Trump Channels Lear and Caesar in Summer Stock

image via NY Times of Central Park performance of Julius Caesar

About a month ago, I posted a piece imagining Shakespeare writing a play about Trump’s presidency.

In that post, I suggested that Shakespeare would begin his Trump play with the inauguration speech, jazzing up clunkers like “for many decades we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry;/ Subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military” with some thumping blank verse that foreshadows an upcoming shitshow.

Interestingly enough – call it synchronicity or cultural convergence – Shakespeare’s and Trump’s names have been linked at least twice this week. First, the Public Theater’s Central Park production has spray-painted, as it were, the tragic protagonist of Julius Caesar an obvious shade of Trumpian orange.

Via Jesse Green of the Times:

The line “If Caesar had stabbed their mothers, they would have done no less” has been updated by the insertion of the words “on Fifth Avenue” before the comma.

This production, not surprisingly, has generated controversy. Some on the right, people ignorant of the play, suggest that this version endorsees the assassination of Trump.[1] However, Shakespeare’s staging a pro-regicide play in Elizabethan England would be the equivalent of someone painting an obscene mural of Mohammad and Salman Rushdie in flagrante delicto on the side of a building in Tehran.

In other words, not a good idea for the non-suicidal.

In fact, Julius Caesar dramatizes the disastrous effects of the assassination, not only for the conspirators themselves, but also, more significantly, for the state of Rome.

Even though I’m no fan of violence, it is sort of fun imagining Republican cabinet plotting and carrying out an assassination on stage.

Et Tu, Jeff Sessions?

Speaking of Trump’s cabinet, no doubt you’ve read about or seen the cringe-worthy abasement Trump subjected his minions to in his first cabinet meeting when he forced them to utter what an honor it was to serve him, what a privilege, etc.

In other words, he reconstructed the opening scene of King Lear, the greatest and most awful of Shakespeare’s tragedy.

Compare these two clips.

It’s even more fun – at least for me – casting a Trumpian Lear – with Ivanka as Goneril, Eric Trump as Regan, and poor Tiffany as Cordelia. Maybe Dennis Miller or PJ O’Rourke as the Fool? Jared as Edmund?

PaulScholfieldAlecMcCowen

Bring it on, Chris Marino.


[1] Delta and the Bank of America have withdrawn financial backing. However, no one seemed to mind that Bob Melrose staged an Obama as Caesar production in 2012 that you nor I ever heard about at all.

Trump, Shakespeare, and Willy Loman

Shakespeare would begin his Trump play with the inauguration speech. We’re now in Act 2, and the Comey sacking is a very important complication in the plot. Although the chaos of the firing and its aftermath is not what Aristotle called the peripetia, the turning point of a tragedy, it is the equivalent of the murder of Banquo in Macbeth, a brazen act that deepens suspicion.

Now, no one but a Kool-Aid swilling soul-selling Party Person (e.g., Jeffrey Lord) can dismiss that Trump has obstructed justice in the canning of Comey. After all, Trump has admitted as much on national television.

Speaking to NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump contradicted the farcical original rationale that he was just following the suggestion of the deputy attorney general who saw impropriety in Comey’s handling of the Clinton email scandal. No, Trump admitted that he had wanted to fire Comey all along: “When I decided to [fire Comey], I said to myself, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story.” In other words, he canned Comey because of the investigation. Comey’s people have subsequently claimed that Trump demanded from Comey an oath of loyalty when he summoned him to dinner at the White House in the first week of the Presidency. Makes the conversation Bill Clinton had with Loretta Lynch on the tarmac seem way too much ado over nothing.

As one of my Twitter pundits put it, there’s a reason lawyers instruct their clients to keep their mouths shut.

The problem with this Shakespeare analogy, though, is that Trump lacks the stature to be a tragic figure. He’s more like Pantalone from commedia dell’arte than Macbeth or Julius Caesar. There is, however, something about him that evokes, at least in me, pity. He betrays a sort of childish vulnerability that suggests a boyhood devoid of love or attention. Like Willy Loman, he’s pathetic, not tragic. When he’s sitting down in an interview, I sense his insecurity in the shifting of his eyes and the movement of his hands.* He’s dying to be loved. Approval is his crack. He might be bigger than life, but then again he is so much less a man or woman than your average sympathetic bartender.

I suspect the peripetia is just around the corner in Act 3 when his taxes come to light.

Republicans will commence their ratlike run from Trump’s sinking ship, Spicer will continue play the role of the comic butt, and Bannon will eventually land a spot on Fox News.

In a tragedy, Bannon would hang himself.

We’re talking farce, not tragedy.


*Don’t get me wrong.  Trump is a buffoon whose brain resembles a pinball machine.  I’d love to see the above-mentioned pussy-grabbing hands stymied by a pair of handcuffs.

Language, Thinking and the Oratorical Donald

Sir Winston Trump

Can we at least all agree on this: when it comes to verbal expression, Donald Trump is no Winston Churchill?

Yeah? But is he as bad as the critics claim?

Sarah Sloat thinks not. On the website Inverse, she argues that rather than being an indication of stupidity, Donald’s Trump limited vocabulary “exemplifies sly intelligence.”

She takes issue with Philip Roth’s contention in the 30 January issue of the New Yorker that Trump is essentially a fucking imbecile, both intellectually and morally.[1]

Take it away Mr. Roth:

I found much that was alarming about being a citizen during the tenures of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But, whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”

Because Trump has “a small vocabulary size,” Sloat argues, doesn’t mean “that the President is dumb.” I more or less agree with her on this point. A limited vocabulary doesn’t necessarily mean that a person can’t solve intricate quadratic equations or intelligently assess a potential business rival’s weaknesses. What I do disagree with, however, is that Trump’s use of an impoverished vocabulary is “the hallmark of a person sly enough to hook his listeners and persuade them using only a few words.” In other words, I don’t think Trump’s use of a small number of words in his speeches is a conscious action aimed at endearing him to downhome folk. I think he talks that way all the time.

For example, here he is discussing history with an interviewer on satellite radio:

They said my campaign is most like, my campaign and win was most like Andrew Jackson with his campaign. And I said, “When was Andrew Jackson?” It was 1828. That’s a long time ago. That’s Andrew Jackson. And he had a very, very mean and nasty campaign. Because they said this was the meanest and the nastiest. And unfortunately it continues.  His wife died. They destroyed his wife and she died. And, you know, he was a swashbuckler. But when his wife died, you know, he visited her grave every day. I visited her grave actually, because I was in Tennessee. And it was amazing. The people of Tennessee are amazing people. Well, they love Andrew Jackson. They love Andrew Jackson in Tennessee. I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart, and he was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, “There’s no reason for this.” People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, you think about it, why?

Trump isn’t shy about expressing his dislike of reading, which shows not only in the content of what he says but also in its expression.   The mind that produced the above is a mind not shaped by reading, a mind lacking the syntactical structures necessary for clear thinking, a mind with a threadbare vocabulary that limits the ability to detect and therefore articulate nuance.

It’s almost as if he’s invented his own brand of sub-literate Newspeak. Everything is either “bad” or “evil” or “great” and” tremendous.” Hence, the flip-flops. He doesn’t merely moderate his stances but completely reverses them. He rushes to judgement, proclaims something “tremendous” or “bad” but then after a discussion with a cabinet member pulls a 180.

Take his reversal on NATO, for example: “The secretary general and I had a productive discussion about what more NATO can do in the fight against terrorism. I complained about that a long time ago, and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism. I said it was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete.”

The implication is that NATO has just recently changed their posture towards terrorism because of Trump’s complaints, and now that NATO has changed, it’s no longer obsolete. This may be a clever strategy for hoodwinking his ardent followers but probably not all that an effective approach when it comes to our allies.

At any rate, what I most disagree with is Sloat’s conflating intelligence with ignorance. She writes, “Roth equates Trump’s small vocabulary with ignorance, [my emphasis] which is in line with the old-school view of verbal fluency.” But ignorance and intelligence are two very different matters. Unlike me, I suspect that Stephen Hawkins is ignorant of the various interpretations of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive floating around the Internet; however, I dare say that he would beat me on an IQ test.

At any rate, Roth’s charge of Trump’s ignorance “of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art” seems to me indisputable. Trump’s vocabulary is beside the point here. The idea of Andrew Jackson’s preventing the Civil War is about as credible as Noah’s releasing two penguins on Mount Ararat. It’s grossly ignorant and would be just as ignorant if Churchill had expressed it in all of his sonorous eloquence.

Skillful orators alter their vocabularies depending on their audiences. Trump uses the same impoverished vocabulary whether he’s making a speech to a stadium of his supporters, answering policy questions from an interviewer, or hitting on a model.

He’s tripleplusinarticulate.


[1] Quoting Sloat quoting researchers, “A voluminous taboo lexicon may better be considered an indicator of healthy verbal abilities rather than a cover for their deficiencies.”  Oh fuck yeah!

 

1984 Revisited — Doubleplusscary

orwell-1984-propaganda

Last year, I taught 1984 for the first time in decades, and when I finished, I slapped together a blog post to provide inexperienced teachers with an overarching plan to teach the novel.  I figured that this post would receive scant attention, given its small target audience: however, it has received 1,378 “views” since May.  Many more than far more brilliant posts like “Kafkaesque Security Questions,” (93) “Why I Ain’t Inviting Jesus to My Fantasy Dinner,” (101) and “What Kind of STD Are You?” (58)

How come?

Because, believe it or not, Orwell’s 68-year-old novel is now a very hot commodity.  It hit number #1 on the bestsellers’ list on January 25th, and today, April 4th, several art movie houses around the country are re-screening the 1985 film adaptation starring John Hurt and Richard Burton.[1]

Fake News Outlet CNN attributes the sudden spike in sales to Kellyanne Conway’s coinage of the phrase “alternative facts” when aiding and abetting Sean Spicer’s contention that the Trump Inauguration crowd was larger than Obama’s.  Indeed, both “alternative facts” and “fake news” embody the Orwellian concept of doublethink.

Doublethink is essentially paradox, a mental action in which inherent contradictions in a concept cast equal doubt on the antithetical alternatives that make up the concept. Here’s a description of the protagonist, Winston Smith, thinking about how to begin his diary.

His mind hovered for a moment round the doubtful date on the page, and then fetched up with a bump against the Newspeak word doublethink. For the first time the magnitude of what he had undertaken came home to him.  How could you communicate with the future?  It was of its nature impossible.  Either the future would resemble the present, in which case it would not listen to him, or it would be different from it, and his predicament would be meaningless.

Essentially doublethink results in confusion, if not paralysis.  Doubt is cast upon who and/or what to believe.

For example, the propagandist Trump organ Fox News, whose Orwellian tagline is “fair and balanced,” provides the President with “alternative facts” so that he declares any story with which he disagrees to be be “Fake News.”  Truth = lies, and lies = truth.

In other words, “Ignorance Is Strength.”

Meanwhile, Russian bots assume avatars on social media claiming to be Christian patriots who in turn disseminate “information” on Twitter and Facebook that Hillary Clinton is abducting, then cannibalizing, unvaccinated babies.

Vaccinations Are Doubly Deadly.

President Trump awards his Appalachian voters by allowing coal mining companies to dump slag in their streams.

Pollution Is Healthy.

An Intelligence Committee chair investigating the White House sneaks into the White House and receives classified information and returns to the White House the next day to share that information with the White House.

What Goes Around Comes Around/Treason Is Patriotic.

It’s doubleplusscary!


[1] Both, alas, now exiled to “that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.”  By the way, 4 April 1984 is the day Wilson Smith begins his diary.

The First Sixty or So Days: A Speed Freaky Presidency

Too bad Donald Trump’s not bipolar — and I mean that for his own sake and for all of our sakes. No shit!

If he were bipolar, his manic jags would be offset by subterranean descents into despair that would inevitably slow him down. He’d retreat into his gold-plated cocoon and contemplate something besides the immediate, something weightier than big deals and the day-to-day. Who knows, maybe he would ponder the cycle of birth and death, the universality of suffering, or the arc of history rather than the latest Nielsen ratings of The Apprentice.

Here’s something we all can agree on, Democrats and Republicans alike, the POTUS needs to chill.

Let’s face it: the first sixty-six days of his presidency have been fraught with way too much hyperactivity, way too much drama. Not to put too fine of a point on it, so far the Trump Administration has been sort of like a quick cut episode of Sesame Street co-directed by John Walters and David Lynch.

The mere number of newsworthy incidents is overwhelming, exhausting. In early February, John Marshall put it best when he wrote about “the third week of [Trump’s] decades long presidency.”

If you think I’m exaggerating, here’s an abbreviated timeline.

20 January 2017

Looking out over the mall during the oath of office, Trump sees people as far as the eye can see. “Wow, this crowd is tremendous,” he thinks, “it’s got to be the biggest inauguration crowd in history.” After the ceremony, checking Twitter for rave revues of the ceremony, he runs across AP’s aerial photographic comparison of crowd sizes of his versus Obama’s 2008 inauguration. He claims subterfuge, the photos were doctored, etc. A tweet storm ensues.

In other news, flanked by lots of older white people, he signs a flurry of retrogressive executive orders.

He lies about the weather.

Looks as if 1017 could use a combover (image source Fortune magazine)

21 January 2017

Sean Spicer, press secretary, debuts as a spineless disseminator of demonstratively false statements, reviving the role of Baghdad Bob for a reluctant Washington press corps.

Speaking of crowds, 4, 000,000 people worldwide, including 500, 000 in DC, march in protest of the President of the United States. Bad!

Meanwhile, Trump travels to CIA headquarters and delivers a brazen political speech in front of a memorial for fallen CIA heroes, which, not surprisingly, fails to endear him to those same folks he had earlier in the campaign called Nazis.

23 January 2017

Makes delusional claim of thousands illegally voting to rob him of the popular vote victory. In a rare instance of bipartisanship, both Democratic and Republican leaders debunk the claim.

24 January 2017

Signs executive orders restarting construction of the Dakota pipeline and mandating that only domestic steel be used in its construction.

25 January 2017

Issues an executive order to begin construction of a wall on the US/ Mexican border. Doesn’t answer my tweet suggesting we create signage for the wall that states, ‘Malos hombres y hombrettes no son bienvenidos.”

27 January 2017

At the Pentagon signs the Bannon/Miller “crafted” executive order[1] suspending the Refugee Admissions Program for seven predominantly Muslim countries with whom he doesn’t do business.

29 January 2017

Authorizes the Yakla raid in Yemen that results in the deaths of Navy Seal Ryan Owens, fourteen members of Al-Qaeda, and “between 16-59 Yemeni or other nationality civilian casualties.”[2] Trump explains away the less than ideal outcome: “[The generals] came to me, they explained what they wanted to do ― the generals ― who are very respected, my generals are the most respected that we’ve had in many decades, I believe. And they lost Ryan.”[3]

30 January 2017

Fires acting Attorney General Sally Yates for not enforcing the “Muslim refugee ban.”

31 January 2017

Nominates Neal Gorsuch to replace Merrick Garland Antonin Scalia. Trump doesn’t make an ass out of himself, and his behavior is declared “Presidential” by Fake News outlet CNN.

1 February 2017

Discusses refugee policy with Australian PM Malcolm Turnbill.[4] It’s not clear who slammed the phone down on whom. At any rate, Un-Fake News site Wikipedia refers to the call as “truncated.”

2 February 2017

At the National Prayer Breakfast facetiously asks attendees to beseech the Lord to help Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sagging ratings of The Apprentice. The joke goes over like a delivery of catered ham sandwiches to a Bar Mitzvah reception.

3 February 2017

Judge James Robart of the Ninth Circuit Court blocks Trump’s “Muslim Ban” order. Trump rails against judiciary. Supreme Court nominee Gorsusch calls the outburst “troubling.”

9 February 2017

Federal appeals panel unanimously rejects Trump appeal to reinstate the travel ban from those seven predominately countries with whom he doesn’t do business. Although the ban’s hasty implementation had been predicated on national security, the Administration decides to take a couple of extra weeks to get the damned thing right.

11 February 2017

Plays golf at the Winter, Southern Every Weekend White House (aka Mar-a-Lago) with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe where they discuss (in descending order) the “future of the world, the future of the region, the future of Japan, and the future of the United States.”

During a luncheon in the public dining area of the resort, Trump learns that North Korea has test-launched a missile.

According to Fake-News source CNN:

As Mar-a-Lago’s wealthy members looked on from their tables, and with a keyboard player crooning[5] in the background, Trump and Abe’s evening meal quickly morphed into a strategy session, the decision-making on full view to fellow diners, who described it in detail to CNN.

13 February 2017

Absent-minded “Lock-Her-Up” cheerleader General Michael Flynn resigns after forgetting to mention that he did after all have contact with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislvak even though he had VP Mike Pence swear up and down to the American people that he hadn’t. Later it would also come out that the absent-minded general also forgot to mention he had registered as a foreign agent for Turkey.

15 February 2017

Reince Priebus asks FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe to put the kibosh the story that Trump associates have “been in regular communication with Russian agents.”

16 February 2017

In marathon news conference Trump brands the media as “the enemy,” disavows any contact of his people with Russian agents, and declares that the official colors of the American flag are red, white, and tangerine. Repeatedly uses the term “fake news.”[6]

18 February 2017

Holds a “campaign style” rube rally in Melbourne, Florida, to raise his testosterone levels.

28 February 2017

Buzz Feed releases British intelligence agent Christopher Steele’s dossier on Trump, which contains titillating tidbits like Trump paid a prostitute to urinate on a bed Obama and Michelle had slept in, but also claims that Trump’s associates had “regular contact with Russian agents.”

Trump gives his first state of the union address, a speech lauded as “presidential” by Washington Post Fake News critic Chris Cilllizza.

In that speech, Trump suggests that dead Navy Seal Ryan Owens is “happy” because bringing his widow out during the address got Trump the longest ovation of the evening.

1 March 2017

DOJ confirms that Attorney General Jeff Sessions twice met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign.

What, me worry?

2 March 2017

White House confirms that powerful don-in-law[7] Jared Kushner also met with – guess who — Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

4 March 2017

Unsupervised at the Every Weekend White House, Trump accuses “sick” President Obama of wiretapping his campaign.

8 March 2017

Paul Ryan, who has been dreaming off punishing poor people since drinking out of a keg at U of Miami, Ohio, begins drafting a replacement bill for Obamacare.

10 March 2017

Trump intimate Roger Stone admits he’s had contact with nefarious Russian hacker Grucifer 2.0.

13 March 2017

White House asks for delay in providing evidence for claim that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. 

14 March 2017

Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Deven Nunes reports no evidence of Trump Tower wiretapping.

15 March 2017

Rube rally in Nashville to raise testosterone levels.

16 March 2017

Baghdad Bob sound-alike Sean Spicer accuses the British Spy agency of colluding with Obama to spy on Trump.

British upper lips not all that stiff upon hearing the accusation. 

17 March 2017

Trump celebrates St. Paddy’s day by refusing to shake German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hand.

18 March 2018

Golf at the Every Weekend White House.

20 March 2017

At House Intelligence Committee Hearing FBI Director Comey debunks Obama wiretap accusation; NSA Adm. Mike Rogers debunks charge that US asked British intelligence to spy on Trump. Comey spills the beans that indeed there is a criminal investigation of possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign to undermine the US election.

Sean Spicer says the Committee Hearing has established there has been no coordination between the Russians and the Trump campaign. Stands by wiretapping allegation.

* * *

Okay, I’m done. Just let me add that in two months time, the Trump Presidency has is already embroiled in a scandal that makes Teapot Dome look like a parking infraction.

I say, let’s get the POTUS a scrip for some downers.

 

[1] The shoddiness of the document brings to mind my least favorite teacher comment ever on my writing: “Obviously a rush job and not a particularly clever one at that.” George Geckle, PhD. Ouch!

[2] Wikipedia (the lazy bloggers go-to info source)

[3] Note they, not we.

[4] Not to be confused with the PG Wodehouse character of the same name.

[5] I’m dying to know what he was crooning. “Feelings?” “I Gotta Be Me?” “Horst-Wessel-Lied?”

[6] By the way, I slipped some real fake news in that paragraph. Can you find it?

[7] Not a typo

Lord Buckley Seance

lord-buckley-seance

Et Tu, Breitbart

 

Milo,

Simon Sez,

You gotta go.

 

See you at CPAC.

Uh-oh!

The ol’ heave-ho?

 

Canned?

Banned?

Spited?

Disinvited?

 

First Amendment

Infringement?

 

I don’t think so.

There’s some danger

in being an asshole.

Fine-Tuned Machine

Fine-tuned machine

My ass!

Administration

sputtering

like a

tubercular

lawnmower,

hacking away

day after day

loud as a

vodka-fueled

leaf blower

as well-oiled as this here

mixed metaphor.

Deplorable!

Talking EPA Blues

Poison the atmosphere,

Poison the sea,

Soon you gonna be poisoning

Little ol’ me.

 

The Finale of Seem

 

trump-mao

Dig this tweet:

In less “pressing” news, PBS is on the budgetary chopping block. No more subversive Big Bird, no more Cassandra-shrill Nature/Nova predictions of planetary catastrophe, no more analytical News Hour, no more Masterpiece Theater, no more Ken Burns.

Let’s sing, all together now, “Don’t Take Me Out to the Ballpark.”

And how much will we save by eliminating PBS? $1.50 per taxpayer. Pennywise, for sure!

Meanwhile, well-compensated Secret Service agents guard Trump’s fine-lacquered sons as they open a “world class golfing resort” this weekend in Dubai.   Back home in the USA, the Treasury is forking out a half-a-million a day to guard a high profile plagiarist in a glittering tower. One of the enemies-of-the-people who works at the Washington Post estimates that these Winter Southern White House Mar-a-Lago weekends run about 3 million dollars. Money well spent, for sure.!

I’m beginning to think electing a pussy-grabbing president starved for adulation who shares more in common with Kim Jong-Un than he does with Jeb Bush wasn’t a very good idea. It’s month now, and we don’t have a National Security Advisor.

As Bob Dylan once crooned, “Wow-we, pretty scary.”

Oops, wait. My muse, Euphonia Laquacia Doggerel, has a delivery. I’ll be right back.

The Emperor of Tangerine

Watch the prevaricator,

The tangerine-tinted one,

Gesticulating upon the stage

Whipping up whoppers

For his white supremacist base.

“The lying Press is Public-Enemy #1!”

Rave on, Dear Leader, rave on

You gonna end up like Al Capone.

Let be be finale of seem

The only emperor is the Emperor of Tangerine.

 

I had a professor, Dr. Ashley Brown, who knew Ezra Pound, who knew Wallace Stevens, and Dr. Brown once told me I was no Wallace Stevens.

Be that as it may, Trump ain’t exactly original with his press=enemy-of-the-people-proclamation.

Dig these blasts from the past:

trump-mao

stalin_trump

hitler-trump

By the way, there’s a special election in the 6th District of Georgia this April.  Here’s something we can do to help undo: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2017/1/28/1626607/-Want-to-do-something-right-now-Then-donate-to-this-Democrat-running-in-a-House-special-election