger for the spotlight drives an introvert like myself seeking a dark, quiet place.
Yet both men enjoyed a condensed period where they left a permanent, undeniable, and positive mark upon society.
In ten short years, from 1965 to 1975, Dylan created perhaps the greatest trio of albums ever with Highway 61 Revisited (’65), Blonde on Blonde (’66) and Blood on the Tracks (’75). Trump was the first president in a generation who had the audacity to break the oppressive shackles of bureaucracy, regulation, and government to liberate society’s doers, free enterprise, the middle class, employment, and economic growth. The legacy of both men will live on.
Dylan and Trump presented existential threats to the established interests where they first took root.
Dylan turned the folk music community inside out when he went electric, causing a freaked-out Pete Seeger to attempt to cut (allegedly with a hatchet) Dylan’s power during his live performance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Trump roiled the traditional Republican platform when he railed against globalism and multinationalism, causing old guard stalwarts like McCain, Romney, and Bush to become the most strident members of the resist movement. Ironically, Dylan and Trump grew the brand and reach of folk music and the Republican party, respectively, yet were subjected to public attack from each group’s old guard beneficiaries.
Both men defied being pigeon-holed into convenient labels to suit the simple constructs of others. Trump is not a populist, traditional Republican, or conservative. Dylan is not a poet, protest singer, or rock star. Both are more complex than easy definitions and tags, as is the case for most individuals who leave indelible marks on history.
“Fake news” was not a foreign phenomenon to either trailblazer. Of course, Trump turned the tables on the biased media and made fake news one of the most effective planks of his campaign platform. But not many realize Dylan was subjected to similar media shenanigans; the British press would report a mass exodus of audience from concert halls during his early, controversial electric performances when the reality was only a small handful of narcissists wishing to make a scene staged a walkout. With media, some things never seem to change.
There’s a sense both icons are torn between obsessively bolstering their public personas and being willing to completely disappear from the limelight.
Dylan meticulously tailored earlier artistic moves to grow his aura; but then would disappear from the public eye for years on end. Although Trump is the embodiment of obsession of publicity, he has hinted from time to time a desire to sail off into the sunset to enjoy a life beyond the lens and Twitter. Perhaps both experience a hunger for, and subsequent exhaustion from, such global profiles.
Ultimately, Trump and Dylan are forces of individualistic creative destruction. Both tore down establishments that initially elevated them, refusing to yield to a tide of conformity. Both replaced the ruins with new edifices that evolved the status quo into their own visions. Although their critics will never accept their greatness, the rest of us would be well served to appreciate the lasting legacies of both.