How Democritus and Heraclites Might Have Reacted to the Trump Election



This evening after a series of minor vexations – son sick, Gamecocks clobbered, eye invaded by wayward particle – I got to thinking about Horace Walpole’s observation that “[l]ife is a tragedy for those who feel, and a comedy for those who think.” I quote Walpole when I’m teaching tragedy and ask students to offer an interpretation.

It’s a hard question, hard to put the answer into words.

Of course, to address the question, you need context.   For example, let’s examine the thinking/ feeling/comedy/tragedy conundrum from the perspective of Trump’s election.

(I know some of you may have supported Trump, perhaps because you feel immigrants are overrunning the country or that massive tax cuts will defy history and fuel an economic boom or that you consider Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama Satanic spawn or some/all of the above).

However, the [tautology alert] a priori premise in this thought experiment is that Trump is a vulgarian with authoritarian tendencies whose boorish pronouncements during the campaign have eroded codes of civility and whose total lack of a sense-of-history and intellectual curiosity make his election as leader of the free world very, very unfortunate.

Not to mention his pathological avariciousness.



Okay, let’s bring in the cynical pre-Socratic philosopher Democritus, aka “the laughing philosopher.”

Seneca claimed that Democritus, whom he called “the Mocker,” laughingly held human beings in disdain, modeling a detached amusement at the foibles of the masses. In temperament think Bill Maier as opposed to Louis Black.

If human folly is laughable, this election might very well provoke Democritus to guffawing at this turn of events:

A swindler and pathological liar who pleads guilty to fraud a week after the election and who referred to his opponent as “Crooked Hillary” with the help of Fox News and Russian hackers (not to mention the New York Times) convinces a majority populace that he’s “more trustworthy” than she.

[cue laugh track]

Coal miners in Kentucky counties who have decreased their uninsured rate by almost twenty percent vote 93% to 6% for a man who wants to abolish the estate tax.

[cue laugh track]

Thinkers like Democritus take the long view.   Human folly is essentially history’s major motif. Thinkers are familiar with not only Huck Finn’s the “Duke and the Dolphin” but have read Swift and Shakespeare and perhaps Horace and Juvenal.

In their view, only incredibly naïve pollyannas would expect their generation to be less prone to foolishness than their forebears. Most of humankind is purblind, always have been, always will be.

After all, anyone reading this will be literally dead in 80 years. So what if the American Experiment fails? So what if Arizona once again boasts a view of the Pacific? Letting the little people decide was a very, very bad idea.

Just desserts.

By the way, should I add that this view might be considered elitist?



Heraclitus, on the other hand, aka the “weeping philosopher,” was a feeler, invested in the here and now. So what if Swift’s view of Yahoos was essentially correct? Those yahoos who voted for Trump in Kentucky lives will not get any better but actually worse: they will lose that recently acquired insurance, babies will die, and those promised coal mining jobs ain’t coming back ever.  Once again, they’ve been lied to.

How horrible, Heraclitus laments, that such chicanery is so rewarded. A spoiled, 70-year-old adolescent tweets preposterous lies and pays no apparent price for his dishonesty and in the mean time transforms the Founding Fathers’ republican democracy into an authoritarian kleptocracy!

People are real, not abstractions to be mocked. Pain is real.

In fact, sorry. My eye is killing me. I got to sign off.





One thought on “How Democritus and Heraclites Might Have Reacted to the Trump Election

  1. Authoritarian Kleptocracy… MAN! What happened? I’m all for legalizing weed (even though I don’t smoke it) and Socialism, but I don’t believe a pothead should have the nuclear codes nor do I believe the average red blooded American can even begin to separate socialism from communism, considering being liberal was considered a taboo term not too terribly long ago. Therefore I personally blame Gary Johnson and Bernie Sanders for Trump. We are WAY too big for a polyocracy and we needed a binary primary this year. Polyocracies work in small countries where you can have 13 parties and still be a nuclear power (like Israel (which is a bad example (but the only one I can recall 🙂 )). So, I blame Johnson for giving people the option of the “protest votes”in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Giving that I don’t believe these votes to be truly Libertarian since, although they fall on the right side of the spectrum, the most important ideology on their list is how they feel about war. How Trump feels about war could not be any different when juxtaposed against Libertarians’. When “The Donald” said he “loves war” and “(in reference to nuclear weapons) wouldn’t take anything off the table,” that should’ve been Gary’s cue for their followers to vote for Hillary since they had no chance in the polls but instead his VP candidate, William Weld(R)(until 2016, smh) basically raised the white flag and didn’t want to risk a Trump Presidency. I think a lot of the Libertarian votes were “playin’ around w/ a protest vote” bc Sanders wasn’t the nominee. He should’ve known shattering the highest glass ceiling doesn’t come often and before Sanders gave her a scarlet letter just for being a good politician, and doing what good politicians do, was more important than shattering the apparent Socialist glass ceiling I disagree exists. Not to mention, he’s 74. Given that 1 year being president like 2 normal human years, if he served 2 terms, he’d be 90 by the time he was peacefully passing the power to the next president. Judging by how cranky he is I don’t think he’d be possible of doing it peacefully. Would you consider Trump a Tyrant or has that yet to be proven? The quote that sticks w/ me the most in this election is “I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And by the way, in the the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could.” – Abigail Adams Btw, I just wanted to know one thing since we just celebrated Thanksgiving. Is this video the way school still teaches “Turkey Day” (I hate that term)? I had know idea but the first settlers actually sailed up on the most beautiful city on Earth. It was 5 times the size of London or Rome and similar to Venice in that they traveled by boats through canals. Below are some quotes and this is the video I was referring to: Ben Franklin: ‘There is no force in Indian Societies, No Prisons, No officers to inflict punishment. No European who has tasted Indian Life can afterwards bear to live in our societies.’ “Settler leaders had to post guards to stop whites from defecting to Native Societies.” – Anthropologist F Turner

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s