‘Vain, reckless, belligerent’: What unites Donald Trump and Kaiser Wilhelm II

US president shares many of the traits of the man who led Germany into war, says historian

One of the foremost historians on the first World War war has compared US President Donald Trump to Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Professor Margaret MacMillan, the author of the bestselling book The War That Ended Peace, said Mr Trump shares many of the character traits of the Kaiser who led Germany into the first World War.

She describe those traits as giving the impression of being “reckless, inconsistent and belligerent”.

Professor MacMillan, Professor of International History at the University of Oxford, is giving a lecture in Trinity College Dublin (TCD) on Thursday on how individuals as opposed to great movements can change the course of history.


She believes Mr Trump could change the course of world history and not in a good way.

“He has done something to the US which will take a long time, if ever, to recover from,” she states.

"In foreign policy he has damaged the position of the United States in the world tremendously. He has made the world a more unstable place.

“As a Canadian, we are all aware of American faults, but it kept stability in the world, but we are moving into a much more multipolar world. We are living through turbulent times.”

The presence of Mr Trump on the world stage, she believes, increases the chances of a seemingly minor event changing the course of history as happened when the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Serbian nationalist in June 1914 precipitated the first World War seven weeks later.

“The role of accident and mistake in human history is always there. It is always a present danger. Events can come out of a clear blue sky,” she said.

‘Vain military admirer’

“Trump, rather like Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, is vain and has to be the centre of attention. They both admire the military tremendously. There are a lot of parallels.

“Nuclear weapons have kept World War III from happening since 1945 and that gives the most reckless pause.”

Professor MacMillan will give the annual Edmund Burke Lecture on Thursday evening entitled "Sometimes it Matters Who is in Power".

She will examine what is sometimes called “The Great Man or Great Woman” theory of history where it is individuals rather than movements which shape events.

"Let us ask what would have happened if Hitler had died in trenches in the First World War or Winston Churchill had been killed when he was knocked down by a car in New York in 1931," explains Professor MacMillan.

“History is shaped by great currents such as economic and social changes but historians continue to disagree over whether individuals, whether leaders or thinkers, also make a difference.

"Individuals do not make history on their own but sometimes an individual and the times meet to produce change. It can be argued that the Reformation would have taken a different course without Martin Luther or that the Russian Revolution might not have led to Soviet communism without Lenin and Stalin."

The public talk is hosted by Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute and takes place at the Edmund Burke Theatre starting at 6.30pm.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times