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Hair of the Top Dog

NEW YORK – Much has been written about Donald Trump’s peculiar hairstyle, the kind of puffy, dyed comb-over one would associate with a downmarket nightclub manager rather than a presidential candidate. Is there really any more to be said? Actually, the question of hair in politics might not be as trivial as it seems.

It is remarkable how many politicians, especially on the populist right, have sported heterodox hairdos. Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s former prime minister, used black pencil to fill in the patches not covered by his two hair transplants. The Dutch demagogue Geert Wilders dyes his Mozartian bouffant platinum blond. Boris Johnson, the Brexit rabble-rouser, now UK foreign secretary, takes care to keep his straw-colored thatch in a permanent state of studied untidiness. All have scored highly with voters filled with anger and resentment at polished urban elites.

Then there was the father of modern European populism, the late Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn, who had no hair at all. But his shiny, clean-shaven pate stood out as much among the neat gray coiffures of mainstream politicians as Johnson’s blond mop or Trump’s gilded comb-over (all these men, except Berlusconi, are blonds, by the way, or fake blonds; dark hair doesn’t seem to work so well with the populist mob).

Standing out is of course the point. The strange hair, or shaven head, makes the popular leader instantly recognizable. This type of branding is common among dictators. Hitler’s visual image could be reduced to a greasy cowlick and a toothbrush moustache. The oddest-looking of all contemporary dictators must be North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, whose clean-shaven back and sides are cultivated as a deliberate imitation of his grandfather’s 1930s proletarian hairstyle. His father, Kim Jong-il, tried – albeit with little success – to emulate Elvis Presley’s pompadour.