I once again feel shocked, dismayed, angry, and frightened by Trump’s ongoing lawlessness, hubris, pathological lying, malignant narcissism, and the sycophantic response of the Republican Party leadership and extreme right-wing anti-democratic media in the wake of the FBI seizure of classified documents from Mar-a-Logo.
I keep wondering – When will this end? Is there no bottom to Trump’s depravity? Will top Republican House and Senate leadership and well-known Fox Cable leaders ever stand up and say ‘Enough!?’
I posted the following writings on the theme of tyranny by Stephen Jay Greenblatt a few years ago, but thought it timely to do so again. Professor Greenblatt is an American Shakespearean, literary historian, and author at Harvard University who wrote a superb volume called Tyrant – Shakespeare on Politics (New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 2018) in which he describes Shakespeare’s Richard III.
What follows are a few quotes from his book that describe as well as anything I have seen the nature of the tyrant as embodied by Richard III and Donald J. Trump (pages 53-54):
“Shakespeare’s Richard III brilliantly develops the personality features of the aspiring tyrant already sketched in the Henry VI trilogy: the limitless self-regard, the law-breaking, the pleasure in inflicting pain, the compulsive desire to dominate. He is pathologically narcissistic and supremely arrogant. He has a grotesque sense of entitlement, never doubting that he can do whatever he chooses. He loves to bark orders and to watch underlings scurry to carry them out. He expects absolute loyalty, but he is incapable of gratitude. The feelings of others mean nothing to him. He has no natural grace, no sense of shared humanity, no decency.
He is not merely indifferent to the law; he hates it and takes pleasure in breaking it. He hates it because it gets in his way and because it stands for a notion of the public good that he holds in contempt. He divides the world into winners and losers. The winners arouse his regard insofar as he can use them for his own ends; the losers arouse only his scorn. The public good is something only losers like to talk about. What he likes to talk about is winning.
He has always had wealth; he was born into it and makes ample use of it. But though he enjoys having what money can get him, it is not what most excites him. What excites him is the joy of domination. He is a bully. Easily enraged, he strikes out at anyone who stands in his way. He enjoys seeing others cringe, tremble, or wince with pain. He is gifted at detecting weakness and deft at mockery and insult. These skills attract followers who are drawn to the same cruel delight, even if they cannot have it to his unmatched degree. Though they know that he is dangerous, the followers help him advance to his goal, which is the possession of supreme power.
His possession of power includes the domination of women, but he despises them far more than desires them. Sexual conquest excites him, but only for the endlessly reiterated proof that he can have anything he likes. He knows that those he grabs hate him. For that matter, once he has succeeded in seizing the control that so attracts him, in politics as in sex, he knows that virtually everyone hates him. At first that knowledge energizes him, making him feverishly alert to rivals and conspiracies. But it soon begins to eat away at him and exhaust him.
Sooner or later, he is brought down. He dies unloved and un-lamented. He leaves behind only wreckage. It would have been better had Richard III never been born.”
To those Democratic commentators, politicians, office-holders, and every-day pundits (i.e. many of us) who believe that indicting Trump for his numerous crimes will inflame his base and result in the Democrat’s loss of both Houses of Congress in 2022 and the Presidency in 2024, I don’t buy it. To the contrary, if recent trends continue that began following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v Wade and a string of legislative victories by Congress and the Biden Administration, the Democrats could not only hold both the House and Senate come January but increase its margins. Though conventional wisdom in off-year elections does not favor the party in power, it could be very different this year.
Consider all the positive things that have happened since Biden became President. He restored dignity to the Oval Office. He successfully got passed two very large bi-partisan funding bills through Congress on Covid relief and Infrastructure. After the Court’s reversal of Roe v Wade, millions of American supporters of abortion rights and women’s reproductive health were provoked by their rage into action, similar to the reaction of much of the country after the Trump inauguration and the police murder of George Floyd. In the deeply red state of Kansas last month, a ballot bill protecting women’s reproductive health and freedom passed by 18 percentage points. In the past two months, Congressional Democrats passed a series of laws concerning guns, climate, health care, prescription drug prices, taxation, semiconductors, science, and technology – perhaps the greatest legislative effort since LBJ’s Great Society.
Add all these accomplishments and phenomena to the powerful impact on public awareness of the January 6 hearings (gratitude to the House Committee is due), the fact that nearly 1000 indictments have been brought by the DOJ against insurrectionists, and the current multiple court cases facing Trump in NY, Georgia, and the DOJ, and the November mid-terms look much brighter than they did only a few months ago. Though anything can happen between now and the mid-terms, the Democrats have a solid record of progress and hope to run on as opposed to Republicans who are dominated by Trump’s grievance and negativity and are fixated on the Big Lie of election fraud.
Many Democrats, however, have a bad habit of refusing to accept good news when it comes, and instead equivocate and complain about what was not accomplished. All the above is, in fact, good news in an imperfect world and a democracy in which compromise is necessary.
Should the Democrats hold both houses of Congress and expand their numbers, imagine what else can be passed on behalf of women’s health and abortion rights, childcare, universal pre-K education, judges and criminal justice reform, electoral reform, college debt relief, climate, and more. Yes, Trump and Trumpism will remain a dangerous threat to American democracy and the moral health of the nation, but we cannot allow ourselves to become depressed or paralyzed by anxiety and despair.
Gandhi’s reflection is worth remembering: “When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been murderers and tyrants, and for a time they can seem invincible. But in the end they always fall. Think of it, always.”
What can we do as individuals to support Democrats in the mid-terms? First, of course, is to vote and get everyone we know to vote when the time comes. Second, we can contribute dollars especially to Democratic candidates in purple states for those seats currently held by Republicans. And third, we can join campaigns in helping to get out the vote everywhere in the country where it will matter to elect Democrats up and down the ballot.
If you wish to help, go to “Vote Save America,” a project of Pod Save America Podcast – https://www.votesaveamerica.com/ – and volunteer on line. There is a lot each of us can do from our computer terminals and homes to support candidates throughout the country.
Consider sending this blog to your Democratic voting friends including Democrats, Independents, and anti-Trump Republicans.
Barbara Mutterperl said:
Thank you for sharing (again) Professor Greenblatt’s analysis. It applies so perfectly to Trump. I will take your positivity to heart and try to prevent this contemporary Richard III from regaining power. My great concern is someone like DeSantis. Smarter – smoother – but perhaps even more dangerous.