It's Trump's responsive mob that fascinates more than Trump.
In the rebel Jack Cade and his insurgent disciples, as portrayed in the three-volume Henry VI, Shakespeare's first and weakest play — a product of inexperience and collaboration — the eternal Bard nonetheless brilliantly anticipates Robespierre, Lenin, Mao, Donald Trump, and the madness of modern America's rabble:
CADE: Be brave, then; for your captain is brave, and vows reformation. There shall be in England seven halfpenny loaves sold for a penny: the three-hooped pot; shall have ten hoops and I will make it felony to drink small beer:… [A]nd when I am king, as king I will be,—
ALL: God save your majesty!
CADE: I thank you, good people: there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers and worship me their lord.
[REBEL]: The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.
CADE: Nay, that I mean to do.
Those pesky lawyers for sure, although in Shakespeare's play they're also a metaphor for society's educated, the literate, the "elite" — all those who, grounded in the thorny realities of civilization, might complicate Cade's extravagant simplicities and laughable promises of overnight redresses. Coping with unpleasant realities and those who remind us of their equally unpleasant tenacity can be hard, hence Cade and his radical throng's why-didn't-we-think-of-this-before? solution: Just ignore reality in all its disagreeable forms, exterminate the realists, and conjure a utopian alternative — simple as that.
In an impressively economical update of Shakespeare's derision, Jack Cade's absurdities, the rabble's gullibility — and Trumpism — the Post's elitist Michael Gerson beholds that the president-elect has promised revenue-imploding tax cuts of approximately $7 trillion over 10 years, an infrastructure program that would cost roughly another trillion, tens of billions more toward the military's "rebuilding," no fiscal tampering with the nation's costliest social programs, and a speedy "move … toward a balanced federal budget."
Simple as that.
The rebel Trump and his professed political program, as the elitist columnist unforgettably reminds us, are "unfocused and erratic." The hapless demagogue "is dismissively impatient with policy meetings" and "wants others to sweat the details, allowing him to focus on bigger things" — "such as Meryl Streep's Golden Globe remarks," or a few hundred Carrier jobs, or tweeted vapidities such as "@CNN is in a total meltdown with their FAKE NEWS because their ratings are tanking since election and their credibility will soon be gone!"
Nothing in Trump's many absurdities even remotely addresses reality; nothing connects with serious remedial advocacy or has much to do with anything but witless tabloid sensationalism or the disordered fantasies of the anarchic mind (as Jack Cade put it, "But then are we in order when we are most out of order"). Offers Gerson inconclusively — and rather superfluously: The president-elect "has made a series of pledges that can't be reconciled. If he knew this during the campaign, he is cynical. If he is only finding out now, he is benighted."
That Trump is both cynical and benighted is among those rarities of absolute doubtlessness. The tweeting, yapping rabble-rouser is a manifest bundle of unreflective sociopathy and ruthless indifference to intellectual dignity. To engage in a bit of superfluity myself: He is that familiar horror of evil banality.
Which is to say, we have of course seen the incendiary, authoritarian, evil banality of Donald Trump before. History brims with such brutes. And yet what fascinates this student of megalomaniacal, sociopathic rabble-rousing are the aroused it attracts — more so than the cynical arousers. Which is to say further, every mass-movement leader's patently cretinous and often cruel promises underscore less the leader's barbaric ignorance than that of the massively moved.
Virtually every demagogue, cultish personality or carnival-barking populist — whatever one wishes to call him — is, as noted, sneeringly indifferent to both truth and ignorance. In that, he's a singular phenomenon. But how — and this is what fascinates to the very depths of wonder — are millions of otherwise reasonably well-functioning John and Jane Q.s capable of embracing the demagogue's immensely conspicuous absurdities?
Among them, to repeat, is Trump's promise to slash revenue and lavish yet more aid on the superwealthy while balancing the budget and benefiting his white working-class base. The eyes of a still-subliterate but twice-thinking child would glaze over in the presence of such arrestingly self-evident falderal; nonetheless more than 62-million American adults have said to themselves and unfortunate others: Well, the Donald may be a trifle off here and there, but let's give this insufferable ass a chance, and just see how things work out.
The breadth of this collective gullibility, searing ignorance or utter disregard for the vastly empirical certainty of Trump's coming calamities is, to me, fascinating. This collective drives to work, finds its way home, raises children and remembers to turn off the stove — but somehow it's unable or simply unwilling to recognize the most sinister political con that ever descended on these disunited states of America.It — all of it — is just fascinating. Deeply perverse, but fascinating nevertheless.