My first-year English course in dramatic literature remains one of a small set of academic experiences that truly changed my life. The semester began with comedy and tragedy at their birth in Classical Greece and finished with readings from Albert Camus. I was mesmerized by Greek tragedy and carried this forward as a great love of Shakespeare’s tragedies in adulthood. The semester ended with Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus. Chapter 4 of this work set itself as the literary expression of my view of the universe.
The defining plotline of classical tragedy embodies a great man who is destroyed by forces that he has unleashed or are an integral part of his personality. As opposed to classical comedy, which denigrates the participants in the play by making them comic idiots, tragedy elevates its heroes as they are consumed by forces that they cannot control. In classical Greek tragedy, this downfall is often started when the hero commits some act of hubris, often against the gods, and they lay him to waste as a result. To the Classical Greeks, hubris is an unconscionable sin.
This brings me to Trump. I began following politics during the 1972 Democratic Convention. In nearly 40 years, I have witnessed no one come even remotely close to Trump’s vainglory. In 2016, the first time I saw him speak instantly reminded me of the pompous braggadocio of another politician with authoritarian tendencies: Mussolini. I waited for the moment when his hubris would bring his downfall. During the 2016 primaries, I was still naive enough to believe this would happen in the run-up to the election. I thought that, at some point, people had to see him for what he was. This, of course, did not come to pass.
Trump is no tragic hero, of course. Hell, Trump isn't even half the man Shakespeare creates in Richard III, an individual who also does not rise to the status of the tragic hero. After the rape of Capitol Hill by a Trumpian mob, I wonder if this is the act of hubris that I have long instinctively expected. I know that the events of January 6 have destroyed the Trump family's historical legacy. Heaven help America if its body politic does not rise to the occasion of responding to the desecration of Congress.