Was it madness or was there method in it? That is a question political historians far into the future will ponder as they assess the conduct of America’s 45th President. Several months ago, I raised the potential for his madness on a local talk show, comparing Donald Trump’s presidency to the reign of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Like Lear, Trump is a man enraged by the word no. And like the old king, he is ill-served by his family. Most certainly, he is a man despoiling his country as he grapples with forces both within and external to him.
Those who heard that comparison grew impatient. Trump is no tragic figure worthy of our compassion, they countered. He is greedy, a liar and a fool. Worse, they groan, as they throw up their hands and seem to ask a rhetorical question: “Look what he’s doing to the country.”
Yet, I argue the story of a man blinded by so much flattery, so much money and so much power that his judgement is impaired is the stuff of high drama. Hate him, if you must, but never doubt Donald Trump is a tragic figure and not the first of his kind. Of late, his story has played out many times: Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and Les Moonves come to mind — rich men who, unaccustomed to the word no, lost their kingdoms.
No one argues these villains should be left unaccountable. But theirs is a cautionary tale. Are we humans always in charge? Or does chance play its part, clearing a path for self-destruction according to our natures. Rich or poor, destiny seems to play no favorites, but rolls the dice so that a man with too much may be as cursed as one with too little.
Judging the fallen is easy, especially for those who live unexamined lives. Still, the worst deeds of evil men offer us an opportunity to examine the length and breadth of what it means to be human. Will our cries for justice rob us of our reflection?
Or, will we see in the grimy souls of the fallen traces of ourselves? Will these awful men lead us to ask, as Lear does: “Who is it that can tell me who I am?”