My Turn: Trump’s reign has makings of a Shakespearian tragedy


Sunday, September 24, 2017

By now you are either horrified or blindsided by this Trump presidency. Writing about Trump often feels self-defeating. Why? That’s not the way it should be. That’s certainly not the way it formerly was. The facts all lead to the fact that this is all a show for him. I’ve called it “Circus Trumpus” already. The ringleader has no idea how to tame the lions, even if he knew what kinds of tricks he wanted them to learn and do. But there is something there and it’s the least, most dishonest reckoning with the nation’s state of affairs and tragically the real state of the world.

“Oh there you go, beating up on Trump again,” his fans will say. “He’s got a presidential act like nothing we’ve ever seen.” Ditto that. “He’s the guy who cares about our populist values.” Really? When in fact he’s only using them for a backdrop — lots of signs, lots of R, W and B. It’s continuously an exercise in self -loathing, that he needs to sap off the energy of his constituency. He’s only playing a role and that’s limited by his particular vision. That he perseverates on topics like emails, Obama, Hilary, etc. makes you see that the present is forever clouded by the past. He’s in a boat that he thinks steers itself just by his presence. That’s grandiosity. But he knows only the big guys so he’s first and foremost beholden to them. Just keep the rallies cheering.

Are we still in the mode of questioning what has happened or what it means? The actual presidency has stalled only due to the weight of its own incompetence. Schumer and Pelosi decided to join the circus with nothing to lose and a chance to upstage the Republicans in Congress. Bravo. Now the acts are getting better. But what will Trump’s impulsiveness do next? Start war with Korea? Saber rattling leads to impatience, leads to folly. Think Shakespeare, think Vietnam. Once folly begins, it always ends very badly for all concerned.

I find myself searching for metaphors to explain our current political dysphoria. The great absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco from France depicted a society beholden to fifties conformism, and a plea for the individual’s existence. “Rhinoceros” portrayed a society succumbing to identity politics. Everyone is now thundering down the streets below in an ever increasing herd of Pachyderms, drawing more and more people into its crazed desire for uniformity. The hero Berenger is determined to resist. It’s a savage depiction of our faulty reasoning in accepting what we’re told we should be, think, and act. His last friend Jean tries to resist but fails, turning into a rhinoceros on stage through a series of quick ducks into a closet and finally leaves Berenger alone, existentially adrift in a world that no longer exists.

Trumpian dystopia is not far off. His rallies exhibit all the traits of Pachyderm politics. Individual thought is annihilated. Thinking takes effort and our society and world prefers consumption to scrutiny. Bad food is easier to swallow when served with the emotional sauce of identity politics. Herd mentality will always be our incipient waterloo. Here Trump plays the anti-government hero. “Don’t Cry for me Argentina” can be heard as Trump strokes his face. Instead of Berenger’s cry for the individuality and sanctity of the individual, Trump utters some of the most self-cathartic and venal pleas of all time for self-rectification and pity, with only right wing ideologues obscuring his view. It’s the reversal of Berenger’s plea for humanity itself. There’s not a smile to be seen or laugh to be heard.

We’re seeing the glamorization of demagoguery at the expense of facts. Completely unhinged from any doorway to reason, occluded from any window to a wider world beyond self. It is beyond the control or influence of any persons or institutions around it or in its path. Ears are deaf, sensation is dulled as the interior rattling of disconnected mind hears only its demons of success and acclaim screaming for rescue as the tether to reality becomes a thread. He is only capable of further damage to the country, and most tragically himself. It’s a play waiting to be written. Despite current Broadway efforts, this story can never be truly written until it is over, and whatever the temporary or permanent damage to the Constitution, can only come from ourselves.

If we’re the pachyderms, our responsibility is to understand and view the meaning of complicity in the debacle in all its contexts. Our lessons lie within; who we are and what we want to be as a people in a nation. Vision is not achieved without sight, images, and reflections, things that take us beyond ourselves and into the universes that surround us. This president refuses to climb aboard the real ship of state and set out to discover the world he doesn’t really know and cannot comprehend.

A playwright, Harris has been a well-known chef for 40 years in Franklin County. He lives in Shelburne Falls.