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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Donald Trump as a Tragic Figure from the Classics

BBC Radio 4 - Best of Today, Today: The view from Washington

"[Interview with Victor Davis Hanson] ‘Donald Trump, according to [Victor Davis] Hanson, is a figure from the classics.’

‘If you read the Ajax, to take one example of a tragic hero who feels that he's not appreciated, all he does is whine about it, why he's the best warrior and yet he didn't get his commiserate rewards from the deep state of Menelaus and Odysseus and Agamemnon.

What I'm getting at here is that Trump is is desperate for recognition. He feels that he's done certain things. He's improved minority unemployment, he's made the United States the greatest oil producer in the world, 3 million barrels of additional production since he was elected.

But he, he doesn't, he doesn't see that the methodology that he uses, is not going to win him the sobriquet of the sober and judicious leader, and that's what he wants as every tragic hero, they want to be appreciated. And he wants to say, so he always does what they do. He said, look, what I gave up, I gave up my big money making enterprise for four years, I took an enormous toll on my family, on my health, my person, and yet I get no credit for the sacrifices.

And then people would say in repartee: well, you are polarizing, you offend people. And he would say in response, of course I am. Because the sober and judicious and stereotyped establishment mannerisms, not only didn't get things done, but they were amoral in themselves. Because if you can't obtain 3% growth, or you don't care about minority employment, that's a moral act in itself. So forget what I say or what I do, or my guns on my hip. Just look at what I've done for people. And that message I don't think was ever going to resonate... especially in a therapeutic society.’

‘One of the things that follows on from what you've just said, is that Trump has to be Trump, I suppose, in that classical hero sense. If he fits into something from which he can't escape. So when people say if only he wouldn't tweet or moderate his language, etc, that just doesn't work.’

‘Yeah. And I could reply to that observation. And I made it in the book, I think I quoted directly George Stevens 1956, classic, Western Shane, where at the end, when Shane has to put on his guns and solve the problem. He understands, he's not going to be able to fit in, and he says, there's a mold, and I can't break the mold. I am what I am. And so the very fact that, of the methodology he uses disqualifies him from continuance in a civilized society.

And so we can't change Trump, whether we'd like to or not, he's there for a given point at a given time. And we can hope that he is successful in solving these problems. But neither he, he seeks the acceptance of a status quo, that the status quo is not able to give them, neither one can change. So and that's the element of tragedy where there's no resolution.’

‘The other analogy you use in the book, which I think is really fascinating, is Dirty Harry, and Clint Eastwood, because that then goes to how all of this ends.’

‘Yeah, I mean, after Dirty Harry warns everybody what the, the serial killer is really about, what his essence is, I think he says a famous line he, he's asked, why does he kill and he says, because he likes it. And so finally, after giving this guy a chance, after chance, he feels the legal system is exhausted, it’s moral and ethical alternative. So he, at the end of the show, confronts him, and then he gives him a choice. The wounded villain, and the wounded villain chooses to draw and Dirty Harry and he shoots him.

But I think what you're referring to, he, at that point, he solves the problem. But he understands that the system itself is sort of impotent, and that he doesn't want to be a part of it. And he's befouled himself by shooting the wounded victim, even though the victim wanted, deserved it and wanted to draw on him. So he throws his badge and walks away.

And I think somewhat similar to what Trump will do, I just don't think that he's going to be treated as a normal ex president, no matter what he's done. I think just this week, Barbara Bush, the late Barbara Bush, it was announced that she felt that her heart attack that led to her weakening and eventual demise was caused by Donald Trump. And he's been blamed for everything from... the New Zealand mass murders to almost anything Jesse Smollett, psychodrama in Chicago, almost every sensational incident not just in the United States, but globally is pinned on the supposedly baleful influence of Donald J. Trump.’

‘And so when Trump goes, you think do you that he will go in that tragic hero sense that his achievements as you would see them are not going to be properly recognized?’

‘I don't think they will, because to do so is a referendum on the credentials of people who failed. And by that, I mean, the usual curses are norm [sp?] of American president has been an Ivy League undergraduate, or at least an Ivy League law degree in the case of Clinton, Obama, and in case of George W. Bush, an MBA. And that didn't translate necessarily into wise foreign policy or domestic decisions. And it didn't really bring the country together as advertised.

So I think to the degree that Trump and then the presidential comportment, at least public comportment, and that's very important, public comportment was antithetical to Trump, they didn't have the type of rallies at Trump do, or they didn't tweet. And in the pre Twitter age, they didn't even have repartee that was like Trump.

And so I think there's a sense that Trump, because of the manner in which he did things, he's disqualified himself from proper recognition of the achievements. And, and that's, again, to finish up, that's innate to the idea that his success means that the proper qualifications for president are somewhat questionable.

And that's something that's going on, by the way throughout the United States right now, we're just coming off a huge scandal among our best and brightest universities, so to speak, where they were actually selling admittances as to people who were mostly white, liberal, wealthy elite, who were in a very crass and crude way, buying their way into it. And with the collapse of the Southern Poverty Law Center, really, as a moral agency, that Jussie Smollett, there's a lot of recalibration going on. Not to mention the Mueller investigation. But the common denominator is that received wisdom about intellectual or moral or social qualification is coming under attack.’

‘That's the case for him. The case against him, starts really doesn't it with his behavior towards some Americans, particularly those Americans who aren't powerful. And crucially, the racially tinged language that he’s used, to put it mildly. There are those who believe that anyone who behaves as he behaves, whether it's classical hero style or not, just isn't fit to do the job’

'I would need a bill of particulars, but I think you might be referring just I'll take two of the most sensational examples, and I'm not defending them. But we do live in an age according to the Shorenstein center that 85% of all press coverage of his presidency has been negative and 90% of his candidacy.

So give me the two examples I think you're referring to are the Charlottesville commentary after that demonstration. And I read the transcript word for word very carefully. It was sloppy in the sense of what modern parlance should be in, in being very careful. But if you actually went, he said there were good and bad people basically on both sides. And he then, he outlined the antifa, but not everybody was antifa, not everybody was a white, alt right racist. There were people out there that were concerned about the statute toppling. We don't know what the percentages were. And that's where it was sloppy. But there were people out there marching in protest of nocturnal iconoclastic destruction of monuments, they were not all alt right racist. And he said that, if you look at the transcript, you'll see it.

The other really sensational thing he said, I think very wrongly, and I'm speaking as the son of one of the first female judges in California, but he said that Judge Curiel was a Mexican judge, and that he belonged to a Mexican organization. And again, it reflects the sloppiness, but the fact is, my entire life I've been called a Swede. We say the Irish, I live in a city that's about 85% Mexican American. Most people I know, in my family and elsewhere that are Mexican American do not refer to themselves as Mexican American, will say he or she is Mexican, they don't mean that in a derogatory term. Maybe Trump did, maybe he didn't. But the the nomenclature per se, is common in the United States.

There's a pattern here that Trump is very sloppy and insensitive to the realities of how one uses language in a multiracial society. But the essence of what he said is not inaccurate. It's just poorly phrased. Now, whether that poor phrase shows an ignorance of, of cultural realities or a deep seated prejudice, I don't know. But if you were to look at the transcript of what he said, and on both situations you, there can be make an argument that he's not racist, and I don't think his business career is racist.

There's an asymmetry here. When Harry Reid, the doyen of liberal senators in the Senate had said, Barack Obama is the first, he can speak like with a negro dialect, or he doesn't need to speak like that. Remember, Bill Clinton said, this is a guy that a few years ago, would have been serving us coffee. I could go on and on.

But what I'm getting at is that there's not a symmetry in the Western world about racial disparagement. If one is a progressive that supplies one with a de facto identity policy that when you say such things that are offensive, it's not considered a window into a dark soul. It's considered an inadvertent slip up. But when Trump is clumsy, that's confirmation that he's a bigot.’

‘One of the things that said about him to prove in people's minds that he’s a racist, is the way for instance, that he uses the issue of the southern border and whips up this sense of feeling towards people or the other, whether they're on the US side of the border or not, do you think that reveals something about him as a person?’

‘Well, I think politically, he understands that there's a 55-45 desire for people to close the border and to have sovereign borders and to have immigration, legal, measured, meritocratic, and diverse. And it's neither of those four criteria now, it's mostly illegal. It's not diverse.

70% of the people come to the United States come from one region, often at the expense of people who are waiting legally from places in Africa and Asia, Europe. And it's not based on education, or skills, but rather on family ties, or just the access to get across. And it's not measured.

The melting pot of assimilation, integration and intermarriage works best when we can have two to three or 400 people coming legally across the border. And that's always been the secret to the United States, that we've had mostly legal immigration. And we've been very, very successful, unlike Europe in assimilating them.

Now why did that break down? It broke down because people came too quickly, in too great numbers. And it was based entirely on family connections or their access to the border. And it made a mockery of legality.

So I'm sitting in a farm kitchen where my neighbors are about 90% Hispanic, and the other five to 10% are Punjabis. And I can tell you that Punjabi, who come largely legally wait seven to eight years. People who are proximate to the southern border, that's not true, necessarily. And so that was the problem and how one phrases that is very, I've written a book on illegal immigration, it's very important to phrase that but he was reacting to a real problem’

‘On foreign affairs. One of the great challenges that's made a Donald Trump even from those are willing to concede he might have his his domestic attractions is this sense around the world, that he enjoys friendships with people who are not democrats, who are often brutal repressors of their people. And in that sense, he is properly, well actually unamerican’

‘There's two issues here. What was his attitude toward genuinely authoritarian figures? And let's take four or five of them from the left and the right. The Chinese apparat, the North Korean apparat, the apparat in Russia, the apparat in Venezuela,the apparat in Cuba. And let's ask what he did as far as US foreign policy, to what he inherited.

I think everybody can see that when he came in that North Korea had nuclear tipped missiles that were pointed with nuke, that with an ability to hit the West Coast, at least in theory. He addressed that in pretty tough terms. He got criticized in his art of the deal, sloppy manner for calling, disparaging the North Korean leadership, little Rocket Man, and it was outrage.

And then he was disparaged for saying that Kim Jong Un wrote him a love letter, but you can see what he was doing. He was flattering, and demonizing to get a deal in the way that he does.

I don't think anybody's been harder on the Chinese than he has. This is the first time any president has said we're not going to have a continuance of a mercantile, asymmetrical trade.

As far as Russia, you're right that he has been, especially that comment that he said that he was willing to have Russians investigate Americans and supposedly had tampered in their elections. And then we would get to go to Russia, that was a silly thing, that stupid thing to say. But if you actually look at the policy, whether that was up in the defense budget, or up in the NATO contributions are 3 million barrels more a day that really crashed the Russian export market, our job owning the Russians, and the Germans on the pipeline, or restoring missile defense after the failed reset, and that embarrassing hot mic with Obama said, I'll be more flexible with Vladimir after the election if you'll just basically keep quiet. Or bombing Russians, killing Russians in the Middle East in the case of the mercenaries. So I would argue that his policy has been far more hostile to Putin, than has the Obama reset.

Where I think he's been subject to criticism is that within the democratic world, especially the European world, he has unmistakenly come down on the side of what the European Union project would call reactionaryism, or Neanderthalism, or even worse, racial exceptionalism, etc. And that, by that, I mean, he's clearly for Brexit. He's clearly more sympathetic to Eastern European, consensual governments, even though they have started to erode, then he is with Western. And that's because of culture.

The degree to which a leader stands for closed borders, traditional religion and takes an attitude’s that's less politically correct, the more Trump is sympathetic, and to the degree that they're not, he's not. And I think that's where the criticism really lies. I know that people say he’s too soft on Putin, but he's not as you look at the actual record.

Where people are angry is that he is hostile to countries like France, and Canada. Not hostile but bellicose in his rhetoric, or at least insensitive. France, and Germany, the Northern European countries that he feels mirror image the progressive movement in the United States and where he's popular and where he has affinity or countries that represent a more traditional and rightist point of view, Trump would say, yes, these Eastern Europeans are probably harassing political opposition. And that's not good, at least you'd be forced to say that by his advisors. But then they would also say that the European Union, especially the way it treats Southern European countries, in matters of finance, Eastern European countries, and matters of immigration. Britain, in the matter of Brexit is not, is increasingly authoritarian and not democratic. And if you gave actual referenda to people in Western Europe, the results might surprise those in Strasbourg and Brussels.’

‘Do you think you'll be reelected?’

‘I think he has a 55% chance because very quickly, there's three criteria that hurt a president and either destroy his second term or deny him reelection. One is the economy and that's the most important. It depends on whether you can maintain two and a half, 3% GDP and good employment. If he doesn't, he won't. And we saw that from everybody from George HW Bush to Jimmy Carter. The second is he gets himself into an unpopular optional war. I don't think he will. But he could. And if he did, we saw what happened to George Bush's second term or LBJ’s first term, he didn't run for reelection. And then third, there's a scandal of Watergate proportions. I don't think the Mueller thing turned out that way. So on those three traditional criteria he’s doing pretty well.

And then historically, he's right popularity wise where Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were at the start of their third year 42 to 45% polling. He did better in the Senate, than either one did in their midterms. He did better even in the House by losing 40 seats rather than 52 and 63, respectively, but Barack Obama crushed Mitt Romney, whatever the Republicans say it was even close in the Electoral College, and Bill Clinton crushed Bob Dole. So it's his election to win or lose.

And the question will be, who's he running against? If he runs against a centrist that makes the arguments that you did? And does it in a persuasive manner, he’ll have a much tougher time. But if he gets a candidate like Hillary Clinton, who was prone to, you know, I'm going to put you out of business in West Virginia and you're a deplorable and etc. If they run on issues like reparations, or legal infanticide, or the new Green Deal or 90% income tax or wealth tax or abolishing Medic-, abolishing all student debt or Medicare for everybody. Those are not 51% issues. So it will depend on what the issues are that are supposed to him, who is the, who represents them, and what the economy and the wars, I think, not to be escaping or hedging I think that that would say at this point has got about a 55% chance of getting reelected.’"

***

The Classicist Who Sees Donald Trump as a Tragic Hero

"If you talk to people in the military, the diplomatic corps, the academic world, and, just to take one example, China, they will tell you in the last two years they have had an awakening. They feel that Chinese military superiority is now to deny help to America’s allies. They believe that the trade deficit is unsustainable. They will tell you all of that, and you are almost listening to Donald Trump in 2015, but they won’t mention the word “Trump,” because to do so would contaminate that argument. What I am getting at is he looked at the world empirically...

The word “hero.” Americans don’t know what that word means. They think it means you live happily ever after or you are selfless. Whether it is Achilles or Sophocles’s Ajax or Antigone, they can act out of insecurity, they can act out of impatience—they can act out of all sorts of motives that are less than what we say in America are heroic. But the point that they are making is, I see a skill that I have. I see a problem. I want to solve that problem, and I want to solve that problem so much that the ensuing reaction to that solution may not necessarily be good for me. And they accept that.

It reminds me of Trump saying that people will get sick of winning. It seems like you are saying we have gotten sick of it, and that is the tragedy of Trump....

Have you read Sophocles’s Ajax ever? It’s one of his best plays... You have a neurotic hero who cannot get over the fact that he was by all standards the successor to Achilles and deserves Achilles’s armor, and yet he was outsmarted by this wily, lesser Odysseus, who rigged the contest and got the armor. All he does is say, “This wasn’t fair. I’m better. Doesn’t anybody know this?” It’s true, but you want to say to Ajax, “Shut up and just take it.” Achilles has elements of a tragic hero. He says, at the beginning of the Iliad, “I do all the work. I kill all the Trojans. But when it comes to assigning booty, you always give it to mediocrities—deep-state, administrative nothings.” So he stalks off. And the gods tell him, “If you come back in, you will win fame, but you are going to end up dead.” So he makes a tragic, heroic decision that he is going to do that.

I think Trump really did think that there were certain problems and he had particular skills that he could solve. Maybe in a naïve fashion. But I think he understood, for all the emoluments-clause hysteria, that he wasn’t going to make a lot of money from it or be liked for it...

As someone who lives in a community that is ninety per cent Hispanic, probably forty per cent undocumented, I can tell you that it’s a very different world from what people are talking about in Washington. I have had people knock on my door and ask me where the ob-gyn lives, because they got her name in Oaxaca. And the woman in the car is six months pregnant and living across the border and given the name of a nice doctor in Selma, California, that will deliver the baby...

I read a great deal about the Mar-a-Lago project, and I was shocked that the people who opposed that on cultural and social grounds were largely anti-Semitic. Trump had already announced that he was not going to discriminate against Jews and Mexicans and other people. He said, “I want wealthy people.” I went to Palm Beach and talked to wealthy Jewish donors and Cubans, and they said the same thing to me—“He likes rich people. He doesn’t care what you look like.”... I don’t know what the driving force was, but I found that he was indifferent. And I think the same thing is true of blacks and Hispanics...

If you go back and look at the worst tweets, they are retaliatory.

What he does is he waits like a coiled cobra until people attack him, and then he attacks them in a much cruder, blunter fashion. And he has an uncanny ability to pick people that have attacked him, whether it’s Rosie O’Donnell, Megyn Kelly—there were elements in all those people’s careers that were starting to bother people, and Trump sensed that out. I don’t think he would have gotten away with taking on other people that were completely beloved. Colin Kaepernick. People were getting tired of him, so he took him on. All that stuff was calibrated. Trump was replying and understood public sympathy would be at least fifty-fifty, if not in his favor."
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