THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING
In 1888 Rudyard Kipling wrote “The Man Who Would Be King” an “extraordinary social parable” about two British adventurers who, in Keystone Kops fashion, became kings of Kafiristan–present-day Nuristan Province in Afghanistan and its surroundings. That strikes me as an apt title for the current situation with Donald Trump and his efforts at being King of Americanistan—just north of Mexico. An idle thought just drifted across my mind with Laurel & Hardy as the two adventurers—Trump as Laurel. There’s a 1975 Warner Bros slapstick film of The Man who would be King with Sean Connery and Michael Caine.
“The beginning of everything” was probably Donald Trump’s meeting with Steve Bannon (Mr. Deconstruction (who equates it with destruction) who became Executive Chair of Breitbart—a far alt-right American daily news network)–after Founder Andrew Breitbart’s death on March 2012. Trump and Dr. Bannon met shortly thereafter during which Bannon offered advice and strategies to Trump on how to win the election—which miraculously came to pass in November 2016. After that everything has turned into a satiric Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.
Now how would Stan Laurel handle being King? Better than Donald Trump, I daresay, because Laurel knew the value of laughter. Being President should have been easy for Stoneface Trump—being King a bit harder when there’s a Constitution to contend with.
“Uh, what’s that?”
“Why thems the rules and by-laws for governing the country.”
“I know all about governing the country. I watch Madame Secretary all the time. You see, I’m a billionaire of a major Corporation. I know all about running things. There’s no one better at running things than me. Ask anyone, they’ll tell ya. Tell ‘em, Steve.”
Sabelotodo, boast and brag, and bombast may be the heart of the problem. But then again, perhaps 45’s problem might even defy the efforts of Sigmund Freud. Has there ever been a major political figure more narcissistic than President Trump? I can’t think of one. But then I’ve only lived under 15 of the presidents starting with Coolidge—Silent Cal.
I keep visualizing a funny scenario: Trump is at bat in the Strike Zone; Jeff Sessions is
pitching. The count is 2 and 2. The result is likely is to be 3 strikes. Maybe not—depen-ding on Session’s pitch Trump may get a walk. You can’t be sure of things in a Trumpo-cracy scenario.
For example, will President Trump really grant Joe Arpaio, the Arizona scofflaw Sheriff, a presidential pardon? I hope not. That would really be a disastrous move. It’s not Mexico in the shark tank—40 million Mexican American sharks in the demographic pool would pounce on him like piranhas at a clambake. He needs Dante’s warning to the entrance of the Inferno on his Oval Office desk: Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate—abandon all hope ye who enter. Well, it looks like Trump went and done it—pardoned Joe Arpaio. Un sin vergüenza pardoned a Nazi who kept Mexicans in a concentration camp. How do you like them apples, raza?
There’s a nativist streak in the American psyche that emerges periodically to unravel the constitutional gains of American society, moving the nation more to the right—in a sort of dance macabre of the American national zeitgeist, in other words: an American Nazi Party (with the word “Nazi” being short for “National”). What has kept this Nazi zeitgeist at bay has been the vigilance of Americans working to create “a more perfect union,” many committed as ACLU members to the preservation and process of democracy as articulated in the American Constitution.
In his Phoenix rally of August 22, 2017, Trump once again railed about his Mexican wall with a threat that if the Congress does not fund it he would move to shut the government down until Congress authorized funding for the wall. Doubling down he ranted once more that Mexico would pay for the wall. In a classic response Mexican President Peña-Nieto said Mexico would not pay for the wall but would pay for the impeachment.
I suppose it had to happen—after 241 years, there was bound to arise an effort to subvert the American process of democracy modeled on Greek and Roman efforts of the genre.
In 1962 the novel Ten Days in May by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey created a scenario in which disgruntled American Generals plot the overthrow of the United States. The movie version (Seven Days in May) written by Rod Serling and Directed by John Frankenheimer starring Fredric March, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, and Ava Gardner turned the novel into a real thriller. In 1962 the possibility of overthrowing the American government seemed like a pipe dream. That possibility looms deadly serious today.
In a piece for latinopia.com, March 2017 on Trump as Patriot, Patriarch or Petrarch, I wrote:
“In Mexico, Trump has become a payaso—a clown. Among Mexican Americans, Trump is regarded as a “Pendejo”—a Dummy who shoots from the mouth for affect. Surprisingly, this rant has been received enthusiastically not only by the Republican evangelical base but by a wider swath of the national Republican electorate. This does not bode well for American Hispanics and Latinos as Spanish progeny especially undocumented Mexicans in the United States and Mexican Americans who are simply regarded as “Mexicans” (by many Anglo-Americans especially Donald Trump)—who caterwauls that all of them should be deported regardless of how many generations they’ve been Americans.
For some time now, Donald Trump’s rant has been about building a wall between the United States and Mexico. The most outrageous of Trump’s diatribe against Mexicans is his assertion that his Mexican wall will be paid for by Mexico.” (Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, “Donald Trump’s Mexican Wall,” National Institute for Latino Policy, January 12, 2015).
Getting back to Donald Trump as “the man who would be King:” Quite obvious is the hauteur that reeks from Trump Incorporated—one is uncertain whether to bow or genuflect in their presence. There is an air of expectation among the Trump herd for obeisance translated into loyalty. Trump’s public antics about loyalty are legion. That’s a pal-pable sign of royalty.
Unfortunately royal loyalty is yoked to subservience. And subservience implies carrying out royal wishes. This is nowhere more explicit than in the outcome of the power struggle between Edward II and Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury. Unable or unwilling to replace Beckett, King Edward’s plaint—is there no one who can rid me of this priest?—is carried out by Edward’s knights as carrying out the King’s will. It’s understood by all–and the King especially–that someone must carry out that will. Such are the prerogatives of royalty.
In the daily Trump melodrama acted out on CNN and MSNBC, we hear the Kingly plaints of Trump caterwauling about the shortcomings of the Media, the shortcomings of the Congress, the shortcomings of his staff, the shortcomings of those who did not vote for him. He accused McConnell of not protecting him from the Russia probe as if the mandate of the Republican Senate is the protection of the President. Here, Trump is the most kingly. He thinks that the machinery of government with its thousands of workers is to carry out the President’s bidding. Never mind that they work for the American people. When his Majesty wants something done they better do it.
As King, Trump signed Executive Orders (Royal Decrees) thinking he was signing Legislative Bills trumpeting thus how much more legislation he had enacted than Obama. More and more, those around him, the Republican Party, the American people began “getting” that Trump is the most inept president ever in the history of the republic. Turns out, the Trump administration is the most dysfunctional of any White House administration. In the heat of campaign rhetoric, Trump’s ineptness never surfaced—it could not rise above the campaign cloaca or Trump’s léger de langue. Besides, Trump was Founder and CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation, wasn’t he?. He had to have plenty of Executive experience—the country would be in good hands. [lol].
If the information is not ephemeral or fake, evidence has surfaced that Trump’s courtly demeanor reared its head at an early age. One story is that like an errant child who must have its way, he punched a grade-school teacher who tried to correct him. Another story is that impetuously like Peck’s Bad Boy he spit on a buffet he didn’t like. Trump’s history is laden with ephemera in competition with truth about his lack of impulse control. The Goldwater retort in all this is that “extremism in defense of liberty is not treason.” What is lost in the Trump brouhaha is that democracy is neither a business nor a product; it’s an ongoing process that is ever evolving.
The democracy of 1776 has evolved via 27 amendments to fit the times. The population of the United States in 1776 was about 2.5 million people. Today it’s 315 million, over a hundred times larger than it was in 1776. A population that size needs a larger government to manage that many people despite technology. The United States is a super-power; it needs a super power engine to keep it that way. Many 18th century ideas about government would be anachronistic today just as trying to communicate with others by 18th century postal technology instead of cell phones. All of the above seems to be lost on those who would drag us back into the 18th century.
As for the promises Trump has made, here’s a quote from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz (Riverhead, 2007) apropos that particular story line, but apt here: “political conditions give promises no hospitality” (p. 102). It doesn’t seem to do any good giving advice to Trump and his minions. He doesn’t understand that being the bully on the block is not diplomacy and grabbing women by the p—y is what Attila the Hun might have done. Maybe? That is not Presidential behavior.
Neither is eliminating laws by Executive Order despite his empowerment to issue Executive Orders. I understand the President’s authority to revoke Executive Orders, but many Executive Orders are of long standing dating back to the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt and before having by now the weight of established law. Surely President Trump cannot willy-nilly rescind those “laws”? Can he? As the Chief Executive of the nation he is constitutionally bound to carry out the laws enacted by Congress except for those laws vetoed and not over-ridden by Congress. While the President can veto a proposed law and thereby obstruct passage of a law, the President cannot enact laws except by Executive Orders. This infestation calls for Orkin.
Trump may be an anachronism; perhaps an incarnation of Andrew Jackson who he mentions rather often. We keep blaming Trump for his lack of Presidential leadership. Heeding Mark Anthony’s words at the bier of Julius Caeser: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars but in ourselves”—meaning “what is our share of the blame?” With the help of the Electoral College, 48 percent (not 78 percent as he boasts) of the voters elected Donald Trump as President of the United States, warts and all. Hillary Clinton won almost 3 million more ballots than Donald Trump. Though touted as a Populist, he did not win the popular vote. That bloc of voters who voted for Trump shares in the foibles of Donald Trump as President of the United States, gaucheries and all.
What is it in the American psyche today that is/was attracted by the nihilism and fascism of the Trump phenomenon? There’s a nativist streak in the American psyche that emerges periodically to unravel the constitutional gains of American society, moving the nation more to the right—in a sort of dance macabre of the American national zeitgeist, in other words: an American Nazi Party (with the word “Nazi” being short for “National”). What has kept this Nazi zeitgeist at bay has been the vigilance of Americans working to create “a more perfect union,” committed to the preservation and process of democracy as articulated in the American Constitution.
It’s more than Trump we have to fear. It’s that 36 percent base of his that sees him as a populist and who approve of the job he’s doing. That small a base is like the tail wagging the dog. For better or for worse Donald Trump is President of the United States. We will all bear the brunt of his idiosyncrasies and lack of pertinent governmental experience. Perhaps it’s time to remove him by impeachment or help him. That doesn’t solve the problem of fascism in the American psyche. That may be the problem of the 21st century and the carry-over problem of the “color line” in the 20th century as W.E.B. Du Bois posited in The Souls of Black Folk, (Chicago, 1903).
The riddle of Donald Trump and his nihilistic and fascist base may be best understood by considering their conceptual view of reality. An aggregate of conceptual metaphors creates a conceptual view of reality, shared by many. In today’s political arena there are two conceptual views of reality vying for the soul of America. We must not lose sight of or under-estimate the luminosity of the competing side. Many of Trump’s advisors have PhDs from high-profile national and international universities. Many of Hitler’s advisors had comparable credentials.
Kipling’s “man who would be king” was done in when Kingship went to his head. The moral for Donald Trump might be best elucidated by Alfred Hitchcock and the way he ends/ended his show by explicitly drawing attention to the moral of the story.
Copyright 2017 by Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, Scholar in Residence (Cultural Studies, Critical Theory, Public Policy), Western New Mexico University; Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English / Comparative Literature, Texas State University—Sul Ross. Photo of “King Trump” used under fair use proviso of the copyright law. All other photos are in the public domain.