Wednesday, December 26, 2018

King Lear For the New Century

(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari.)
"I am all alone (poor me) in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed Border Security." - Donald Trump, Christmas Eve, 2018

412 years ago today, on what was then known as St. Stephen's Day (and now celebrated as Boxing Day throughout the British Empire), one of the most noteworthy literary and theatrical events of all time happened. That was the first recorded performance of Shakespeare's King Lear. It was on this day in 1606 that the world was first introduced (or reintroduced, as Lear was likely a real Briton King) to a character that would become the very synonym for madness and paranoia at the highest echelons of power.
     Just a couple of generations later, after the Restoration of the House of Stuart, King Lear would be revised with a happier ending and with less gloominess. These well-meaning revisionists (they are all well-meaning, don't you know?) would have robbed us of the deeper and fuller meaning of the lessons imparted through Shakespeare's play. Literary scholars to this day debate whether or not one of the play's central themes was in ascertaining the very nature of Nature itself. Indeed, the words "nature", "natural" and "unnatural" appear within its five acts no less than 40+ times.
     One critic said the play begins with Lear's "near-fairytale narcissism." Let me know if any of this begins to sound disturbingly familiar (Interesting note: the 2010 Hudson Shakespeare Company's production updated it so Lear was a ruthless, narcissistic corporate tycoon. It also made use of sets inspired by The Dark Knight.).
     King Lear opens with the old monarch, weary of the duties of state, who wishes to divide his kingdom among his three daughters Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. And like Trump in that infamous, disgusting Cabinet meeting of June 12 last year in which many of the attendees fell over themselves verbally fellating Trump, King Lear commences with the titular character wishing to bestow his kingdom among his three daughters. But there's a price- They must flatter him first.
     Goneril and Regan do what is expected of them and earn their shares of the kingdom by flattering him. Then it comes time for Cordelia to do her part. She refuses to play along because, unlike her sisters who could easily be inserted as Cinderella's stepsisters, she's not power-mad and covetous and respects herself too much to debase herself by flattering an aging and foolish king even if he is her father.
     After one of the three presidential debates in 2016, Tiffany Trump had her own Cordelia moment when she adroitly avoided a kiss on the cheek by her famously lecherous father. Lord only knows the backstory behind that.

America in 2019

To use another literary allusion, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley began his sonnet, "England in 1819" with the famous opening line, "An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying King," words that could very well be repurposed (and so many great lines of literary antiquity almost seem engineered to be repurposed for future generations, aren't they?) to describe Donald Trump.
     He is blind to the truth and the only question regarding that failure of vision is whether he knows he's lying or if, more alarmingly, he doesn't actually know what the truth is or believes in one of his own making that is diametrically opposed to the facts. Trump is certainly old even for the office of the presidency, he's just as certainly mad and it's indisputable that he is despised by a massive percentage of the population that's at odds with the biggest items on his agenda, especially the wall.
     And it is that wall that indirectly resulted in Trump being alone at the White House on Christmas Eve. Or he would've been had it not been for one of the three women in his own life, Melania, taking pity on him and joining him for whatever Christmas festivities were on the Beltway. Like Lear, shorn of his power, in the storm, Trump delivered one pathetic tweet after another, including the masterpiece of self-pity that serves as the epigraph at the head of this article: "I am all alone (poor me)..."
     And, really, he had no one else but to blame but himself for his isolation. Realizing they would get nothing useful from him, such as a signed stopgap spending bill from the Senate that he in fact had vetoed, everyone else, including the United States Congress, went home to spend the holidays with their families. Trump, ironically, someone who ordinarily would have been gone long before anyone else, who was fully expected to jet to Mar-a-Lago for a 16 day vacation, stayed in his office, pouting.
     Instead, he was practically alone in the White House, still awaiting suddenly relevant Democrats to give him the bill he's still waiting on as if Congress was still in session. It was as if everyone on Capitol Hill conspired in the most massive practical joke of all time and prevented Trump from learning Congress had adjourned for the year, that the 115th Congress would never again convene and that the 116th Congress with a vastly different makeup would take over on January 3rd.
     Perhaps Ivanka and Melania are still very willing and able to blandish the mad president with flattery as empty as Goneril's and Regan's. And Tiffany, the Cordelia of this triumvirate that never was, is well out of sight because that's the way she prefers to have it. It's impossible to imagine Trump firing Pence to make way for Vice President Ivanka just so he can, a la House of Cards Season 5, make her the President on his resignation.
     But Trump is nothing if not unpredictable (he openly prides himself on it) and is not above making horrible decisions just for the hell of it such as firing Comey, declaring a trade war. backing out of the Paris Climate Accord, the Iran nuclear pact, leaving the UN Human Rights Commission and abruptly pulling our troops out of Syria without consulting his commanders on the ground. In those respects, Trump is as mad as Lear and it's all linked to his monstrous hubris that, until now, remained solely in the realm of highly dramatic fiction.


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