In a world where many an English teacher like myself bemoan the lack of active reading by students of good canonized literature or other works of literary merit, there has been one person who may have unintentionally shown our American society that the lessons and themes carefully expressed in great works often studied in classes are still relevant to today as they were when first published.
That person is Donald Trump.
No, that is not a fictional statement. Rather, he is a walking “sparknote” of great literature – a “Cliff’s Notes” comb over of relevant prose and drama who reminds us that art oftentimes is the perfect representation of life.
Six months into his fantastical term as leader of the “free” world (along with a memorable campaign and non-epic rise to stardom), Trump has provided those of us who look to great literature as a reflection of society validation that maybe getting that English degree and becoming literature and rhetoric teachers might have been a wise venture.
At least for the present there is much to ponder and sort through.
The Crucible – Arthur Miller
Miller’s reenactment of the Salem Witch Trials in Puritan New England in the late 1600’s as a way to express his displeasure with the rise of McCarthyism and the righteous rise of a hypocritical sect of theocrats during the Cold War actually might in and of itself be relevant to today’s world without Trump. But there was that comment he made not long ago on Twitter:
But, of course he also said that he was the most persecuted politician in history. Apparently, Trump never heard of people like Nelson Mandela.
King Lear – Shakespeare
Shakespeare’s tragedy about old age, madness, and hubris might have one of the most depressing endings of all of literature.
Lear opens up with a scene in which the king literally asks his three daughters to heap their best flattering accolades upon him as a means to measure their worth for his splitting the kingdom upon his death. It’s like he is blackmailing them for affirmation of his ego.
Tell me, my daughters,–
Since now we will divest us both of rule,
Interest of territory, cares of state,–
Which of you shall we say doth love us most?
That we our largest bounty may extend
Where nature doth with merit challenge. Goneril,
Our eldest-born, speak first (I,i).
And then there was that cabinet meeting from June 12, 2017.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Good morning.
TRUMP: We have much great news to share with the American people today as we continue to deliver on our promises.
ALEXANDER ACOSTA: Mr. President, my privilege to be here, deeply honored.
TOM PRICE: What an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this pivotal time under your leadership. I can’t thank enough for the privilege that you’ve given me.
RICK PERRY: Mr. President, an honor to be on the team.
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Thank you, Mr. President, and just the greatest privilege of my life is to serve as vice president to a president who’s keeping his word to the American people.
REINCE PRIEBUS: On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people. And we’re continuing to work very hard every day to accomplish those goals.
And many would say we are headed for another tragic ending.
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
The similarities between Trump and the character of Curley are actually quite many – so many, it’s scary. Here’s a table from a post from August of 2016 (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/08/10/of-mice-men-and-donald-trump-john-steinbeck-warned-us/).
|Entitlement||Curley is the son of the owner of the ranch. He is born into money. He has free reign of the place. People stay out of his way simply because of who his daddy is.||Trump was given a fortune to start his empire from his father.|
|Language||Curley barks orders and uses lots of one-syllable words, not because he is trying to sound like a simpleton, but because one syllable words allow him to stress every syllable. He also tends to make a lot of veiled threats.
|Trump’s use of the imperative mood and one-syllable buzz words will be its own linguistic course I college one day.
And Trump seems to rely on phantom sources for most of his claims. “Many people are saying”, “I have heard”, and other loose forms of verification allow Trump to make assertions that are baseless.
|Hands||Curley is a boxer. He also keeps a glove on one of his hands. You should go to the book and find out why.||If you do not know of the
controversy surrounding the size of Donald Trump’s hands, then you should not even be voting.
|Gender||Curley treats his wife as a possession. In fact, SHE DOES NOT EVEN HAVE A NAME. She has to seek attention from elsewhere, which drives Curley anngry, and ultimately leads to Lennie’s death.||Megyn Kelly bleeding.
Suggesting Clinton be locked up and even “dealt with” by Second Amendment advocates. Calling Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas”. Saying he would tell the daughter he would date if she was not his daughter to go to another job if she was harassed. The list goes on and on including dismissing a woman with a crying baby out of a rally.
|People with Disabilities||Look how Curley goes after Lennie when he realizes that Lennie, while a big man, does not have a fighting temperament.||Trump mocked a reporter with disabilities at a rally in one of the more repugnant displays of “presidential” behavior ever seen.|
|Hairlines||Curley has a copious amount of hair with no comb over.||No one really knows where Trump’s hairline is.
I had to put one contrast in.
Moby Dick – Herman Melville
When Herman Melville penned the story of Captain Ahab and his obsessive, monomaniacal pursuit of the White Whale, he was speaking of people like Donald Trump, a man obsessed with a vision of securing the prey which is a reason for a bigger ego.
The parallels between Trump and Ahab are striking. Both are on a selfish quest – to subdue something bigger than either of them. Ahab wants “revenge” on an animal that has bested him in the past. Trump wishes to gain a position of power and make his mark on history.
Both men wear scars from previous encounters with their “white whales.” Ahab literally has a leg missing having given the whale a little something for his gullet. Trump bears scars of a wounded ego and scandal.
Both command “administrations” that have crews which are struggling to fathom the captain’s neglect for others involved. Ahab’s crew includes those who are intensely loyal, some who are ambivalent, and some who only want the job. Same with Trump; however, there are signs of people abandoning his “Pequod.”
Possibly the strongest correlation is the prize that both seek. Ahab’s fanatical pursuit of Moby Dick is a quest for his own validation. All else in his life and the lives of his crew are secondary to him. He has forced the whale to become a part of him and the whale took part of Ahab (and ate it).
But what is Trump’s “Moby Dick”? It’s an arrogant, egotistical image of himself that he sees in the reflection of a megalomaniacal mirror that can only be satisfied with not only having obtained the top job in the free world but make it even more than that. Except in Trump’s case, his “white whale” grows in size daily and thus becomes more powerful and harder to subdue.
Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
During the last scaffold scene of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel, The Scarlet Letter. Arthur Dimmesdale finally confesses his sin in broad daylight identifying himself as the father of the “illegitimate” Pearl, having hidden a secret intimate relationship with a married woman named Hester Prynne. He literally ascends the scaffold, bears his chest, and reveals his own scarlet “A”, a homemade, etched-in tattoo to match the one worn publicly by Hester from the beginning of the book on her breast.
The book centers on the power of secret sin – how our outsides match our insides. By the time Dimmesdale confesses, so much life has been sucked out of him that he literally dies moments later.
Catharsis at its best.
And he gains some measure of salvation and forgiveness from God. And if we think about it, we all wear some sort of scarlet letter on our chests.
In this gothically charged dark romance of an election season, it might be interesting to consider another man who has the opportunity to publicly reveal his transgressions before they end his political life – Donald Trump.
Except in the case of one Donald Trump, he may need to carve the entire alphabet into his large chest to begin to cover the range of his wrongdoings.
On the scaffold known as the national stage, Trump’s story contains as much if not more dramatic irony that Hawthorne’s novel. Readers know of Dimmesdale’s secret as the American public seems to know about Trump’s transgressions. Luckily for Dimmesdale, he confesses. Will Trump do the same?
- A = Arrogance. The pride, hubris, and arrogance has simply been the hallmark of this campaign.
- B = “Bigly” and Birther. What the hell kind of word is “bigly”? But that pales in comparison with the birther conspiracy theory that Trump birthed and nurtured for years.
- C – Combover. Please. Just accept the hairline.
- D – Denegration of others. Trump blames everybody else except himself.
- E – Excess. It is not the wealth, but the display of the wealth.
- F – Faulty Really?
- G – Grab them by the P***y. No explanation needed.
- H – Hats and “Hombres.” First, those are really ugly MAGA hats. Secondly, using derogatory words to describe people he claims to cater to is probably not the best choice of diction.
- I – Another form of “Me” – What it’s all about to Trump.
- J – John McCain. Dude, he is a war hero. Not many men have done as much for their country.
- K – KellyAnne Conway. Her mouth is trying to cash checks that Trump’s mouth has been writing and she knows that they are bad checks.
- L – Lies. That’s the truth.
- M – Megyn Kelly and Mika. You brought that on yourself, Mr. Trump.
- N – Nasty Woman. Fits in with “No one has greater respect for women than I do.”
- – Opulence. See “E.”
- P – Putin. BFF
- Q – Querrulous . A fancy word that means “thin-skinned.”
- R – Rigged. Refer to Putin
- S – Sniffing. He starts doing that when you get all huffy and puffy.
- T – Tan. Not real.
- U – University, Trump University. That went well.
- V – Violence. Rallies – plain and simple. Inciting people to act with guns.
- W – Women. Video tape and accusations. Coincidence?
- X – Xenophobia. No explanation needed.
- Y – Yuge. Trump has used this word so much, it may actually go in the dictionary.
- Z – Zero taxes. Illegal immigrants may actually be paying more federal taxes than Trump.
Oedipus – Sophocles
In an interview on The View in 2006, Donald Trump said,
“I don’t think Ivanka would do that, although she does have a very nice figure. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”
There’s got to be something there that’s somewhat Oedipus-like or the converse, right?
1984 – George Orwell
From the interview with Chuck Todd on January 22nd’s Meet The Press:
KELLYANNE CONWAY: Don’t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. What– You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that. But the point remains–
CHUCK TODD: Wait a minute– Alternative facts?
KELLYANNE CONWAY: –that there’s–
CHUCK TODD: Alternative facts? Four of the five facts he uttered, the one thing he got right–
KELLYANNE CONWAY: –hey, Chuck, why– Hey Chuck–
CHUCK TODD: –was Zeke Miller. Four of the five facts he uttered were just not true. Look, alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.
Alternative facts? Welcome to dystopia.
Importance of Being Earnest – Oscar Wilde
The title alone should be enough – earnest means “truthful and sincere.” But there is that part where both Algernon and Jack pretend to be other people in order to escape their duties as real people. Algernon invents an invalid friend named Bunbury and even makes visiting him a verb – “Bunburying.”
From Act I:
“I have invented an invaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury, in order that I may be able to go down into the country whenever I choose.” – Algernon
To have a Bunbury is to be a “Bunburyist.”
From a May 13, 2016 Washington Post article entitled “Donald Trump masqueraded as publicist to brag about himself”:
The voice is instantly familiar; the tone, confident, even cocky; the cadence, distinctly Trumpian. The man on the phone vigorously defending Donald Trump says he’s a media spokesman named John Miller, but then he says, “I’m sort of new here,” and “I’m somebody that he knows and I think somebody that he trusts and likes” and even “I’m going to do this a little, part time, and then, yeah, go on with my life.”
A recording obtained by The Washington Post captures what New York reporters and editors who covered Trump’s early career experienced in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s: calls from Trump’s Manhattan office that resulted in conversations with “John Miller” or “John Barron” — public-relations men who sound precisely like Trump himself — who indeed are Trump, masquerading as an unusually helpful and boastful advocate for himself, according to the journalists and several of Trump’s top aides (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/donald-trump-alter-ego-barron/2016/05/12/02ac99ec-16fe-11e6-aa55-670cabef46e0_story.html?utm_term=.6c91410b4717).
Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift
Swift’s accounts of a doctor locked into a journey through different worlds is a satirical look at how the English government conducted its policies in Swift’s world. In short, Swift is one of the first great satirists and while Gulliver might be well known as a giant among the Lilliputians, it is the episode with the Brobdingnagians where Gulliver explains the nature of his homeland’s form of government and how it is “elected” that Trump seems to bring to mind.
From Part II – “A Voyage to Brobdingnag”, Chapter VI:
He then desired to know, “What arts were practised in electing those whom I called commoners: whether a stranger, with a strong purse, might not influence the vulgar voters to choose him before their own landlord, or the most considerable gentleman in the neighbourhood? How it came to pass, that people were so violently bent upon getting into this assembly, which I allowed to be a great trouble and expense, often to the ruin of their families, without any salary or pension? because this appeared such an exalted strain of virtue and public spirit, that his majesty seemed to doubt it might possibly not be always sincere.” And he desired to know, “Whether such zealous gentlemen could have any views of refunding themselves for the charges and trouble they were at by sacrificing the public good to the designs of a weak and vicious prince, in conjunction with a corrupted ministry?” He multiplied his questions, and sifted me thoroughly upon every part of this head, proposing numberless inquiries and objections, which I think it not prudent or convenient to repeat.
Anyone thinking of Betsy DeVos?
Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy-Toole
If you have never read the Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, then do yourself a favor and get a copy. It’s exquisite. It’s about an out-of-shape anti-hero who sells hot dogs and frets over a supposed heart-condition in New Orleans who is courting a radical gal from New York and ultimately survives a parrot attack. No kidding.
It’s the nonsensical element that drives this book and its ability to showcase a lot of the meaningless fodder that we as humans give so much power to.
Now substitute “Trump Steaks” for “hot dogs.” Substitute “ego” for “heart condition.” Substitute “Putin” for “radical gal.” And then substitute “free press” for “parrot.” The body figure can stay the same.
And “Oh.my valve!” can be deciphered to mean “I need to Tweet!”
Rime of The Ancient Mariner – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
“Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.”
― Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
– Gustave Dore
These famous lines from what I consider the greatest narrative poem in the English language (and the most haunting) are a perfect example of the sadistic nature of irony that surrounds us.
Remember when Donald Trump went to the canteen so many times during his debate with Hillary Clinton? Not once did Clinton drink water on the stage.
Along with copious amounts of sniffing, Donald sought to hydrate himself so many times that it was becoming an important subplot in the narrative of the debate.
Honorable Mention – The Collected Works of Dr. Seuss
- The Lorax. Just look at the attacks on policies to protect the environment
- Green Eggs and Ham. Have you ever looked at the comments made by linguists who have studied the rhetoric of Trump? They talk about the preponderance of one-syllable words and repetition he uses.
- Horton Hears a Who! Trump wanted to “represent” the average American – he wanted to let all “Whos” to be heard. Maybe that is why he has the most homogenous cabinet in recent history and appointed more people from Wall Street to his cabinet than from Main Street.
- Yertle the Turtle= Yertle is the king of the pond, but he wants more. He demands that other turtles stack themselves up so he can sit on top of them to survey the land.
- The Butter Battle Book. Trump / Putin?
- Oh The Places You’ll Go. With Betsy DeVos as the new secretary of education and the recent news about the actions of Trump University, it seems that many of those future graduates are meant to come from schools that were once public but now reformed into privatized entities.
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas!I actually thought more of Steve Bannon with this one.
- And I will add two others myself – The Sneetches. “Now, the Star-Bell Sneetches had bellies with stars.
The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars.”
- And then there is The Big Brag.
- “It’s gonna be huge.”
- “It’s gonna be great.”
- “We’re going to make America great again.”
- “When you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.”
So there is Greek tragedy, Shakespeare, English Romanticism, Realism, Dark Romanticism, Modernism, Post Modernism, Dystopian – you name it.
Trump is a walking canon.
Or a walking loose cannon.