It’s odd. There’s a sense in which I have a notion to write and gloat about the past week’s horror show at the White House, but at the same time a kind of repulsion about even getting into the cesspool with this guy. There’s so much to rail about: the flailings of the President and his hapless crew are so brazen and amateurish; the lies and coverup are so transparent and infuriating--that the urge to join the outraged mob almost exhausts itself before one begins.
Nonetheless, let’s try to find some general principles in what’s happening—first, though it shouldn’t be necessary, with a quick rundown of the major ‘events.’ The massacre began on Tuesday, May 9, with the announcement that Trump had fired FBI director James Comey, at first with the explanation that the President had responded to his Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, and his assistant AG, Rod Rosenstein’s complaint that Comey had failed in his duties, specifically in his treatment of Hillary Clinton regarding the email scandal. Trump surrogates and communications people, including the Vice President, then went out and hyped that official story: Comey had been fired over his mishandling of the Clinton email violations, and had lost the confidence of his FBI agents. But within hours, especially after widespread skepticism and outrage met this move and the story behind it, the President began undermining his surrogates by insisting that he had long been planning to fire Comey, and it basically had nothing to do with Clinton’s emails but probably more to do with Comey’s intransigence when asked to pledge his loyalty. Then came days of trying to get the story straight, including parsing of the President’s actual firing letter, in which he, incredibly, included a clause about how Comey had told him three times that he wasn’t being investigated in the collusion-with-Russian interference-in-the-election scandal. This, of course, only served to highlight Comey’s recent testimony before Congress that he was, in fact, investigating administration figures in the Russia scandal. At this point the President seemed unable to shut up about the whole mess, and gave several interviews in which he dug deeper holes for himself and his staff with the growing conviction that the heat he was feeling from the several Russia investigations were in fact what had prompted the President’s panic about Comey and all the others he’d fired recently (acting AG Sally Yates as soon as she informed him about the vulnerability to Russian blackmail posed by already-installed National Security Adviser Gen. Michael Flynn, since fired; and Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of NY, who was investigating the Russian money-laundering scandal that appears to involve Trump and his businesses).
This is where things now stand (with some side scandals such as the President indicating that he no longer trusts his front men like Press Secretary Sean Spicer, and might have to suspend daily press briefings and brief the press himself). And for those Americans watching from the outside (and who isn’t?), it is like watching a slow-motion train wreck. Or rather more to the point, the slow self-destruction of an unlikely and/or undeserving success story, the sinking of the most powerful man in the world unable to keep the ball of his sensational power afloat. And what comes to mind is that great soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Richard II:
free to “monarchize, be fear’d and kill with looks/ Infusing him with self and vain conceit,” until some incident, some false move, like a “little pin” turns into a battering ram that “Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!” And even more deeply, we are reminded of James Frazier’s Golden Bough Chapter 24: “The Killing of the Divine King.” There we read that in primal cultures, the weakening and natural death of the King/man-god represents a danger or catastrophe not only to the king but to his entire culture. This being the case, Frazier tells us, “The man-god must be killed as soon as he shows symptoms that his powers are beginning to fail, and his soul must be transferred to a vigorous successor before it has been seriously impaired,” thereby assuring that “the world should not fall into decay with the decay of the man-god.” Which means that even earlier than the Greek idea of hubris and its perils, there is this idea: that the leader must be put to death by his own people so as to avoid the natural senility and decay and death that would comprise a contagion to all around him.