It is a stretch, I know, to find the thread between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Donald J Trump but I’d like to give it a go. Arguably Doyle’s invention of Sherlock and Donald’s invention of himself are both high functioning sociopaths. Sherlock Holmes was one which fit the late Victorian age. Trump is less of a man than a phenomenon who came along to fill a vacuum created by an age of dislocation and accelerated change. The sleuth with the deerstalker hat was a noble outlier; the Donald is a megalomaniac who offers a satchel full of empty promises.
Penny Dreadfulls were read by an estimated one million Londoners each week. They were illustrated sensationalist rags with stories of cheap thrills, piracy, murders and science fiction, aimed at young men. They ripped off versions of Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Bram Stoker and Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes’ exploits were fodder just as Trump and the National Enquirer use each other to fabricate his exploits while vilifying Hillary. For eight years they had Barack and Michelle divorcing with as much credibility as a JFK citing or alien landing. The Dreadfulls were the social media, the Tweets of the day. Both were the creation of fevered minds. At least the 19th century version presented itself as fiction while Donald seems unable to distinguish fact from fable.
Victorian England was at its peak of Empire. Think globalization. Big bucks were being made by a few people. The air was foul. Tradition under assault. Science seemed out of control with epochal technology and new-fangled gadgets. The bucolic countryside was fast disappearing with a growing divide between rural and urban consciousness. There were 200,000 prostitutes in London. Homelessness, filth and indenture coexisted with a genteel civility. People knew their place. Social mobility was virtually unknown. Rigidity and rectitude were giving way to randomness and relativity. Society was held together by a veneer of respectability, class fixity along with a sense of order and resolve. Every disruption had its resolution.
Enter Sherlock Holmes. He brought rationality and logic. He deduced. He rooted evil out and restored civility. He was their defense against a random universe. He never died because he never lived. Arthur Conan Doyle’s invention rested on the shoulders of Edgar Allen Poe’s invention and upon Sherlock’s shoulder came Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlow and Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade…the genre is still digging. Detectives detect. They mostly act on their own as benevolent vigilantes offering the illusion of justice.
The new sheriff with the technicolor hair who rode into America’s heartland, on the last train from Yuma, is Donald Trump, that old robber-baron, land-grabber, in disguise. He and he alone nails the most-wanted posters to the wall. He leads the posse, locates the hanging tree and prepares the noose. He is the faux-detective offering simplistic words with a ten-year old’s vocabulary to complex problems.
Yet both Doyle and Donald appear at pivotal moments, albeit 125 years apart. Brits also encountered immigrants from their jewel, India. Holmes pandered to Londoners xenophobia with a distrust of foreigners. Many Indians ended up in Newgate Prison on the barest suspicion. Gay behavior was criminalized just as many Red states would have it today. It would be decades before women were fully enfranchised in England. Their first voting right act in 1918 was restricted to propertied women over thirty. 1895 Britain and the American Heartland bear some resemblance in their racism and misogyny.
The name Sherlock suggests razor sharp certainty. I suppose he would be repulsed by the fuzzy mind of our Prez. The man from Baker Street could surmise a man’s entire profile by a glance at his hands and the smell of his tobacco. Our guy from the high tower smelled angst and fear and inflamed it into irrational rage. There is a mystery afoot surrounding Trump something like the yellow fog that fell on London Town back in the day. May Sherlock Mueller get to the bottom of it all.