When Fiction Most Becomes Trump

Dec 28, 2018 · 527 comments
Neil Brown (Mesa AZ)
Your conclusion “OK., that’s not likely to happen.”, is a sad commentary. Why not? Someone has to start, maybe it would cause a landslide that would eventually bury his nonsense under a thick mantle of.....silence.
Hasmukh Parekh (CA)
"Write more about what the administration does, less about what Trump says...." O.K., that’s not likely to happen.....WHY?!
Dan (Seattle)
Trump's crimes are too numerous to list, but one of the little ones is ruining bad novels forever. The Overton window for a plausible plot is now so wide as to be infinite. No editor will ever again be able to say "That is just silly!". The fact that editors don't exist anymore is a separate problem....
Chris Bunz (San Jose, CA)
After reading Mr. Stephens’ piece I can’t help but wonder. If the recommendation is to ignore everything he says and pay attention only to what he does, how does this particular essay serve that purpose? He and all the commenters here pay attention to him far more than he deserves. And here lies the conundrum- we can’t ignore this jerk even though we must. And yes, he is both comedy and tragedy at the same time.
John Rogers (Minnesota)
The problem that no brilliant writer (or brilliant columnist) can overcome is Trump is a cliché. Every writer knows that the hero needs to be somewhat bad, or he's boring. The antihero needs to be somewhat good or he's cardboard. Trump is impossible to write because he's pretty much all bad as a person, therefore insipid. Reminds one that believable fiction is narrower than fact. Who could create a character like Trump? Shakespeare's Falstaff is alive with contradiction ... you have to love him a little because Hal does. Shakespeare would give Trump a tragic flaw to breathe life into him. We, on the other hand, got stuck with cliché.
Rodrian Roadeye (Pottsville,PA)
Denying Trump unnecessary coverage is like throwing out the media's cash cow. Right?
Matt (DC)
It's a South Park episode: the one where Mr. Hankey's mean old uncle gets elected President with adverse consequences all around. Fortunately, Mr. Mueller puts and end to the foolishness with criminal charges for all and a very special episode entitled "Jail to the Chief".
Deborah Goodwin (VT)
Yes! Stop writing stories that are just about what Trump tweets. These stories are just lazy reporting designed for click-bait. Pay no more attention to the man behind the curtain.
Naples (Avalon CA)
I never fail to be impressed by NYT readers. Comments today are incisively insightful analyses of running cultural themes and subtexts. I'd add the dark and present violence in Melville and Cormack McCarthy, and I feel some of Jerzy Kosinski's Being There, although Reagan was more of a Chance than this vituperative megalomaniac. Trump is unworthy of Shakespearean villainy. His is indeed more of the comic strip variety. Someone has famously called politics "show business for ugly people." Even more than religion out of politics, though, we need SHOW BUSINESS OUT OF POLITICS. Besides money of course. Of course.
richard wiesner (oregon)
Try this scenario with something more contemporary that is dark and comical like Joseph Heller's, "Catch 22". Plenty of possibilities there. What entity or individual would you cast for the likes of Milo Minderbiner, Yossarian, Major Major Major Major, General Dreedle, Nately or Orr?
poodlefree (Seattle)
Hopefully a certain movie director will take on the Trump story sooner rather than later. If Christian Bale can bulk up and play Dick Cheney, then Gary Busey can bulk up and play Donald Trump.
Caded (Sunny Side of the Bay)
How about Jerzy Kosinski "Being There". Kind of the antithesis of Trump.
Richard Williams MD (Davis, Ca)
I vote for Donald as Richard III: “That bottled spider, that foul bunch-back toad”. Simply distilled evil.
Bob Laughlin (Denver)
I would think that Nathaniel Hawthorne or Edgar Allen Poe or Ambrose Bierce might have been better examples of writers who might express the nightmare that is t rump. But who can really quibble with Shakespeare? The end of this essay is really the soundest of advise; let's ignore him and focus on his crimes. Send one reporter, no cameras, to his rallies if you must but no more. One or two reporters at Sanders' idiotic press briefings. Never use the word president in front of his name. Use the most vicious caricature instead of his picture when repeating his inane lies. Marginalize his image and drive him completely insane. Then his very base base might see him for what he really is. Not some savior they have dreamt up.
Melvyn Magree (Dulutn MN)
I hope all the commenters here voted in 2016. If not, you were part of the problem.
Susan Wladaver-Morgan (Portland, OR)
Where’s Birnam Wood when you really need it?
Aaron (Orange County, CA)
We all know why type of person Trump is - Conservatives like Bret take routine pot shots at Trump when they should be going after the GOP party members who enable him. Come on Bret.. Name names- and hold those clowns accountable for a change.
Tom Daley (SF)
The President and the press are codependents. He thrives in the media like a virus in a petri dish. His name draws more attention than war, famine or tsunami. The press set the stage for this tragic farce.
Iamcynic1 (Ca.)
If the media can't do it , we certainly can.I've stopped reading his tweets long ago.They're boring and repetitive.Many of my conservative friends are embarrassed by them and tend to ignore them.Paradoxically,it is my liberal friends who are obsessed with the tweets.They are like a drug for them.I often joke with them that when Trump eventually leaves office they will go through an agonizing withdrawal as will you in the media.The soap opera has been cancelled...what will we watch now.Donald is a character in a tragicomedy.He is Vladimir in Waiting For Godot and Pence is Lucky(a slave with a rope tied around his neck).Or maybe Mick in Pinter's The Caretaker. Trump is definitely an actor in an off-Broadway play.....Shakespeare couldn't have imagined such a clown.
joyce (santa fe)
Talk is cheap, words are cheap, but actions count and we don't have enough constructive action yet to get rid of Trump.
Tristan T (Cumberland)
Bret, it’s already been done. In fact, you can go see it at the Belasco. It’s the stage version of Chayefsky’s and Lumet’s immortal Network. As a film, it has long been said to prophesy the current invasion of the hard news by entertainment.
Eduardo (New Jersey)
Trump would love your piece Bret.
Tom Miller (Seattle)
I'm thinking a Ken Follett or John LeCarre international espionage thriller. A discredited U.S. President is forced from office (either by Impeachment or Resignation) and though pardoned of Federal crimes he (and his children) still faces certain life in prison for myriad of State laws, so flees into exile (Russia or Saudia Arabia). Hostile governments want to capture and torture for information prior to a horrible public execution. (N. Korea, Iran) His host country wants valuable secret information. A small group within the CIA must stop him. How far will they go?
MCV207 (San Francisco)
The national cringe reflex to Trump tweets is horribly desensitized, a sad indicator of our country's sorry state of outrage overload. Even fact checking these incoherent rants before broadcast does not justify broadcasting every random thought and lie spewing from Trump's altered reality. Greek or Shakespearean, tragedy or comedy, we indulge this theater every time a tweet appears (or Sarah Sanders appears on camera), a form of torture our democracy can't withstand much longer.
Max Davies (Newport Coast, CA)
Turn to Ulysses! The Citizen is so perfectly Trump that James Joyce might be suspected of clairvoyance. Xenophobia, self-serving patriotism, greed, rank dishonesty and hypocrisy - it couldn't be truer to life. The gang of deformed nonentities surrounding The Citizen in Barney Kiernan's bar map, man-for-man and man-for-woman, onto Trump's past and present cabinet. And Leopold Bloom? He's the rest of us.
Carl Hultberg (New Hampshire)
Frankenstein by Mary Shelly. The politicial monster created by accident by the Republican Party.
jwgibbs (Cleveland, Oh)
How about Nathaniel Hawthorn and the Scarlet Letter. He would make the perfect male counterpart to Hester Pryne ( sp.?). Except in Trump’s case, the scarlet letter “A” could not only stand for the adulterer but perhaps other descriptive pejoratives too.
Steve (Seattle)
The Republican Party made lying not only acceptable but fashionable and showy. A cheap third rate reality TV conman just pulled out all of the stops and found that a segment of our population is enamored with that type of character sort of like the Kardashians on steroids. The trump story plays out like an outrageous cable TV black comedy with tragic consequences. Better call Saul.
Gary Bernier (Holiday, FL)
I think Bret is on to something. Operation Lysistrata should start with a boycott of the White House press conferences. They are a waste of journalists time, unless cataloging the latest lies is worthwhile. Send a message to the White House that starting in 2019 all real White House correspondents with stop attending White House briefings. Instead they will be retasked as investigative journalists exploring the malfeasance of Trump and his minions. Time much better spent.
ALR (Leawood, KS)
It would be William Faulkner to best meet Stephens's challenge. Faulkner would make Bundrens out of the abyssmal Trumps. Meanwhile, as the rest of us wait for this doom to lift, Stephens needs to double down on Trump's "violation of the natural" and "denial of the human".
crowdancer (South of Six Mile Road)
Tom Buchanan from "The Great Gatsby," crossed with Willy Loman from "Death of a Salesman," crossed with Melville's "The Con Man." His followers are the mob who shows up in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre in the apocalyptic conclusion of "Day of the Locust."
Betsy Herring (Edmond, OK)
The story of Trump will never be much once all the scandals, lies, disruptions, missteps by him and Republicans are studied and been put to shame. No historian who is respectable will touch this man because there is "nothing" there but hot empty wind of one of the most mindless, self-centered, boneheads to every grab political power. Better call in one of the South American literary giants because they are much more prepared to write about this fool. Think Marquez. This creature has left a blot on the grand history of this country and it will never be erased.
joyce (santa fe)
The is a personality disorder known as Oppositional-Defiant disorder. OPD. When you read the personality traits that make up this disorder, Trump has every one in the extreme sense. This is not a judgement, it is just a fact. At any rate, nothing will change Trump in any way, and oposing him only makes him dig in. Trump needs to go, period. He does not have the judgement, character, sense or personality to be President. His presence is an extremely destructive force which has global reach.
Daryl Lee (Provo, Ut)
Trump isn’t worthy of Shakespeare (at best: “illiterate amalgam” of the writer’s worst characters, said one comment). As good as Gogol would be, it’s 20th-century Russian lit that works best for an individual bent on transforming the US into an authoritarian, oligarchic state. My wife prefers Seuss: I tweet in the morning I tweet at night I tweet in my socks I tweet for Fox I tweet for the alt’ I tweet ‘cause I’m right I do not like green regs and yam I do not like their old Islam I do not like them in Iraq I do not like them on my block, I will not have them there or here, uh... I’ll give to Vlad ‘Ssad’s Syria I’ll make them milk with sacr’ Trudeau I’ll freeze them on ICE in Mexico No Chinese goods will breach the port With Facebook ‘bots I will consort I have no thought I can be bought For the highest bidder I will consider I do not like my world allies I do not like my very own spies I do not like the CIA They will not do things my own way I do not like that old Jeff Flake But give me Brett and then we’ll rake I only like to feast on power Oh way up here atop my tower Or sometimes in Mar-A-Lago I wine and dine the chumps I know They only have to pay the price They only have to treat me nice I’ll slink away in gilded socks No one will know Not Mueller not Fox My new clothes will have no shoes I’ll slip right through in old fake news I’ll sneak away on Air Force One Who knows? This could be fun! I can’t support green regs, Islam I am Trump That Don I am
Jamie Ballenger (Charlottesville, VA)
I'm probably way off base here, but I have thought of that half-brother in the Brothers Karamozov. Not unintelligent, but deeply desiring to the point of despair and ready to do great harm, in order to be accepted, respected, and included by the 'real' brothers. Just a thought. Pax, jb
faivel1 (NY)
Even our prestige academia is complicit in a corruption of american mind, they're not focus on developing and cultivating progressive thinkers, instead just like our government they're beholden to their private wealthy donors agenda. This work probably explains... https://www.amazon.com/Closing-American-Mind-Education-Impoverished/dp/1451683200/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1546083499&sr=1-1&keywords=Allan+Bloom%27s+%22Closing+of+the+American+Mind%22 "In 1987, eminent political philosopher Allan Bloom published The Closing of the American Mind, an appraisal of contemporary America that “hits with the approximate force and effect of electroshock therapy” (The New York Times) and has not only been vindicated, but has also become more urgent today. In clear, spirited prose, Bloom argues that the social and political crises of contemporary America are part of a larger intellectual crisis: the result of a dangerous narrowing of curiosity and exploration by the university elites." I haven't read it yet, but considering all great reviews, it's very relevant just about now. It's getting worse...
Pella (Iowa)
Drawing literary parallels to Trump has been a major topic of blog postings by Robin Bates. He concludes the best Shakespearian parallel is Iago -- both in personal behavior and in his envy of his superior, Othello (substitute Obama). See https://betterlivingthroughbeowulf.com/iago-trump-whispers-poison-into-our-ears/ .
Martin (Chicago)
There are major roles missing from this article, and those should be drawn from the owners of our tech companies who extended their silent hands to help create this mess. The CEO's of Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, Twitter, and I'm sure others, should have a starring role.
W in the Middle (NY State)
“...Another possibility: Richard III... Uhhh, Bret – kind of like déjà vu all over again... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_III_(1995_film) As far as: “...Put an absolute ban on quoting his tweets unless they contain substantive policy announcements.... This just in... “As of right now, BabblingBretStephens excommunicated from US citizenship and his literary license has been revoked!!! Banned even from working as foreign correspondent for Failing Mexican Times!!! Try sneaking back in and see how many Great American comments you get now!!!” Bret, a scoop is a scoop – strongly suggest you run with it...
Dona Dunsmore (Truth or Consequences)
Every time I read a piece like this, I wish we would en masse beg the "media" to take heed; Beg congress to do their jobs and let President Trump veto as he may. From the time he began to think of running Donald Trump has cannily used the media in ways I would not have dreamed of. I also would not have dreamed they would be so easily led.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
@The irony is, after five minutes of Trump exposure, you have seen it all.
Kelly Jones Sharp (Indianapolis)
“Put an absolute ban on quoting his tweets unless they contain substantive policy announcements. Stop sending reporters to his press conferences....Write more about what the administration does, less about what Trump says.” — This is what I would like the news media to do. It’s very disappointing to know that broadcast and print media have been complicit in Trump’s rise to benefit their own bottom line. CBS and NBC executives have admitted this on camera. You’re not public servants, but that should not exempt you from taking a moral stance for the public good.
Joe Aaron (San Francisco, CA)
I am impressed with how much Mr. Stephens knows about Shakespeare. I am embarrassed by how little about those Shakespearean characters I can recall. What was his point?
Dave Wilcox (San Luis Obispo, CA)
Even the idea that a president would make a substantive policy announcement via tweet is absurd. Or a tragedy.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
The wonder is how anyone came to see Trump as substantive.
Brookhawk (Maryland)
"Write more about what the administration does, less about what Trump says." I like it, except the newspapers would be blank.
MK (Boulder)
I agree the media should only share factual tweets. The Beat on MSNBC said it couldn't share one that was terribly untrue and it made me glad to hear that I didn't have to listen to a lie. It seems like major news agencies should work together to come up with a shared protocol for not sharing any of his pinocchio rated rants. And the same should be true for any other politician's (of either party) lies. All the news organizations should focus on effects of policies and laws to help people know what is affecting them.
Carson Dyle (Los Angeles)
Trump is Tartuffe.
Michael Engel (Ludlow MA)
Re the media and literature: I have a fictional fantasy about a White House reporter standing up during one of Sanders' press conferences and saying the following: "I can no longer tolerate your idiotic defenses of your boss's lies. I can no longer tolerate the obvious contempt you show towards us. I can no longer bear that our country is being betrayed and destroyed by that misbegotten moron you work for. I'm leaving. I'd rather work in a convenience store than listen to anything for from you--and that's probably where I'll end up. At least I'll have my integrity." Sigh......
Boregard (NYC)
First thing I thought of - prompted by the accompanying photo. Was the Wizard of OZ. But a completely malevolent one. "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" (If only more people did it...if only...) And all those munchkins...besides the Lollipop Guild, just an cast of characters flowing by...any of the WH staff can easily play them... Sarah could be the whole of the Lying Everyday Guild. Kellyanne, the munchkin of Alternative Facts Guild. Miller the shriveled, Golem-like munchkin, with spray on hair representing the We hate ALL Dorothy's and her Band of Misfits Guild. Fox and Friends, Hannity, Coulter,et al...the apple trees! McConnell...you know it...the Bad Witch. Truly, he would look good in that hat and green skin. Mueller is of course the Good Witch, rather he's a Wizard. And some flying monkeys can be played by those Trump-fans who are awakened once the spell is broken...but not all believe there was a spell...just a conspiracy...like flouride in their water...they go off to sulk and conspire... Then we (Dorothy and friends) go to the Emerald City, momentarily painted gold, and realize he was never gonna do right by her, so they banish the Wizard and his evil munchkins, shave his head, cut off his thumbs, take back the peoples city,fumigate it, and we all live happily ever after...or as close as possible...
Steve Bolger (New York City)
@Boregard: The Wizard of Oz abhors publicity and governs invisibly.
DBR (Los Angeles)
It's misguided to try to humanize Trump through literature. Especially since the story hasn't reached the last chapter. But the question is not if it is comedy or tragedy but rather whose. Every positive and progressive direction our country has taken, other countries around the world, has been sucked into what can only be described as a vacuum — a vacuous machine — of our own invention, that were Mary Shelley less empathetic, it would be Frankenstein. Let's look to science instead of literature and if it is said that the universe would be swallowed by a black hole, its origin is right here, our Reality Star.
Charna (Forest Hills)
For me and many Americans the Trump presidency is akin to Dante's Hell!
Steve Bolger (New York City)
@Charna: Getting born is the original sin that justifies your punishment.
Archer (NJ)
Personally, I think he is more like his namesake, Mozart's Don Giovanni--a psychopathic rapist who spends the entire show fleeing justice and laughing in the face of the good, the true, and the beautiful, until it all catches up to him in the ghostly persona of the man he has murdered, who throws him unrepentant into hell. Giovanni is the only really interesting character in the opera, the other characters (despite Mozart's uncanny and gorgeous music) being pious and conventional. The same can easily be said of Trump and the boring backdrop of characters against which he struts and preens. We're all mad to see him get what's coming to him. and at the same time (deny it if you want to, as Tom Wolfe would have said) we admire his defiant boldness. It is the secret of what success he has had, and it is the engine of his approaching political and legal doom.
MarkG (Maryland)
Let’s entice Tom Wolfe back from the afterworld to give us a tart send-up of the infantile Muldoon in the Oval Office. Working title: The Wrong Stuff.
Apple Jack (Oregon Cascades)
We are all passengers on the Fidele as Trump floats us down the Mississippi in Herman Melville's The Confidence Man. The bears & injuns have hamstrung us as a nation & are preventing us from making America great again. We all love some kind of snake oil & Trump, the placebo to some he may be, has alerted us all to our inherent national identity. If only he'd shut his mouth & apply some decorum.
Dr. C (Portland, OR)
Ben Jonson’s Volpone is a fitting analogue with the greedy conman and a world of enthusiastic victims.
Kathy Lollock (Santa Rosa, CA)
Somehow when I attempt to equate Trump with notorious characters of fiction, I find myself thinking of Stephen King’s The Shining and his infamous protagonist exclaiming, “Hello, boys. I’m back!” Remember Jack Nicholson’s face when saying those lines? Scary then, and scary now when one is forced to live with the omnipresent Trump. Regardless of the media, that man’s aura is in our nightmares.
JohnH (Boston area)
When will we read something truly positive? Must the fictions all be so dark? How about this: a quick peek at the dark chaos swirling around our governance after the unexpected Falstaffian victory. (Aside: Lady MacBeth fits Melania pretty well, now that you mention it.) Then a little "what-if-the-election-had-gone-the-other-way" alternate reality fantasy: Hillary wins, and spends her first two years completely bound by a Lilliputian web of Benghazi, email, charity threads woven by a Republican Congress which blocks every judgeship, continues to vote meaningless bills rejecting Obamacare, presenting budgets of cruelty and destruction. Her followers collapse into despair. Then back to reality: the shock of the Trump win electrifies the moribund opposition, hundreds of new candidates rise up, and, in many places, newly energized voters overcome gerrymandered obstructions to prevail in the midterms. A serious consideration of leadership candidates begins, with a spirit of cooperation that temporarily suppresses just enough egos to allow a single winnable candidate to appear. (This may also have to be written as fantasy, if it proves to be too unreal for simple fiction.) End with the eve of the election, with millions in the streets rallying for the Democratic candidates. A Hillary win was fated to be Pyrrhic; the Trump win has the real possibility of creating a rebirth of progressive enthusiasm. Keep the fires burning!!! Only two more years...
Ana Luisa (Belgium)
In a democracy, the best way to distinguish fact from fiction isn't to start censoring certain messages you dislike, it's doing everything to enhance real, respectful debates among ordinary citizens, as only exchanging information and arguments allows you to see where a long-held belief may nevertheless be wrong, or where politicians are using propaganda and fake news to try to get your vote. In that regard, one of the best things that the NYT could do is to replace its comment section with a real discussion forum, where people can take the time to fact-check their own arguments when questioned, and then continue with follow-up questions etc. A comment section all too often merely puts one opinion next to the other, as if they're all equally valid. And when you try to debunk a comment by sending a link in reply, by the time it gets published the person you're trying to talk with has already moved on to another article and won't even realize that someone replied. After all, this is also what Plato, the inventor of the conceptual distinction "proven idea - non proven opinion", tried to tell us by writing his dialogues: some today read them as pure fictions, but as Monique Dixsaut and many others have shown, Plato used fictional dialogue to illustrate that philosophizing (the activity that allows us to distinguish fact from fiction) is by definition a "dialogue from soul to soul". Today too, only real, respectful debates among citizens will reduce the power of fake news.
John Doe (Johnstown)
As equally a negative effect of the incessant coverage has on encouraging only more outrage from the subject of it is the same it has on the readers who react to it. If not for BBC I’d never hear about anything else going in the world other than US political internecine warfare like some papers here I read love to dwell on. Comments sections in one such newspaper here have been reduced to nothing more than primal scream therapy.
Montreal Moe (Twixt Gog and Magog)
Donald Trump is already a piece of fiction. Toby Young in his How to Lose Friends and Alienate People People gives us the whole Donald right between the eyes. There is nothing there he is a big ball of nothing that embodies Much Ado About Nothing. He is 50 years of self deception pumped up into a balloon leading the parade matching into the 19th century.
Barbara (Boston)
Trollope's Augustus Melmotte, in "The Way We Live Now" provides an astonishingly accurate foreshadowing of Trump. A vulgar financier, whose office in the City is surprisingly seedy, he has arrived from the Continent, trailing rumors of bankruptcies, criminal frauds, a second wife (who is rumored to be Jewish - setting off all manner of turmoil in this ambivalent society), a much-abused daughter who is charged with marrying into respectability, gets elected to Parliament as the member from Westminster, and flogs shares of a railroad that is to go from Salt Lake City to Veracruz (in spite of it not being clear who would want to use such a thing). See miniseries starring David Suchet (seen elsewhere as Inspector Poirot). Melmotte is incredibly vulgar, but for many of the established aristocracy, he is "necessary to know." Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.
Publius (ILLINOIS)
The idea of denying Trump any more media attention except for important policy issues sounds like the perfect remedy...certainly ignoring his tweets, as mockingly ludicrous as they may be. Media starvation as a weapon. I like it!
Bob Burns (McKenzie River Valley)
Mr Stevens: I'll go with Cicero, that insistent whiner on the loss of the republic—and who wound up with his head on a pike.
NNI (Peekskill)
I have'nt read any of these great books. Yet what caught my eye was America's savior could be Pence. Because then Americans currently have only only one frightening choice - Pence! If there is another choice it is 2 yrs. away. All Americans should become the Greek women in "Lysistrata". The current villains in our present tragic American epic saga should be denied air, water, tweet and headlines - by voting! We have a Democracy and really the only option. But that is two years away. Sigh! Meanwhile, we'll have to live with "Darth Vader"!
Dr. C (Portland, OR)
Bulgakov’s Satan/Mephistopheles figure, professor Wolland, has little resemblance to Trump, though the paranoia, greed, and denial characterizing many citizens of Moscow certainly illuminates many Americans today.
pixilated (New York, NY)
I have long thought Trump akin to Guy Grand Guy, the "hero" of Terry Southern's, The Magic Christian, despite superficial differences, such as the former reputation of Guy as a solid, wealthy broker living with two maiden aunts. But his mission, to prove that people will do anything for money, even or most particularly rich people, neatly aligns with Trump's view of humanity as an upside down battle between the exploited and exploiter with the poor and weak tyrannizing the rich and powerful. His quest begins with paying someone to eat his train ticket and escalates to the production of gigantic stunts solely to prove his thesis and amuse himself. That this all takes place in the lead up to the Depression is not a coincidence. I would place Trump's "great wall" in the same category, a ridiculous, impractical conceit that he appears to believe solely because he thought it up when pulling ephemera from the zeitgeist to test market. One thing is certain, Trump does not deserve the backdrop of a serious work of art or sweeping panorama. Rather he is the product and generator of junk culture to sell discarded and reprehensible ideological imperatives.
Old Max (Cape Cod)
Trump is the golem of the media: destructive creation of their own need for sensation.
Renee Margolin (Oroville, CA)
As usual, good Republican Party man Stephens talks about Trump as if his insane rise to power had nothing to do with decades of Russian and Republican attacks on truth and Democracy in the US. He spouts the party line against the press, but about his Republican Party, not a word. This is just another dishonest column meant only to deflect the blame for Trump from the Russo-Republican axis for Party-uber-alles purposes. Nothing new, or truthful, to see here, nor will there be in his next column, or the next, or the next.
TJ (Seattle)
“Isn’t it time the news media try something analogous with Trump, by denying him what he craves most? Put an absolute ban on quoting his tweets unless they contain substantive policy announcements. Stop sending reporters to his press conferences, which long ago became theaters of no information. Write more about what the administration does, less about what Trump says. Report news that has nothing to do with the administration at all. Award journalism prizes to stories that don’t contain the word “Trump” at all.” If this could be done, that would be great. But, as Mr. Stevens said, it would be something that less likely to happen. The era of reality shows in America, 45th wins. The ratings are up at the expense of the facts, presidency, democracy, and the American people.
Ana Luisa (Belgium)
Bret, when you claim that Elizabeth Warren is the left's Trump, you ARE writing fiction. I'm all for separating fiction and facts, but instead of telling the NYT to no longer report on what the president says even though no matter what a president says IS part of the official record, in a democracy, imho you might spend your time better by trying to learn what fact-checking actually means yourself, no ... ?
coale johnson (5000 horseshoe meadow road)
i like your final solution. i think there is absolutely nothing to lose by ignoring huckabee sanders and trump. we might want to extend this to mick mulvaney who seems intent on running towards the dumpster fire even as he sees other more qualified people running away singed and smoking....
Richard Wells (Seattle, WA)
Lincoln or LBJ were Shakespearean , 45 is more suited to the absurdists. Turn him over to Beckett or Pinter and their search for meaning in a world where language obfuscates rather than enlightens, and where connections are always missed, even as the room goes darker, or the water gets deeper.
elizabeth in astoria (new yorik)
A suggestion: write about him but ban all photographs. Crop him out of every picture.
AG (Calgary, Canada)
A great piece and a noble goal to banish this man from the print media. But have you not overlooked Fox News as playing Mephistopheles to President Faustus? How do you destroy Satan?
Steve Bolger (New York City)
Who can doubt that the US went off the deep end of idiocy with its farcical claims of divinity to ward off communism?
CarolinaJoe (NC)
Ignoring Trump’s tweets and lies is a naive and quite silly proposition. Almost half of the country is as sick as Trump, we all have to face it. Just call Trump’s tweets for what they are: another lie from Trump, right in the headline.
DS (Montreal)
No, no, no, no -- Trump cannot be a Shakespearean tragic hero because that implies a great man with a fatal flaw. There is no greatness about Trump but plenty of flaws. He would have to be a comic figure, maybe the village idiot. And if you do somehow equate him with Macbeth, surely one of the witches has to be Kelly-Anne Conway, made for the role.
Jon (Boston)
If you've read Isaac Asimov's fabulous Foundation trilogy, you might recognize Trump as the Mule. The Mule was powerful, and able to influence people to do things they otherwise would not have even considered. The Mule was an aberration, a freak, that no one, not even psychohistorian Hari Seldon, could have predicted would intrude on an otherwise stable society and wreak so much havoc. Fortunately, he was eventually righteously defeated by using his own power against him. We don't need Hari to predict the past - Trump will fall, and the resounding THUD will be of epic proportions. It is as sure an outcome as yesterday's news.
Carl Hultberg (New Hampshire)
when capitol hill to democrats doth come then shall donald trump be undone
tbs (detroit)
Yet Bret doesn't include the abandonment of the Iran treaty nor the move to put our embassy in Jerusalem among Trump's hallucinations? Me thinks I smell a hypocrite conservative.
Nicholas (An Immigrant)
Only because Trump serves his master Putin and those far away lands are still lost in medieval lore, I'd say that perhaps a vampire story would be more fitting, perhaps one involving Vlad The Impaler and high stakes!
Hugo (SFO)
There Will Be Books. A government professional who takes no sides and yet finds himself and others given a political label. The “deep stater” who is actually a simple a lifelong civil servant. The “fake newser” who knows whether her propaganda is white, gray, of black disinformation. Oh, the books we will write. Keeping a diary?
Jean du Canada (Sidney, BC, Canada)
Or is DJT really Ignatius Reilly (sp) in 'A Confederacy of Dunces?'
Byron (Denver)
Fiction describes your entire diseased party(R), Mr. Stephens. Just this morning in the Washington Post a headline described "House Republicans release findings from probe of FBI, Justice Dept.". The article went on to state that the report was about, among other things, "Hillary Clinton's e-mails". Your party(R) lies about everything and at failing that, they refuse to take care of the nation's business. Just more investigating a private citizen who was found not guilty by our own government, threatening to lock her up. General Flynn was found guilty of crimes with the Russians and yet your side continues with the same old lies and slander while trying to get him off with no punishment at all. You repubs and your paid liars in Washington do not deserve a U.S. passport. "Hangin's too good fer 'em" is what we used to say in the Old West. It's still true today.
Ana Luisa (Belgium)
As long as establishment Republicans such as Bret Stephens can't understand how THEY built this, the GOP will continue its downfall day after day. Abandoning all intellectual integrity started long before Trump was even thinking about running. Yes, today he's the party's best marketing manager and propagandist-in-chief, but he's merely marketing the message the GOP has been developing for decades already. What Trump understands and Bret doesn't is that IF you want to impose such a horribly false narrative onto your own voter base, you can't just have a 24/7 fake news channel such as Fox News, you also need party leaders who boldly copy-paste those FN lines 24/7, because only that is what will make them feel as if their politicians "get it". So to want to keep the current GOP and get rid of Trump all while still having a chance to win elections, that IS the greatest fiction among never-Trumpers out there today. And yes, it's clearly a tragedy.
Steve (New England)
I have always thought the left media, CNN,MSNBC, etc in an effort to maximize viewership covered every tweet and statement. I think they should either report only substantive announcements or provide a weekly compilation in a crawl. I am afraid the demands of 24 "news" coverage requires a constant supply of what passes for content. As much as I agree with Bret's prescription, it isn't going to happen. The results of the mid-terms are reason for optimism, but success will require discipline and dedication.
libdemtex (colorado/texas)
Maybe not likely to happen, but it should happen. How about starting a movement.
Bob81+3 (Reston, Va.)
Instead of contemplating the dead coming back to give insight into todays political malignancy, it may be time to think of what future historians will judge as the reason for the election of donald trump. Major question for historians may not focus on the man elected, although that certainly be discussed, but more the causes that led the electorate to even considerate a volatile. amoral, charlatan to be their president. As we sit around judging the past others in the future will pass judgment on us.
coale johnson (5000 horseshoe meadow road)
@Bob81+3 i am tight there with you. as we turn on our once heralded ancestors, columbus comes first to mind, i always think..... "humility first. the judgement of our era will be vicious.... columbus at least sailed into the unknown. we sailed in with full knowledge of what was ahead."
Ronald B. Duke (Oakbrook Terrace, Il.)
Why always focus on Mr. Trump's shortcomings. what about the Dems? Maybe they're 'The Magnificent Ambersons', living in the past, unwilling to understand that the world is a changing place, repeating to themselves that it's not what you do, but who you are, that counts; looking down their noses at those hard-handed Republicans getting further and further ahead of them by. . . work! Oh, no, not work! Anything but that. Couldn't we all just live graciously on social transfer payments?
Ana Luisa (Belgium)
@Ronald B. Duke Well ... you clearly still have a long way to go when it comes to understanding what fiction is ... ;-) Obama and the Democrats turned Bush's -8% GDP economy that was shedding 700,000 jobs a month into a decade-long steady GDP growth and the longest job growth period in decades. They did so by passing science-based policies - half of it were well-designed tax cuts and tax credits, and the other half subsidies to projects that all countries all over the world are starting to develop, in this 21th century (clean energy, education, leveling the playing field so that not where you are born but your character determines how you'll be judged and what opportunities you'll get, etc.). They also cut Bush's structural $1.4 trillion deficit by two thirds, whereas Obamacare lowers the deficit by more than $100 billion, all while covering 20 million more Americans - which means that it will soon have saved an additional half a million American lives, and allowed millions of Americans to switch jobs without losing their HC (= getting that higher paid job rather than remaining stuck at a job for which they're over-qualified but had to keep, before the ACA, in order to keep their HC). It also allows millions of Americans to no longer having to choose between going bankrupt and getting cancer treatment, and getting that treatment or sending a kid to college (knowing that a college degree is the best entrance ticket into the middle class). The GOP is destroying all this.
Kathy Garland (Amelia Island, FL)
Ronald B. Duke Your comment implies that Democrats don’t believe in hard work. What arrogance! What your perspective ignores is that some folks need help. You obviously think corporate welfare is just fine, but you don’t think individuals deserve any help whatsoever. Try looking at the world with a little more compassion.
David Martin (Paris)
@ Ana Luisa, if this doesn't get past the moderators, fine, but I have been watching ... and more and more, I think Ana Luisa of Belgium is really Paul Krugman. But I am not even 98% sure.
joyce (santa fe)
I see an evolution in the attitude towards Trump in the general public. It is a very gradual recognition that he is a destructive force in government. The press and the public started out criticising with care and now they do so with impunity. It takes time to shift opinions but it is happening and it is very evident when you look at it long term. The press is dogged and it needs to be. Without the press we would be blind and dumb and doomed.
furnmtz (Oregon)
After this Trump fiasco - and there will be an after - I think there needs to be another autopsy done on the Republican Party, but this time by a group of Independents who have not voted consistently with either party over the years. It goes way beyond Trump and into areas such as voter suppression, Fox News, Merrick Garland, deficits, huge donors, climate change denial, etc etc etc. The Republican Party is not dying from a disease named Trump. He is only the hideous rash and persistent itch on the skin. The disease killing their party and spreading to millions is beneath the skin and is killing us from within.
Robert FL (Palmetto, FL.)
Agreed, but we need to be the authors of this comic-tragedy Here's a good place to start, dictate to your Congressperson. Every day that you voice outrage at the outrage dejour, share that thought with your Representative! If we all did that perhaps they would start representing us. This is when our narrative would guide the final chapter.
M Caplow (Chapel Hill)
No mention here of the complicity of the Republican Party in Trump's madness. They have the power to deal with a madman, but basically agree with what he's doing. Why doesn't Stephens widen his criticism to his party ?
Pia (Las Cruces NM)
@M Caplow There are only so many characters in literature and allowed in opinion pieces....
David Martin (Paris)
For Hitler and Germany, the Germans can arguably claim that the reparations required from the Treaty of Versailles were unjust and impossible to fulfill, and hence their guilt for Hitler is lessened. Trump isn’t as bad as Hitler, but there also weren’t any genuine injustices that brought Trump to power. The economy was doing well in 2016, et cetera. So you see ? It doesn’t take much to argue that Trump is as much a disgrace as Hitler, if not more.
Susan (Miller)
While entertaining to ponder this, it’s not entertaining to live. Like other commenters, exploring the “audience” of conservatives who voted for Trump is more pertinent. Trump is simply the protagonist who has no power without enablers. Conservatives want control over women’s bodies, Christianity-guided government, more wealth for the wealthy, racism, no equal rights for LGTBQ citizens, and so many more vicious things. They lie and cheat to retain power. Trump is a clown but the Republican platform is horrid and counter to the majority of citizens. Why is the American audience so ignorant?
Axle 66 (Lincoln VT)
Some modern Shakespeare needs to take a close look at the 1840's "Know Nothing" party's resurgence from the scrap heap of pendulum-bending political movements, to it's current re-birth as the party of Trump. This political movement demonized a religion (catholicism) and hated immigrants.
Mary Thomas (Newtown Ct)
Oh boy, I have been waiting for what see, like for my whole life, for some educated professional writer to refer to “Lysistrata”! And here it is, by the brilliant Bret Stephens! Imagine young girls in a Latin class in a provincial girl’s ‘academy’ being treated to such a work...now I think the nuns had something up their long voluminous sleeves! Oh that our press corps had the restraint and the wisdom to defy this administration with the attention it so desperately craves!
wanda (Kentucky )
If the news organizations stopped covering him, it would be lonely FOX.
BlaiseM (Central NY)
I understand the impulse to ignore Trump when he is his Trumpiest, but that just leaves a vacuum into which the liars and spinners at Fox will expand. Don't we need someone to dispel 45's nonsense?
Bruce Pippin (Monterey, Ca)
As the media evolved from a source of unadulterated truth and information to entertainment and hyperbole, Trump or a person just like him was bound to come along and exploit their descent into the pit of materialism corrupted by the lust for profit. Like a shock jock radio personality, Trump screams into the ether and the news networks gather the lies, hatred, and incoherence and spew in back into the public’s face as if it had meaning and substance 24/7. When the media gets back to reality and serves it’s appointed purpose perhaps we, as a nation, will be on the road to recovery.
AH (Philadelphia)
Nice try, Mr. Stephens, but you missed the sharpest tool that Shakespeare used in abundance: ridicule
Alexander (Boston)
I hope his end is coming starting 3 January.
Ms. Pea (Seattle)
Most Trump supporters have never heard of, let alone read, the novels and plays mentioned by Mr. Stephens, and that includes the ignorant and inarticulate Trump. We can only hope our next president will have at least some grasp of history and literature, and some understanding of the difference between fiction and reality.
Barking Doggerel (America)
I don't think Stephens and other conservatives have the moral authority to criticize Trump. It is not just the ignorant right wing that enabled Trump. It is the conservative movement that created the possibility. Republicanism is a continuum, and Stephens just rests on a slightly different point. For example: The conservative animus toward social programs, claiming that they erode motivation and create welfare dependency, is false. It is fundamentally racist and encourages the more blatant myth of rugged individualism that has fueled hatred of "the other" as seen in white nationalism. And: The historic conservative resistance to government regulation is the gateway to corruption and the unconscionable wealth gap. Trickle down economics is the precursor to plutocracy. And: Conservative support of gun rights is the precursor to armed militias and creates the mindset that leads delusional men and boys to take matters into their own hands. It was clear that the "philosophy" of self-reliance and aggressive insistence on individual rights would inevitably rend our social fabric. And that is what it has done. And: Conservative insistence on "minimal" government - drown it in the bathtub - would inevitably lead to deteriorating infrastructure. And that is what it has done. The unsupported and supportable idea that for-profit enterprises are superior would predict the privatization of schools, prisons and other public goods. And so it has. I could go on . .
Kathy Garland (Amelia Island, FL)
Barking Doggerel I could not have said it better...thank you.
joyce (pennsylvania)
I shudder to think of our leader being elected for a second term, but given the enthusiasm of his followers it could happen. This last two years have been like a nightmare within a nightmare within a nightmare. Each time I think I am waking up it starts all over again with idiot pronouncements and new inept people being put into cabinet positions. When he first entered the office of the president I had the perfect title for a book I was going to write.."Four Generals and an Idiot" and now the generals are gone.
David Henry (Concord)
Trump is an extreme character, to say the obvious, so it's easy to oppose, but style and bluster is nothing compared with policies, which are basically the same as every Republican since Reagan. Feed the rich. Stephens had few issues with Reagan/Bush family policies, so his criticisms of Trump strike me as convenient. Underneath Bret remains the type of right winger who laid the groundwork for the man he's barking at today.
RK (Long Island, NY)
Let's not waste the best writers' efforts on Trump. I think the cartoonist Gary Larson's portrayal of a patient on a psychiatrist couch and the psychiatrist note perfectly summarizes Trump: "Just plain nuts!" https://www.pinterest.com/pin/505247651922094111/
tgeis (Nj)
By now I think we’ve run out of words to properly describe the Trump experience. In Helsinki he sided with a detestable autocrat from Russia over his own country. Six months later soldiers in Iraq are waving red baseball caps and cheering his open lies. We’re punch drunk. We just want to get to the fairy tale ending, “And they all lived happily ever after.”
ACJ (Chicago)
Yes, agree, starve the reality TV host beast---the problem, of course, is that this beast has the ability to literally take out the planet...you never know what tweet ends it all,
Carl Hultberg (New Hampshire)
Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry.
eben spinoza (sf)
You really need to add Rod Serling to your pantheon of writers. In his classic Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life," Serling presents Anthony Fremont, a 6 year old brat, super-empowered by birth who has telepathically isolate his town from reality. At any moment, he might "wish into the cornfield" any of the surviving townspeople who catch his attention or bother him. Consequently, all the terrified adults pretend to find him adorable, catering to his whims. Our national situation with Trump couldn't be described any better. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjx1i9XvWp8
Charlesbalpha (Atlanta)
You could look at science fiction. James Blish in the late 1950s wrote a book called CITIES IN FLIGHT, which starts off in a "future" (i.e. the present day) dictatorship. We are told that it started when an earlier president ( "a man-on-horseback with no brains worth mentioning") ruined the system of checks and balances.
Helen Toman (Ft myers, FL)
I have thought since day one that the media should ignore most of his diatribes, Without an audience he is nothing
Pia (Las Cruces NM)
Science fiction is real: Trump.
David Anderson (North Carolina)
A few words about a concept that had Jeremiah perplexed may be of help. He said in 17:9 "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it?" Donald Trump as the leader of one of the most powerful industrialized nations in the world could lead us all out of our planetary doomsday. He is not. In fact he is accelerating the degenerative process. By any definition of the word he and his sycophant retrograde enablers are the personification of evil. www.InquiryAbraham.com
In deed (Lower 48)
Bret read some literature! Bret read some literature! Missed the point. Too.
Memi von Gaza (Canada)
And then there is Ubu Roi that brilliant play by Alfred Jarry which opened and closed in Paris on December 10, 1896. It blasted through the staid theater community and ushered in Dada, Surrealism, and The Theater of the Absurd. Jarry made a parody of Shakespeare's Macbeth, Hamlet, King Lear to mock the complacent wealthy and their abuse of power. Nothing was sacred and nothing was spared. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to design a production of this play some years ago and never had so much fun, chopping heads of cabbage in lieu of heads and other delights. But the horror in the absurd became increasingly clear and took its toll as the play wore on. Much like now with the current absurd orange candy flossed monarch ruling by twitterings, delighting in the mockery we make of him, as he rampages unopposed through and over whatever strikes his fancy. Hail Ubu Roi! Playing in the theaters of your techy devices across the country and the globe, starring Donald Trump and his loyal sycophants. You will laugh your head off until you wail. Art, such as it is, has come to life. The horror!
David G. (Monroe NY )
You’re preaching to the choir. We all know that Trump is sulfurous. Perhaps the correct literature would be Doctor Faustus. But there’s a concurrent article in today’s Times — four Senate democrats who are jumping in: Harris, Warren, Booker, Gillibrand. Well, why not just hand over the election to Trump and the GOP?! Does anyone seriously believe that these “lefties” have a chance outside of the coastal cities?
karen (bay area)
I am a leftie from a coastal city and I agree. 100%. They can't win.They will be McGovern or dukakis.
John Ranta (New Hampshire)
We need a story that focuses not on Trump, but on his base. A story about ignorant, fearful, hateful people who elevate a vain, blustering fool to the throne, and then convince themselves that he’s regal. A story like “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. The two conniving tailors who weave phony garments would be played by Bannon and Conway. The strutting, egotistical emperor, unaware of his own folly, would be Trump. And the people who line the emperor’s parade route, ignoring the evidence of their own eyes to shout admiration and adulation, would be his deplorable base. This is a fitting (sic) story. The media’s role? To continue to point out that Trump has no clothes, and no business being president.
FJG (Sarasota, Fl.)
In other words: Ignore the buffoon and maybe he'll go away.
VJM (Glencoe)
The "Tale of Donald Trump"...tragedy, comedy, satire? I don't know. I just hope the final chapter is written soon.
Rich Elias (Delaware OH)
I recommend casting him as the lead in Jarry's "Ubu Roi," a forerunner of the absurd.
APO (JC NJ)
Don't get too complicated - many episodes of Sponge Bob or most cartoons would suffice.
Jacob (Selah, WA)
I still think our obsession with the television anti-hero over the past two decades contributed to Trump also. Tony Soprano, Walter White, Vic Mackey, Don Draper, Al Swearengen, and Frank Underwood, just to name a handful. Trump was already an anti hero on reality tv. Even before the Kevin Spacey scandal broke, the reviews of "House of Cards" actually suffered because Trump was worse than Frank Underwood. The blurb on rotten tomatoes that distills all the reviews says that season 5's (2017's) "outlandish edge is tempered slightly by the current political climate" in explanation for its lowest score for a season. It's as if some significant number of voters really wanted someone with the lawless business savvy of Tony Soprano, the outrage at life's injustice of Walter White, the mouth of Al Swearengen, and the morals of all of them. I was going to leave off Dexter Morgan, but Trump indeed defended (or at least soft pedaled the significance of) the dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi. When they make the 30 part limited event miniseries of the Trump administration on Netflix VR in 50 years, no one will believe it.
Frank Leibold (Virginia)
@Jacob Here's a novel approach not tried by anyone I've read. Let's talk about, as you said "What he's done, not said." It's also a good time to review 2018. The economy enjoyed a new 3% GDP growth with consumer confidence reaching a 17 year high while unemployment a 50 year low. On trade the new USMCA helps American farmers and China lowering U.S. auto tariffs helped too. We are out of the WTO, PTP, and the Iran deal. Deregulation contributed with a new policy of eliminating two for every new one. "The First Step" program will help those in prison while "Try It First Act" aides those in need of new experimental meds. America is safer with 2k felons deported and no terrorist attacks since Trump took office. Being energy independent with Keystone and ANWAR in reserve bodes well for the future. Vets are happier as their VA can now fire the incompetent who have created delays for them. Globally, the ISIS caliphait is gone, Assad no longer is gassing his people while North Korea has returned the remains of American soldiers. Even NATO has pledged $10B more for their defenses, saving the US. Hostages have returned from Iran, NK and Turkey and the U.S. embassy has moved to Jerusalem. NASA even put a Lander on Mars. Finally, SCOTUS has two new Justices, Gorsuch and Kavenaugh. It seems President Trump has a well deserved reputation of someone who "gets things done." So your advice proved illuminating.
Jacob (Selah, WA)
@Frank Leibold The DOW on Jan. 2 2018, was 24,824. Today it is 23,062. The American people love Trump so much, they gave the House back to the Democrats. Five trillion in new debt by the end of 2019. Tax cuts for the wealthy. His promise to have Mexico build his wall is now a promise to shut down the government if the Democrats don't hand over American Taxpayer Money to pay for the wall! North Korea continues work on their missiles. Trump has ignored his own Generals. Our allies hate us, our enemies love us, and a veritable parade of people have quit or been fired. The only thing Trump is "getting done" is his own impeachment and infamy in being the worst president in history.
Jim Brokaw (California)
@Frank Leibold -- a great Kool-Aid in the veins post, Frank. Is "Frank Leibold" a nome-de-pen like "John Morgan"? Donald, is that you?! Everything you post has a downside for its upside, your comment is a masterpiece of spin. "Being energy independent" - who cares about that wildlife in the ANWAR, there's pleny of "wildlife" in most downtowns, anyway. In 50 years, kids can go to zoos to see what caribou and polar bears looked like, or see stuffed exhibits. "ISIS caliphate" is gone. Al-Quaida never controlled any land, and they managed to cause a few problems here and there; ISIS is not "defeated" and the danger there has not gone away. But we have, pulled out, walked away. Want to bet ISIS comes back? Our allies in NATO, having watched how we stand by our allies in Syria, have probably concluded they must spend more for their defenses because US promises are no longer credible. We've pulled out of agreement after agreement, reneged on promises left and right, and shredded our international prestige and trust. Trade policy has angered those same allies, while raising prices for US consumers, and costing Americans jobs. Our farmers have watched crop prices fall as overseas former customers find new suppliers. Everything you claim as a big Trump success has significant cost, and most of those costs land on the USA. Its almost like Trump was a foreign agent, working at the instruction of Russia, or something. "We'll see."
Robert King (Nashville, TN)
In David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest”, President Johnny Gentle is a hapless former doowop singer, vain, a germaphobe, surrounded by cynical staff members who encourage him to take antagonistic positions with Mexico and Canada. For example, withdrawing shared missile defense systems unless they agree to take our toxic waste. DFW was incredibly prescient.
Katalina (Austin, TX)
@Robert King I don't disagaree that DFW was prescient, but gosh, as the comments state and we know, there have been plenty of knaves, idiots, liars, indeed germaphobes since ...forever. Shakespeare's hard to beat, but the other suggestions here from a play by a new name to me to the excellent suggestions of MOby Dick, Heart of Darkness or all of Conrad, etc. DFW had to leave us as his microscopic and pathologic eyes and brain could see inside and outside to an amazing degree. Too close to the fire.
Nate Lunceford (Seattle)
@Robert King We are definitely living in the Year of the Adult Undergarment.
Hector Javkin (Santa Barbara, California)
Donald Trump as Falstaff? Yes, they are both heavy men, but Falstaff was a character with humor and humanity. Trump is not. You might as well have suggested that Rex Stout's huge and brilliant detective, Nero Wolfe, who loved fine food, clear thinking, and precise language, might serve as a Trump-like character. It doesn't work. Your conclusion is correct, however, that the Trump Presidency makes it especially important to remember the difference between truth and fiction. Here's a step in that direction: good fiction can't abide one-dimensional characters. In fiction, even the worst people possess redeeming qualities.
mindy (NYC)
Fun column Mr. Stephens, but a bit highbrow for the Donald Trump story. How about The Godfather? Vito Corleone (head of the crime family) - Fred Trump Tom Hagan (adopted son and devoted attorney) - Michael Cohen Don Fanucci (small time hood) - Paul Manafort Hyman Roth (Vegas kingmaker) - Sheldon Edelson Don Tomassino (Michael's protector in Sicily) - Vladimir Putin Our protagonist, Donald Trump, fashions himself as a Michael (took over and built upon the family business to include very successful casinos and diverse holdings). But alas, in reality, our Donald is Fredo. Scared, incompetent, looking for respect but finding only ridicule.
Martina (Chicago)
@mindy Yes, perhaps Fredo is a better fit. When Fredo tells his brother Michael “I am smart, I am not dumb like everybody says, I am your older brother Michael, I was passed over,” perhaps that is why Trump tells us “I am a stable genius,” “I am smarter than the generals, I have a plan, but I am not telling you the plan,” and “trust me, I know how to fix this.” Like Fredo, Trump is inadequate to the task and responsibilities (being President). Like Don Corleone who chose Michael instead of Fredo, perhaps the American voters would have been wiser to have passed over Trump. Alas, we, the American voters, had no Don Corleone ( that is the Electoral College) to choose wisely, or, if we did, we ignored Don Corleone’s advice and chose our own Fredo (I mean Trump). Now the analogy to Fredo is not wholly correct because Fredo had a heart. Trump, on the other hand, is heartless. Witness the cruelty of Trump’s speech and the vengeance of his actions, Trump is no Fredo. There is a saying I recall: Fortune has hair in front; behind she is bald; chance that she escape, not even Hermès (the god of speed) himself can catch her. For us, be they Americans or the world itself, the tragedy is that Americans had an opportunity to choose wisely in November 2016 and that chance was missed.
Wm Conelly (Warwick, England)
Millions of pages will be written about The Donald during coming generations, atop the hundreds of thousands composed in this one. The point is, however, that Mister Trump is not a functioning representative of constitutional democracy. Whatever his legal problems, therefore, or his factual/fictional status, he should be impeached by the House of Representatives and brought to trial in the Senate, a comprehensive trial, with its proceedings broadcast - live - to the nation for the sake of an indelible record. The Constitution was written to account for human disfunction and it should be employed accordingly. There are no substantive reasons for daily bouts of mania to destabilise the Country's governance. Let us proceed with the constitutional remedies called for and quit pretending that a zig-zagging 'news feed' serves as a substitute.
Richard Katz (Iowa City)
For what it's worth I also thought of King Lear.
Howard (New York)
I would search the heavens for Paddy Chayefsky screenwriter of “The Hospital” and “Network” to construct the script for the Trump saga. Chayefsky had a gift for pairing absurdity with tragedy in the modern era. Terry Southern screenwriter for “Dr Strangelove” would have be another choice for constructing this trajicomedy. Can you picture Peter Sellers portraying each of the ousted cabinet members, FBI directors and Robert Mueller? Another director/author would be Sergio Leone. He could move the tale location to the Mexican border. Can you picture the abuse of power and oppression of the local peasant population? Where is the man with no name? That bit of casting is yet to be realized. The drama continues...
Lois (Michigan)
The suggestion of not giving so much air time is critical. All news organizations need do is develop a set of criteria for covering Trump -- something based on the 4 W's and the H we learned in journalism school. Tweets with "no collusion" and blah blah Mueller certainly should be ignored. What's more, all it would take is one time sending NO ONE to Trump's next press conference and we'd never have to endure another one.
Ana Luisa (Belgium)
So your answer to relentless Fox News/GOP/Trump tweet propaganda is for MSM to allow them to spread lies to their audience as much as they want and just ignore it? Since when do democracies thrive by no longer debunking fake news (= showing that it's fiction)? We do need more reporting on what Democrats are doing and standing for though, rather than limiting MSM news about Democrats to what Trump says about them or what will help the career of which politician. Because a clear majority in this country strongly rejects what Trump and the GOP stand for today, and all that is needed for them to get their country back is to realize how important voting is. And they will only realize this when MSM start to focusing MUCH more on news that is related to this subject. Michelle Obama for instance is talking about this all the time, now that she's doing her book tour. She's constantly explaining how a democracy works, how to build real, moral leadership, and how to obtain real, radical, lasting, non-violent change in DC, election after election. If the MSM don't spend as much time reporting on this kind of news as they do on debunking the GOP's lies, then all that people are left with are those refuted lies, which cannot but enhance cynicism, and THAT's what kills a democracy. Conclusion: when the GOP is writing/tweeting fiction each and every day, we need to know this, but we also need to know what truly leads to political change, and THAT is what is too often ignored by MSM.
Larry Moss (Los Angeles)
Stephen Greenblatt covers your ideas in his new book: Tyrant, Shakespeare and Politics. It’s all in there - Richard III, Macbeth, Lear and others. It’s a thinly veiled - actually unveiled - psychobiography of our Dear Leader.
RH (Wisconsin)
When future historians look back at this time and this presidency, I hope they don’t have to recount how the people who had the means to short circuit a clearly criminal administration were too timid, or corrupt themselves, to use those means. I refer to impeachment and conviction and removal from office. I’m putting my money on the cowardly course of action.
RLW (Chicago)
Is Trump really just a nightmare that we will all wake up from? Surely a character like Donald J. Trump could never have been elected to be POTUS in a real world?
David Martin (Paris)
I may forget, but I thought Falstaff was essentially likable. Not detestable, like Trump.
Carolyn Stevens (Scarsdale NY)
I have long thought that the press should stop covering Trump and cover the governmental policies that are being trashed or the outrageous ones that are being instituted. 67% of Americans know by now that Trump is a liar and he is constantly trying to deflect attention from his real concerns or agenda. The other 33% are enthralled with his antics and apparently either hate this country and it’s founding principles or feel entitled to ‘privilege ‘ based on their race and do not care that he is destroying our institutions and the basic fabric of our democracy. Consistently focusing on his debasing conduct and comments will not change their minds. Maybe focusing on the policies and how they are the antithesis of what he promised will be more effective. And if not at least the dialogue will be improved.
RLW (Chicago)
So many lapel-flag-pin-wearing Americans extol "American exceptionalism" and claim American democracy as the best form of government in the whole wide world. But, let us face reality. Any form of government that forcefully invades other countries like VietNam or Iraq and tries to impose its own form of governance on that country must be condemned, not praised. Any form of governance that willfully chooses a morally bankrupt, incompetent, unbelievably ridiculous psychopath like Donald Trump as it's legally elected leader is in no way a form of government that others should want to emulate. Donald J. Trump as the POTUS exemplifies so many of the flaws incorporated into our system of governance by the "Founding Fathers". Will Trump be the catalyst that finally sets our flawed republic onto the path of true democracy or will he be the beginning of the end of the American experiment that failed to make America's actual governing institutions like the Congress, the courts, the presidency and state legislatures true reflections of the people it was meant to serve?
Andrea Landry (Lynn, MA)
Ignoring his tweets and ignoring him in the media will only make him worse which may be a good thing as far as getting us all closer to his resignation or impeachment and removal. Excellent entertaining article with its literary analogies. Shakespeare references are apt. Yes, he is an equivalent moral cripple to Richard III. I also consider him the antichrist.
Jackie Geller (San Diego)
Sadly, 1984.
tbs (detroit)
Typical conservative trying to run away from his creation. Bret's dog whistles have taken voice (and "tweets"), and now that they are out of the closet, Bret and his conservative friends do not know how to control their heretofore pawns. For years, since 1968, republicans have used the Nixon Southern-Strategy to enrage their voters against the "others"to keep their power. Now their voters speak and their conservative masters cannot control them as before. Bret take care in what you wish for, it just might come to pass!
LH (Beaver, OR)
"...(N)ot likely to happen" is perhaps an understatement. Ironically, the media helped Trump's election efforts by showering HRC with constant press coverage while downplaying and ignoring Bernie Sanders at every turn. Even today we only see occasional stories how he's lost his base, too old, etc. All this despite polls showing Bernie would have beaten Trump handily. The end result is conservatives got what they asked for. Stephens and others complain about Trump but he represents the logical conclusion of their intellectual dogma. He's in DC to disrupt, if not destroy government. The vast majority of conservative voters are real people who's values and anger are well represented by the president and stoked by conservative hate radio and TV. But conservatives offer little more than a fear of "socialism" which they still equate with communism. And of course the media obliges this misconception - after all the Times and other media outlets are corporate oligarchies themselves! When we get down to the nuts and bolts of intellectual political discourse the only real difference we can discern is the role of government v. business and how they interact. Conservatives have demonized government and stoked the blatant hatred espoused by Limbaugh, etc. and ultimately voters. Remember Ronald Reagan claiming "government is THE problem"? You asked for Trump and now you have to live with it. Stop whining about it or re-evaluate your dogma. We have to find a way to live together.
JanetMichael (Silver Spring Maryland)
Mark Twain, the quintessential American author from Hannibal Missouri could best tell the story of DJ Trump.Unlike the misadventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn the tale he would have to tell would be about the dark conspiracies of Trump and cohorts trying to improvise a government to their liking.Their adventurism would not make us chuckle like Tom and Huck did, instead their misbehavior would make us choke and gasp.Mark Twain was a great satirist-he could handle Trump in a way that would make us both laugh and cry.
Paul Wortman (Providence)
As a psychologist, I have become Cassandra in performing my unceasing "duty to warn" that like Cassandra of Troy sadly falls on deaf ears that Donald Trump is mentally ill suffering from the anti-personality disorder of narcissism. To ignore that is to miss the core of who he is and why he acts the way he does. Are there mentally ill man in literature? Of course, but they are like Captain Queeg of the Caine Mutiny in the more modern in the post -Freudian era. Or perhaps were dealing with another mad captain in Ahab of Moby Dick endlessly pursuing his white whale of a border wall. Then we might also consider the more mysterious Mister Kurtz of Joseph Conrad's tale, "Heart of Darkness," that brought us "the horror, the horror" of Donald Trump's malignant bigotry and exploitation of Hispanic immigrants. We have a president who is mentally ill an d lacks empathy that borders on evil. And that sadly is the reality and not fiction.
Armo (San Francisco)
It's normal to try to ease the serious, clear, present danger of a mad man by making light, or jest of the situation. Shakespeare's characters were just that - characters. The loony tunes we have as a president is real and is a very dangerous threat to our way of life, our goodwill to all people, our honesty, our convictions. The sleazy, fraud occupying the white house has damaged this country beyond recognition.
Terece (California )
Wolf Hall (both book and TV series) comes to mind. Here is an excerpt from an essay in Esquire written in 2015: "Henry VIII had the dubious distinction of collecting a glittering court of educated and brilliant men around him, most of whom he ended up killing. That's the trick: All these incredibly clever men turned out not to be clever enough for their times. They are all at the whim of the King and his thoughtless appetites. Even enemies, Cromwell and More, commiserate about the basic unpredictability of their lives. "You remember how you used to compare the King to a tamed lion?" Cromwell asks More as he plans to burn him. "You can pet him, you can pull at his ears if you wish, but all the time you're thinking to yourself 'those claws, look at those claws.'" The whimsicality of the King, and of the King's biology, means that all these geniuses, so close to power, also lack power."
rjon (Mahomet, Ilinois)
You claim his tweets should be ignored, except those that contain actual policy pronouncements. No. They should all be ignored. Government by tweet must end. (Now, there’s a statement that couldn’t have made sense 20 years ago.)
mrmeat (florida)
This essay is pointless and it so reminds me of the kid's story, "The Emperor's New Clothes." The people who claim they see clothes on the emperor or sense in this essay are the same.
Catalina (Mexico)
I just watched the PBS show, "Shakespeare Uncovered", on Richard III. Every comment rang true for Trump. "A loathsome and brilliant manipulator" is one of the kinder observations.
Tom Farrell (DeLand, FL)
1) "Write more about what the administration does, less about what Trump says": AMEN! 2) Falstaff stabs the corpse of Harry Hotspur and then claims to have killed him. Prince Hal allows him to get away with the farce, because, while seeing his venality and corruption (in every sense) he finds him amusing. It is a much later, more sober, less likable King Henry who finally casts Falstaff adrift.
Andy (Salt Lake City, Utah)
I tend to prefer Richard III as an analogy. Tragedy implies sympathy for the character. You feel sorry for the tormented figure who falls from grace. You may not like the character or the person's deeds. However, you do feel sorry for them. Richard III turns this idea on its head. You don't ever feel sorry for Richard. The tragedy is everything he forces upon the world. Richard subjects fate to tragedy, not the other way around. His deformity is basically a comedic counterpoint. "To entertain these fair well-spoken days,– I am determined to prove a villain." Trump, like Richard, both hideous and grotesque, is determined to prove a villain.
eben spinoza (sf)
This piece, unfortunately, is a prime example of the what Neil Postman called "Amusing Ourselves to Death." In that book, published 30 years ago, Postman warned about the fusion of entertainment values and its economics with politics, fully anticipating the simultaneous concentration of media power and the fragmentation of attention that has given us the Tea Party, movement conservatism, culminating in Donald Trump, a particularly nasty and pathetic old brat who is frightening and damaging everyone like the 6 year dictator in a Twilight Zone.
Sue L. Frye (Hickory, NC)
Trump tweets; the media jumps. Deny him the exhaustive coverage. I never read his quoted tweets. By this time I know they are lies.
tubs (chicago)
Well gee whiz, Bret. Surely you're cheered up by all the discrediting of climate science and environmental damage your man has enabled. -I mean, that's your brand after all, isn't it? That, and the occasional pseudo-intellectual (elitist!) trifle. "All the same... it’s incumbent on the rest of us to keep the two separate." You would suggest that that group includes you? "The rest of us?" Interesting. I would have thought that there's no room in the lifeboat for right wing flacks and apologists. As always, thanks for hitting the minimum word count.
crwtom (Ohio)
I'm wondering whether Trump would understand anything in this article if someone read it to him.
Carolyn (New York)
"Write more about what the administration does, less about what Trump says." Yes, please!
Longestaffe (Pickering)
Let's compare Donald Trump's chances of existence in the fictional worlds of two 19th-century novelists: Charles Dickens and Anthony Trollope. I say he could have thrived in Dickens's world but would never have seen the light of day in Trollope's. Dickens worked his wonders as a social reformer through literary puppet shows in which characters drove home the various parts of his lesson with clear consistency. When he made people good, they were very, very good; and when he made them bad, they were Trump-like. "Mr. Trump" actually has the ring of a Dickensian name for a boastful, bullying parasite with faults writ large and virtues writ not at all. Imagine an alternate version of A Christmas Carol in which the money-grubber is too lazy to get out of bed when the spirits come to flip him. Trollope's characters, once set free from the inkwell, were destined to become complex human beings. Where Dickens's Uriah Heep is thoroughly villainous, Trollope's Obediah Slope lulls us into pigeonholing him as a thorough villain and then, when the author takes us inside his mind, turns out to have impulses and struggles with which we can sympathize. In Trollope's world, good people may disappoint us with unworthy acts and silly people may startle us with flashes of good sense, all the while remaining in character. Trollope's world is a parallel real world, not a puppet show. There's no place in it for a character carved from a single piece of crooked wood like Donald Trump.
Barbara (Boston)
@Longestaffe Augustus Melmotte! How can someone who signs as Longstaffe not know him. If you don't have time for the book, there is a good miniseries, available on Amazon, wiht David Suchet as Melmotte.
w (md)
@Barbara Yes! The Way We Live Now by Trollope Only dt is more vile than Melmotte.
Erich (Santa Monica)
Well penned Mr. Stephens. Particularly the final comments that the press should ignore this man. One knows that this is not entirely possible but could it be curtailed?
Larry (Idaho)
I can put an end to all this speculation about how literature would deal with Trump, by quoting Mark Twain: "The main difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to be credible."
Anthony (Western Kansas)
The GOP has dealt in fantasy for many years. Bush 43 and Cheney started a war based on fantasy and Paul Ryan created budgets that had no basis in reality. And, we cannot forget supply-side economics.
Roger I (NY, NY)
The references to the classics and Trumpian rule are insightful and entertaining but I believe a more current fiction better captures this movement and personality - All the Kings Men?
PaulM (Ridgecrest Ca)
When Bret describes the relationship between the press and Trump, it sounds exactly like a text book example of Codependency: "It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual's ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive. Typically with a partner who requires support due to an illness or addiction."
Beth Helmers (Fort Collins, CO)
What is often overlooked in telling the story of Lysistrata is that in the Acropolis was the Treasury. In order to put an end to war, the women of ancient Greece not only withheld sex from their men but also money. Here, perhaps, is a more workable solution to our modern-day problems.
Rosalie Rinaldi (Norwalk, CT)
' Report news that has nothing to do with the administration at all. Award journalism prizes to stories that don’t contain the word “Trump” at all'. If only the media followed these suggestions, we'd all be in a better place. I've been saying this for a long, long time. The media is feeding the beast. STOP. 'Write more about what the administration does, less about what Trump says'. Imnsho, not much on the first and all lies on the second. Final words: Protect Mueller.
Steve (Downers Grove, IL)
While entertaining, this type of intellectual mockery of Trump and his minions does little to help the situation. Meanwhile, examples of brazen confrontational harassment amongst the general populous continue to pile up across the land. The latest one in Portland Oregon where a black hotel guest was harassed in the lobby by a white security guard as he was on the phone. This is the "Trump effect", i.e., the worst of our nature being licensed to act out against those who bother us by their very presence. While this type of behavior doesn't seem to be coordinated, it is inspired by Trump and the right wing media the same way lone-wolf acts of terrorism are inspired by ISIS. It is an impromptu campaign to instill minorities with the feeling they're not welcome here, and don't belong. If anything doesn't belong, it is that type of behavior, and civil society needs to make that abundantly clear whenever, and wherever it's encountered.
Kathryn Aguilar (Texas)
I see definite elements of George Orwell's 1984 in the Trump Administration. We have the manipulation of the proletariate, the demented rallies, the menacing figure of "Big Brother", the distractions of foreign and domestic enemies. Let's hope for a different ending.
kwb (Cumming, GA)
I'm shocked that you didn't cast Trump as the protagonist in 'Paradise Lost'. Surely there were enough other fallen angels to cast the supporting roles.
Quoth The Raven (Northern Michigan)
The greatest fear is that so many Americans are being lulled into complacency by the new abnormal. They are getting used to living in a fictional world, and not seeing the danger in the reality of it all. Ultimately, Trump is not merely a challenge to the best writers. He is a challenge to the best within ourselves.
amp (NC)
I think there should be news about Trump that is short and terse so as to try to feed the beast as little as possible while still keeping us informed. Presidential Corner: Today the president announced he was pulling the remaining troops out of Syria. Doing this before the Islamic State is truly defeated and abandoning our allies in Syria, the Kurds, and our NATO allies has unsettled both those on the left and right. Senator Lyndsay Graham of South Carolina, usually a presidential supporter, had this to say "--------". Gen. Mattis believing he can no longer work with the president resigned as National Security Advisor. Note I did not refer to Trump by name.
Howard (Wilmette)
Great read. For Act 2, could you find the literary analogy for the RNC and DNC who gave the American voters the choice between two superbly flawed individuals.
JLM (Central Florida)
Not lacking irony this piece points out the Russian storytelling saga. Our pundits wonder over ho Kremlin hackers could weave their narratives to suit the American voters so effectively. But, the Russians have been masters of the artform for centuries. They simply told the stories our non-reading, non-knowing public wanted to hear.
Dennis Speer (Santa Cruz, CA)
Let us not forget he has gotten many GOP goals through and gutted regulations and departments while we have focused on his meaningless tweets.
Carol (NJ)
That the really sad reality. No one knows this unfortunately. Too busy looking at the wreck. Hopefully the educational and environmental roll backs will be easily fixed .
Daphne (Petaluma, CA)
Too bad the story isn't fiction. His tweets tell us almost nothing about what he and the Puppet master are really thinking and planning and therefore shouldn't be quoted. It's a giant distraction, a sleight of hand to annoy us, and meanwhile, terrible things are happening to our country as a result of his actions and in-actions. We now live in an Orwellian world where the "news" is actually masked editorial comment, slanted in a pro-Trump or anti-Trump direction. Advice: Ignore the tweets, and pay attention to what's really happening.
Jerry in NH (Hopkinton, NH)
Put a ban on covering Trump's tweets - not likely to happen. One must ask, why not? Leave those to the rags and let the true media just cover the true news.
J Park (Cambridge, UK)
It's like watching a long tragicomedy, then realizing what happens on the stage is not a play.
Karen (Los Angeles)
Writing Trump as fiction... The critics would find the plots, themes, metaphors and characters implausible. The lies transparently false. Unbelievable that a country who tells its story as one of democracy, hope and opportunity would tolerate the corruption and the dishonesty that is manifested every day with Trump. He is a cosmic error. A catastrophe.
Rod Stevens (Seattle)
Unfortunately, this story, like "The Emperor's New Clothes" is not about the foolishness and flaws of one character, but about the people who put up with him. The dramatic moment will be how we get rid of him.
John (Richmond)
The Shakespeare references are amusing, Bret, until you realize that neither Macbeth not Richard III had access to a nuclear aresenal large enough to destroy the planet.
Frank Leibold (Virginia)
@John Here's a novel approach not tried by anyone I've read. Let's talk about, as you said "What he's done, not said." It's also a good time to review 2018. The economy enjoyed a new 3% GDP growth with consumer confidence reaching a 17 year high while unemployment a 50 year low. On trade the new USMCA helps American farmers and China lowering U.S. auto tariffs helped. We are out of the WTO, PTP, and Iran deal. Dereg. contributed with a new policy of eliminating two for every new one. The First Step program will help those in prison while Try It First Act aides those in need of new meds. America is safer with 2k felons deported and no terrorist attacks since Trump took office. Being energy independent with Keystone and ANWAR in reserve bodes well for the future. Vets are happier as their VA can now fire the incompetent who have created delays for them. Globally, the ISIS caliphait is gone, Assad no longer is gassing his people while North Korea has returned the remains of American soldiers. Even NATO has pledged $10B more for their defenses. Hostages have returned from Iran, NK and Turkey and the U.S.embassy has moved to Jerusalem. Finally, SCOTUS has Justices Gorsuch and Kavenaugh.
Blank (Venice)
@Frank Leibold GDP 2016 = +2.6% Thanks Obama. NAFTA 2.0 was originally proposed by Reagan and negotiated by Bush 1.0 and handed to President Clinton without any possibility to make changes ON PURPOSE by the Bush 1.0 Administration. Thanks Republics. Trade wars are easy to win if one whines about them long enough. Thanks Trump. More felons deported 2008-2016 than the previous 25 years combined. Thanks Obama. Sentencing disparities were a priority for the last 3 Administrations and only one of them had complete control of Congrease when there wasn’t a global financial crisis underway. Thanks Republics. Keystone wasn’t good for Canada for a reason, why would it be good for America ? ANWAR drilling is a massive ecological disaster waiting to harpoon. Thanks Murkowski. Veterans ranked their VA healthcare Excellent or Very Good for the last decade. Thanks VA healthcare providers. ISIL has 15,000 to 30,000 jihadis lollygagging around the war-torn streets of US formerly occupied Muddled Waste territory so how do you get think they’re gonna react when there ain’t no Americans in the region ? Assad destroyed 95% of his sarin munitions 2014-2015. Zero US troopsdeadandless than $1 billion US Tax dollars spent on humanitarian aid to mostly Assad victims. Thanks Obama. Lil Kim got everything he wanted from the visit and gave nothing he needed. Didn’t stop nukes. UN laughed in his face. Loudly. $COTU$ now has 2 sexual suspects and one stolen seat.
Frank Leibold (Virginia)
@Blank Since you brought them up: Obama's last six quarters were GDP 1.5% and I think 3.0% is better than 2.6%. Thanks Trump Your right USMCA Thanks Trump Trade wars need negotiator. Thanks Trump Don't know about felon deportations 2008-16. If your right Thanks Obama & Trump (2017-18) Oil! Obama COULDN'T do it. Thanks Trump Vets recently refused benefits. Those VA employees gone. Thanks Trump We will have troops in Iraq. ISIS had 60,000 two years ago. Thanks Trump Chlorine is nasty. In 2017 US, I'M and France bombed chemical plants. Thanks Trump Haven't had even one rocket or nuclear test since Rocket Man became scared. Thanks Trump SCOTUS - I don't deal in unfounded salacious assertions. Thanks Trump - Twice. Thanks Truml= 11 Thanks Obama= 1 Game over!
Majortrout (Montreal)
"When Fiction Most Becomes Trump" Absolutely NOTHING becomes Trump. He's the most despicable president I've seen in my 70 years!
Bob Zeschin (Los Angeles, CA)
So far, no one's pointed out the most obvious Shakespearean comparison of all: the way Junior, Eric, and Ivanka are going to behave over ruling the kingdom when their father's dietary habits finally catch up with him will make "King Lear" look like "Sesame Street." And the brothers won't stand a chance.
John Calendo (North Bergen, NJ)
Shakespeare is the wrong frame for the character "Trump." The most searing version of the Trump presidency will be told as a Coen Brothers' farce. The tale only becomes Shakespearian if Trump turns on his children -- very possible -- and gives them up to the Feds to save his own skin. Then we have something darker than Lear and funnier than Macbeth, yet still not rising to the stature of tragedy.
Paul Barnes (Ashland, OR)
It's interesting (and would be amusing under less dire circumstances for our country) that Mr. Stephens begins his challenge with the equivalent of "concept Shakespeare" -- i.e., productions that often lead with someone's "Bright Idea" (Flastaff in an orange wig and red tie, perhaps) but become like pathological lies by which you're always struggling to remember what piece of invention you've hung on the line, so the next bit of story-telling is consistent with the fiction you're creating and so the whole thing doesn't unravel by Act IV or V. Totally appropriate for a president who is a proven pathological liar, for whom consistency and thoughtful examination are the least of his concerns, who exists in a fiction of his own creation surrounded by sycophants wiling to support his delusions while also seeming to unravel more and more with each passing day -- but who has yet to collapse under the weight of his fabrications and delusions -- not unlike Falstaff, the coward who claimed heroic deeds as his own (and who was ultimately abandoned by his protector and patron, Prince Hal, the future King of England). One can only hope.
cuyahogacat (northfield, ohio)
Mr Stephens: Thank you for the brief but teary laugh. Tom Clancy said "the only difference between truth and fiction is that fiction has to make sense." That is the problem with Trump. We keep trying to make sense of his fiction, without seeing it for what it is: one long lie.
LNK (Toronto)
We enjoyed Brett's piece this morning. BUT in today's NYTimes please read "This is our reality now" on the effects of Trump roll-backs on environmental regulations put in place by previous Presidents. This is no joke! Our drinking water in Toronto comes from Lake Ontario, co-administered with the U.S. Yikes. Is there a character in literature or drama who poisoned the earth? We hear nothing from the leadership of the Democratic party about the environment - we look to the new group joining the House and Senate to take that path. And what about the threat of nuclear weapons?
Railbird (Cambridge )
Bret concludes: “Understanding what fiction is, and all the ways Trump seems to spring from it, is a good place to start.” Indeed. Does Bret read the comments? Many tap away here daily outlining this fiction. The Republican long con on the middle class. My attention span only goes back to The Gipper. Among his administration’s good works: lifting the cap on stock buybacks, which had been considered stock manipulation. This year a reported 1 trillion dollars of profits generated by American workers will be reinvested... in buybacks. Trickle down? Or gilding the lilly? It’s always been an ugly fiction, a chip provided for every shoulder, with a fear and sneer soundtrack provided by Fox News. Trump is both a surprise package, and this fiction’s final fruit.
Gary P. Arsenault (Norfolk, Virginia)
@Railbird The line is "to gild refined gold, to paint the lily"
Miriam (NY)
Trump's command of the English language is so weak, his ability to articulate a well-formed sentence so lacking, his reported distaste of the written word so legendary, that to elevate his persona to parallel literary characters strains credulity. Thankfully, a fitting end to this tragic American story is near.
faivel1 (NY)
@Miriam Sadly, your comment precisely describes the dilemma facing the country...his much talk about base fits this rendition of a man in a WH. There so many causes...educational system comes to mind, probably much worse in rural areas, absence of history awareness and facts, inability to entertain any complex views beyond black and white, strictly materialistic structure of our society...all that amplifies the quandary we're finding ourselves now. Seasons of bitter harvests is upon us.
Alexander Harrison (Wilton Manors, Fla.)
@Miriam: Believe you and other NeverTrumpers need a reality check. Name 1 other political novice who can fill stadium after stadium, with hundreds waiting outside to get in, having traveled overnight to get there! His off the cuff remarks are even better, more crowd pleasing than his scripted speeches. He has "it,"a silver tongued orator that no one else can match.HRC, Biden, Warren, Harris, Booker could barely fill a phone booth with their supporters. Trump draws thousands. "Avouez le:" If you had the chance to interview him, spend the day with him, you would jump at the opportunity, and you would be talking about it for months to come!He has magnetism, not necessarily charisma, from the original Greek meaning to heal, although Trump is doing his best to make this country and citizenry great again,Next time you write a comment ,try giving your last name so other commenters can see what your "oeuvre" is, what qualifies you to judge whether someone "speaks well," no offense intended! Turn on any t.v. channel at any time of the day or night and the subject is Trump.Think of all the journos who owe their jobs to The Donald, and think of the layoffs which would ensue were he to leave the political stage! Could you imagine 10,000 folks traveling overnight to attend a rally by John Kasich, Sherrod Brown,Corey Booker, Stacey Abrams?As Victor Hanson wrote, Trump is carpe diem, realizing that he just has so much time to get his agenda accomplished, and every day is to be seized!
HN (Philadelphia, PA)
@faivel1 Agreed, but I would also add the element of entitlement, especially white male entitlement, to explain another segment of the Trump voter.
bynneman (Tidewater, VA)
As a long time teach of literature, my admonition to students was always: "Fiction has to be probable. Reality needs only to be possible." Hard to believe, but Trump is, alas, possible.
4Average Joe (usa)
This kind of speculation sells newspapers, and elevates the current head of the executive branch. A cross between Richard III and Lear, where Lear is Iago.
Kathy White (GA)
Many are taught in school human’s greatest advancement was the “invention” of fire. This is a misidentification. Humans likely learned to use naturally occurring fires and/or discovered how to start them by accident, like chipping the right types of stones to make tools that created sparks. One can also use the same accidental cause for the “invention” of the wheel - round things roll - and tool making - sharp things puncture. In my view, the greatest human advancement was writing, a purposeful and uniquely creative solution to a problem of disorganization. Though the challenge proposed by Mr. Stephens is an interesting one, more can be gleaned about President Trump, unfortunately, from non-fiction - historical and current events - than from the best writers of fiction. Yet, the challenge suggests the best fictional writer addressing the character of President Trump might need expertise in psychiatry, psychology, human behavior, cognitive science, history, theology, philosophy, humanism, foreign affairs, as well as various genres of classical literature. How news organizations handle such a character as President Trump is less important, in my view, than how humans perceive news about him. The age-old problem, existing long before the invention of writing, is recognition of fact from fiction. Since the spark of humanity lit the minds of ancient ancestors, there have been con-artists to take advantage.
Carl Hultberg (New Hampshire)
@Kathy White: Writing also had a more humble origin: the notes and measurement markings passed down from mother to daughter used to domesticate and hybridize plants and animals over generations during the Late Stone Age. These markings were then developed into pictographs or phonetic writing once history started.
lareina (northeast usa)
"Write more about what the administration does, less about what Trump says. Report news that has nothing to do with the administration at all." That might help all Americans to understand the disastrous effect this administration is having on this country. On the other hand, it might not sell as many papers and magazines. Nothing like capitalism to make a country great!
Dr. M (New York, NY)
It’s interesting that you wrote this today, on the same day President Obama released a list of his favorite reads this year. How quaint and nostalgic: to have a president that reads, both fiction and non-fiction. Starving the beast would certainly seem to be the answer, yet that may lead Trump to do something even more destructive – something not possible for the media to ignore. As we are seeing first-hand, his type of toxic narcissism will stop at nothing to remain in the spotlight. The media will not stop reporting on Trump; it appears to be a mutually beneficial relationship. However, what can change are headlines. Instead of simply reporting, and repeating, his tweets, headline all his lies with “Trump lied…”. This is rarely happening right now. It would be a good place to start.
Linda McIntyre (nyc)
Another possibility is that we stop looking at/listening to this news. Step away from the news cycle. I’ve tried it and it’s life enhancing. When I backslide (like, say, now) I’m reminded that the other way works better for me.
Rick Spanier (Tucson)
@Dr. M Well said. I can only add a thought that comes to mind about twice a day. Has Trump ever, and I mean ever, read a single book cover to cover?
Kate (Stamford)
@Dr. M Yes, do that headline daily of “Trump Lied” underlined, italicized, in large bolded font! If it is repeated like that as much as he or his ridiculous tweets are reported, it may just begin to sink in with the masses. Imagine the evening news opening each night with “President Trump’s outlandish lies today are: ......”. Then present the actualities and truths as a counter proof of the lies. I have no idea where we would start....
jrinsc (South Carolina)
Mr. Stephens's essay points to the power of literature in helping us understand who we are. Our world is awash in information and facts, yet facts do not tell us the story of what it means to be human. The tale of President Trump is certainly a tragedy, a story of self-deception, power, greed, fear, and loneliness. When our history is written, there will be many, many books about the particulars of what took place. But it is in literature, in Greek dramas and Shakespeare plays and in literature yet unwritten, where we gain the greatest wisdom in understanding what a dark and deeply flawed character President Trump is, and how his tragedy plays out on the world stage.
Cher504 (<br/>)
@jrinsc How about Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. A guilty person who goes nuts!!!
Judy Evers (East Central Florida )
House Leader Paul Ryan, a vapid, self-serving man unworthy of his office who, like a wind blowing without clear direction carried the US into dangerous waters. While Senate Leader Mitch McConnell’s machinations in the Senate can be likened to the rudder that sent the US over the cliff.
Carl Hultberg (New Hampshire)
@Cher504: Yes, with Robert Mueller as Inspector Porfiry, working on the guilty party with psychology.
She Who Must be Obeyed (Alpharetta, Ga)
When I studied Shakespeare I was taught that every comedy had a pivot point where it could have become a tragedy - that every tragedy evolved from some fatal flaw in character or action that spurred the suffering. Trump may have begun as a comedy - certainly there were enough of us who thought he was a joke and couldn't possibly get elected. It seems we now lurch toward some pivotal moment almost daily. For example, If the butchery of a journalist, the deaths of a seven and eight year old at the border aren't enough to change direction then what magnitude of tragedy will it take for goodness and mercy to will out? I fear what that may be. The witch was correct - "Something wicked this way comes". Trump functions as an illiterate amalgam of Shakespeare's basest villains and more. And how ironic the reference to Bulgakov's Satan. Trump or Putin or both? I want my Country back, I want the best of who we are as Americans, our humanity, to prevail. I want Whitman singing the praises of the American spirit. I've become more involved than I had been since the 60's. Literature may provide a guide, but the best among us must lead us out of this dark time.
Suzanne Haynes (Bloomfield Hills MI)
Thank you for your eloquent and elevating remarks. It brought tears to my eyes to see my own sentiments so well expressed. I too want the best of us to reemerge and define our country’s character again. We are so fortunate by the mere chance of birth...Where is our grace, dignity, empathy and generosity??
LouGiglio (Raleigh, NC)
@She Who Must be Obeyed. Brava! I love your mind!!
just Robert (North Carolina)
@She Who Must be Obeyed Loved this comment. It is so true that in every Shakespearean comedy there is an element of tragedy. The bards balancing act is one of the great things about the him, and every play can be configured to fit our modern times as human nature does not change. But it is hard to imagine the oblivious Trump as any one character. Elements of him appear every where in drama. In our attempt to objectify him as a dramatic character perhaps we take our attention away from what he is actually doing to actual people. The modern day horror of him is so beyond the pale.
Christine (NYC)
An entertaining article. But I don’t think it asks the right questions. The question of our time shouldn’t be, who is Trump and what kind of story is he? The question should be: who are we that we elected such a monster? Is it entirely the fault of Republican voters? What kind of country are we to elect and continue to support someone like him? To be sure, a great number, perhaps more than half, despise him. But I’m not optimistic he will be impeached. I fear that he may be re-elected. What is wrong with us that this could happen? Can we stop blaming the other side and maybe look into ourselves and see we may have played a role? The divide in our country may grow to the level not seen since the Civil War. How can we heal this without tearing each other up?
Buffalo Fred (Western NY)
@Christine - My readings indicate that we have a segment of society willing to drag "the achievers" down to a dysfunctional level versus putting in the time to better themselves.
JM (San Francisco)
@Christine The ONLY question that should be asked is: How do we get Mitch McConnell to do his job and allow the Senate vote to remove Trump from office after the House impeaches him.
Pia (Las Cruces NM)
@Christine Time to excise the problem. Let's be pragmatic. Ours is not to reason why, ours is to impeach.
Socrates (Downtown Verona. NJ)
No other modern country has a flag-waving right-wing/corporatist-Fake News TV channel....although Russia has RTN, its state-funded propaganda outlet. No other modern country has as fake a democracy as America's, except for Russia. No other modern country systematically dismisses the universal healthcare of its citizens like the United States of Greed. No other modern country has a campaign system so deeply, nakedly submerged in billionaire corruption and dark money. No other Western country has such a perverted income tax system that showers the most economically fortunate with tax welfare. No other modern country has a political system so steadfastly dedicated to oligarchic welfare....aside from Russia. No other Western country has such an allergic reaction to taxes as the cost of a decent civilization. No other country wastes so much treasure on military madness. No other country comes close to America's psychopathic rate of murder weapon ownership and mass murders. All of these stunning political features are the result of the careful manipulation and disembowelment of the American mind by the radical right. It's little surprise that the extreme poisoning of the American mind for 36 years resulted in the rigged election of an idiotic TV celebrity and tabloid trash star who can barely speak English. The Republican Party and its Robber Barons wanted cartoon elections, a cartoon President and a cartoon country...and now we have them. Heckuva' job, GOP.
Diane Palmer (Chicago)
You are forgetting about Israel! They have ALL these things!
Don (Pennsylvania)
Only Hunter S. Thompson could convey Trump to the world. Trump IS the Gonzo President.
SMKNC (Charlotte, NC)
Trump is both comic and tragic, but ultimately he's a farce, defined as "a comic dramatic work using buffoonery and horseplay and typically including crude characterization and ludicrously improbable situations." Crude. Ludicrous. Improbable. That more than characterizes the last three years. Unfortunately, he is also both a symptom and a vector of a political cancer. As one reader noted, the simplistic Republican mantras of "Guns, God, and Gays" have superceded any political discourse about real issues and solutions. As such, Trump is a symptom. He's also energized regressive anti social tendencies around those same themes, becoming a disease vector that's infected no small percentage of Americans. Yes, we must separate the news from the constant static and begin to report only on relevant issues. But we must excise the vector, even if that doesn't result in complete remission. I harbor no illusions that will occur in any way via constitutional process other than the ballot box. Otherwise we're edging towards tyranny.
Ronny (Dublin, CA)
The media is complicit in the creation and maintenance of Donald Trump as political figure. Everyone was fine with the bombastic billionaire playboy humiliating his family and friends and cheating his business partners his employees and his customers (caveat emptor); but, we had no intention of letting him do that to our entire country. That is, until the news media discovered they could make a fortune giving this man an open microphone and never questioning anything he said. The fourth estate failed to protect us from this dangerous man. They will forever be tarred with this failure.
Scott (Spirit Lake, IA)
The extreme narcissist craves attention. Stephens is right that the best tact is to starve him of the attention he seeks. Report what the government is doing without mentioning his name. It will drive him crazy but it also might drive him to an even crazier action to regain attention.
Rob (Vernon, B.C.)
The Trump presidency is genre busting. It is simultaneously, in a multi-layered sense, a comedy and a tragedy. Trump's tweets display a grade school level of spelling, grammar and understanding. Coming from a U.S. president, that's hysterical. They are also filled with lies, xenophobia, scorn and hatred, which is tragic. Trump's hand picked (and picked, and picked again) cabinet is a laughable collection of third rate talent. Tragically, they are decimating the departments they lead. Trump's endlessly vaunted (by him) deal making skills have proven uproariously lacking, but the end result has been a rapid hollowing out of American influence abroad, very strained relations with allies and emboldened adversaries, which is tragic on a worldwide level. His orange painted skin, beehive hairdo, too long ties and puckered expressions are clown-like, as are his past public personas as Lothario and "reality" television personality. The inability of his base to perceive his obvious unsuitability for president is as tragic as it gets.
Gianni Lovato (Chatham)
"Award journalism prizes to stories that don’t contain the word “Trump” at all. O.K., that’s not likely to happen." And why not? As early as in the spring of 2015, I have been begging and hoping that the media would stop paying attention to the poor excuse for a human being barking his way to the Presidency, but it was like asking drivers not to rubberneck at a bloody crash on the highway. Partially, the reason for this fascination was that, without "individual #1", the New York Times and many other news organizations would have had a much harder time surviving the past three years and quite a few journalists, columnists and pundits wold have been out of a job. So, you need the so-called president almost as much as he needs you. But "almost" is the key word, here. Many of you have talent, honest and ethics that allow you to earn a living in other ways. The donald does not have much talent and certainly no honest or ethics . Stop mentioning his name for one month and he will be scurrying back to the shady world where he came from. And his only victims will be the ones who trust him, not the whole Country.
Andrew (Durham NC)
So Trump is a psychopath savant (good phrase, right?). The entire country, not just journalists, is becoming trained in how to best respond to this particular sliver of human pathology. My question: is such years-long civic education *useful*, given the tiny proportion of humanity which manifests Trump's traits; or is this education *necessary* given the extreme damage such rare and undefended-against people do to a democracy? Further, maybe this education is necessary because it is ultimately an education in our own, not Trump's, nature. What does fiction have to tell us about citizenries like ours?
SMKNC (Charlotte, NC)
Perhaps only a "tiny percentage" of humanity shares Trump's traits of being a "psychopathic savant." Unfortunately,a much larger percentage of the country seems to admire those same traits. Therein lies the danger to our democracy.
bill b (new york)
Mr. Stephens has a solid point. As Jennifer Rubin posited, please ignore what Trump says about anything. the game is now law, facts and evidence word
sleepdoc (Wildwood, MO)
As wearying and worrying as it is endure Trump's daily self serving, gaseous tweet eruptions, it is virtually impossible to ignore the slow motion wreck of the train we are riding on. Boycotting his tweets and Sander's ridiculous press conferences is not going to happen and should not happen in any event. Fox News won't take part in any Trump boycott and would become the de facto unquestioned purveyor of Trumpian propaganda and misinformation. Were the rest of the media to take part, they would be shirking their obligation to report all the news, not to mention proving the "liberal bias" conspiracy theories of right wing nut jobs. No, Bret, the media needs to keep plugging away at the job of fulfilling it's constitutional duty to seek and tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Mary Rivka (Dallas)
If we can get through the next two years, Trump is the best thing that could have happened. The majority of us are now "woke". Trump is an in your face exaggeration of everything wrong with politics, leaders, the old-school Republican party, and bad men. They have taken advantage of us forever, but no one noticed the slow lobster boil. Trump is so outrageous with his corrupt minions that even the slow minded have taken notice. Women must take charge. In general, the uncivilized male animal will take all the power he can and stomp the women to get there. It's in the DNA to pillage -- NOT all men, just poorly socialized amoral unattached men. He will stomp the environment and our political system to gain power, money, real estate etc. This and the me-too movement have sparked our awareness, i.e., you better vote and you better run for office and you better care before our world is totally polluted and America is shivering in isolation. Holding on til 2020.
Thomas Doheny (Athens PA)
“Write more about what the administration does, less about what Trump says” Unfortunately the originator of fake news would then be left to broadcast what he says ...... oh wait, in reality that’s what’s happening now.
damon walton (clarksville, tn)
A comedy...no. A tragedy...no. A farce...yes.
Greg Voigt (Brooklyn, NY)
Cool. What are some other books you read freshman year?
Bill (New York City)
A fictional president (lower case p). Unfortunately his wit if one can call it that, has turned rancid. It is Congresses' patriotic duty at this point to impeach and remove from office.
JFR (Yardley)
To deny Trump press coverage would have no chance of working as he listens only to FOX and they would never starve their golden goose. I'm also not sure if the playwright's telling of Trump's role gets at the heart of the issue. For me, Trump is a golem fashioned from the dirty, ugly detritus of an angry, disappointed, unsuccessful portion of the public who feed off of reality tv and big time wrestling. He is they. "As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron." --H.L. Mencken (1880 - 1956)
Doug N. (Cape Cod)
Let us not forget that Dishonest Donald got less votes than Hillary. That is NOT fake news.
Paul (Bellerose Terrace)
He is a malign version of Chauncey Gardner, the empty vessel who ascends to the presidency.
Bob Duguay (Simsbury, CT)
"It’s extremely effective, spear-wise." Double entendre? Literate piece.
Dave S. (Springfield VA)
I’m sorry, Trump’s election is not some sort of unique world-historical event. Even the Old Testament says that God sets up the “basest” (or most lowly) men over earthy kingdoms. (Daniel 4:17). We elected an incompetent. It happens. And in most other countries in history, the results have been far worse—bloodbaths, riots, the dissolution of the state. It even helped lead to our own civil war. But we’re nowhere close to that now. Trump is bad for our democracy to be sure, but he’s not fatal—the only reason we see our democracy as severely challenged is because we’re used to having such a vibrant system. Because America is unique, our screw-up must be unique. But it’s not. Spend some time in Africa. Or Eastern Europe. Or Southeast Asia. There are plenty of incompetents out there who got into office by a mixture of corruption, luck, and lies. By making Trump into someone special, you are buying into his self-mythologizing—which is something we should all resist.
Robert Zubrin (Golden, CO)
What about Caliban?
Paula from Nova Scotia (<br/>)
This would have to be in comic book form for duh-lard* to read it, and he still wouldn't get it *Once again, I suggest my preferred nickname for the POTUS. It's apt both psychically and physically. (He wouldn't get this either.)
AS (NY)
The Heart of Darkness - Trump as Kurtz
MoneyRules (New Jersey)
OMG. Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter are running this country.
Trevor (Sydney, Australia)
Could be Dr Faustus or, perhaps more appropriately, Mephistopheles?
jdsrlf (Naples, FL)
Only mention him in a news report if he talks about policy and send ONE pool reporter to his peacock preening sessions (aka White House “news” conferences).
Tom (New Jersey)
Trump has been a boon for the press, particularly the press on the left. Ask your masters at the NYT what Trump has done for circulation. The press is Trump's criminal confederate; they are symbiotes. They need each other so badly, I hate to think what depths the press will sink to to get a second Trump term.
Jenny Dolfen (Jülich, Germany)
You forgot the Mueller in the Tower, and after the Duke of Rosenstein has refused to murder him with pillows, Donald III toes around asking Black Willtaker to do the deed. I tried and tried, but Putin is hard. "A Vlad, a Vlad, my kingdom for a Vlad", maybe?
Hugh Massengill (Eugene Oregon)
Central American writers have written brilliantly about living in a banana republic, though they usually don't bother with the fictionalization. They just peak out the front door. In a banana republic, a foreign power, or powers, has gotten the powerful by the throat, and lets a few of them lead as long as they ignore the plight of their own people and instead run the country as employees of the foreign power. Today, in America, we have a Russian Stooge sitting in the White House, making millions for himself and his billionaire cronies, looting the treasury via insane tax cuts, and Putin gloats. In some versions of the story the people rebel, but since we have an utterly corrupt Republican Party, thrilled to orgasm at the very thought of another far right Supreme Court seat, rebellion is going to be difficult, in this American Banana Republic. Hugh
Doc (Atlanta)
Lewis Black works for me. This mad king and the crazies surrounding him don't merit intellectually-driven novels or plays. Tweetville doesn't work so well when it becomes the fodder for ridicule or just a good joke. OK, so we're going to hell in a hand basket. Nothing new there. The ride down is more enjoyable when the First Family and their court jesters are woven into punch lines. Deny these creatures any semblance of respect. Laugh at them. Enjoy the angry reactions. Lesson: During World War II, Winston Churchill, guessing that Hitler monitored BBC broadcasts, began almost daily contributions ridiculing the tyrant's bad habits, appearance, insane speeches and even his failed efforts at paining. The enemy became the paper hanger.
Alfredo Villanueva (NYC)
Let's be gender correct: for witches, I nominate Coulter, Conway and Sanders. For Lady Macbeth: Ivanka. Evil courtiers: Bannon, Stone, Giuliani. And Jared as a court jester!
Dennis Callegari (Australia)
A comedy or tragedy, say you? Nay, my masters, it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. --- Wm S
Anna (S)
Let's not just blame the journalists. Who do you think reads the articles about Trump's tweets? I am sure the newspapers keep track of how many clicks each article has received. How about a boycott of cheap non-substantive Trump trash?
Marie (Canada)
Start by not publishing the Tweets. They are not worthy of space in reputable newspapers or on news sites. And why not avoid the "press conferences"? You know what he is going to say, and it shouldn't be newsworthy much of the time. The President of the United States should be going about his business in a serious and committed manner - it is a hard job and very demanding of his full attention. Perhaps if he were receiving less attention for his every foolish remark he would get down to the real work involved in leading a great country. Give America a President again.
Glenn Ribotsky (Queens)
I'd much rather see what H. L. Mencken or Ambrose Bierce would make of the Saga of Orange 45, as I think the dissection of He Who Must Be Displayed would take a very sharp scalpel. It might be true that history first plays as tragedy (Bush) and then replays as farce (Trump). But just because a situation is farcical doesn't make it any less dangerous; in fact, it may be more so.
Diane J Abatemarco (Lambertville New Jersey )
I don’t usually agree with Mr. Stephens but today I do. The media needs to stop feeding the monster of hegemony. I would relish hearing and reading the news if it did not constantly quote the tweeting of the president or covering his lies when he talks to the press as he walks on and off the White House lawn. Readers need to understand the truth and media sources are responsible for reporting truth.
nora m (New England)
The first time the Times reported one of Trump's tweets back during the presidential campaign I balked. Tweets are not news; they are more akin to gossip and do not belong on the front page or any news source. Ah, but they were shiny bait and the press swallowed it whole. They got lots of clicks because they were outrageous, incendiary, and - frankly for the press - irresistible. They also gave Trump a ton of free publicity. Free is his favorite price, as we all know. Well, the price of all that free press has come due in the form of a president who is ruining the country, world stability, and the very earth on which we stand. Everyone throws up their hands and blames the poor suckers in fly-over country. However, much of the responsibility actually resides in four other locations: Russia, the enabling GOP, social media outlets, and - yes - the press that still cannot draw itself away from the glitter to focus like a laser beam on the destruction itself. Starve the beast indeed, and watch him shrink like the wicked witch of the west when Dorothy throws water on her. Watching the demise of the wicked president will be every bit as satisfying.
MegaDucks (America)
What Trump is is the result of the majority letting the minority and their "gut" take control of the destiny of our Nation. The majority lost focus, commitment to the bigger picture, energy, seriousness, and tactical acuity - in essence casually gave up to the minority. Understandable, takes lots to be a good participant in democracy; energy, thought, and action in EVERY election. And our system favors a minority rule. The deck was stacked to protect slave owners - but more fundamentally minority regional/ideological elitists. An aristocracy of sorts. That structure survives today. The Progressive battles try to amend things that favor elitist minorities to favor more egalitarian majorities while still being moral, right, and proper. Not easy! It entails much thought, review, and try for fit to be just, and ethically and morally intellectually honest. Structurally difficult because there are institutional barriers to prevent such success - barriers like the Senate as formulated. And one must often expand the interpretation of the Constitution -harder by the day! To the contrary GOP's battles aim to preserve/strengthen the aristocracy at all costs. Easier structurally and easier intellectually because truth, rigor, facts, justice, and the broader good not so important. They'll stomach a thug like Trump because he is very useful. Amoral, his vile vindictive narcissist actions will align with GOP desired outcomes with little steering required. Scary sad!
Zeke27 (NY)
trump is just a minor character, strutting on the stage, full of sound and fury signifying nothing. His transactional attempts at self enrichment and search for adulation is more an anecdote in a psychological study of mental disease than good literature. Shakespeare's evil characters were written as human, deserving sympathy as their pride brought them down. Nothing trump does or is generates reSpect nor sympathy. His stage show will be over after a very short run.
Mogwai (CT)
"Mediocrity". A sad play that Bill Shakes... would have cried over. This era cements in my mind the mediocrity of America. How Americans are so full of themselves they cannot see the truths evident in their faces. A trump loser would never win in a thriving Democracy. Americans think America is so great, but the reality is that the billionaires long-ago sold out your future for another zero on their back accounts. You can take that fake capitalism all you want but I will rage against it into the night.
matteo (NL)
The core of his (DJT) twitterpolicy seems to be: I will hurt jou more and more if you don't give me what I want. 'You' is the segments of society that he hates or that may influence in order to rapidly give in. So hurting oppositional forces and binding potential influencers. Shutting the southern border will affect industy and companies. Leaving the border open just for them is not possible. Temer tantrum at the cost of 800.000 workers and society. Who will give this grown up child a good spanking?
C. Heywood (Augusta, GA)
Or, as Trump/Richard faces increasingly certain destruction on the field of battle, we hear his plaintive yell, "A wall, a wall, my kingdom for a wall!"
Meredith (San Jose)
Shakespeare? Really? I don’t think he’d have wasted much time on this one. There’s no real drama there, just a lot of chaos, confusion, and churn. Shakespeare dealt in themes that had some moral subtlety to them. There’s no more subtlety here than there is in a truckload of manure.
Peter (Syracuse)
Perhaps the solution for the media is to begin each sentence with "Lying again, Trump said/tweeted/remarked...." Or "Demonstrating once again that he is unfit and unprepared for office, Trump...." And losing the phrases "Democrats say..."; "Critics of Trump say..."; " Trump's base...." and "Some Republicans are nervous about...." There are not two sides. There are no Republicans with integrity. Trump's base is small and shrinking. There are facts and reality and then there is Trumpworld. Always, and I do mean always, be committed to pointing out the difference.
Al Singer (Upstate NY)
Quite clever, Bret, good satire with an appropriate recommendation - to ignore Trump's tweets and stop sending reporters to the spin room. I understand why Bret says these things won't happen, but perhaps if more columnists raised the ideas they would catch hold for Trump's next two years. It would be a great start if the Times, Post, MSNBC and CNN came out with a statement that they would no longer publish tweets that lacked any substantive, official policy announcement. At the same time these organizations should send only interns to the press briefings, sending out an announcements that lead reporters will not return until the president and his press secretary started telling the truth. The goal of restoring truth is vital. I also don't like tax money paying for a president who sits in front of TV all day and twitters away like a petulant teenager.
PETER EBENSTEIN MD (WHITE PLAINS NY)
The news media CAN stop covering Trumps tweet's and grotesque utterances unless they contain significant policy actions. Trump, no matter how stupid and irrelevant, makes entertaining copy? Hello? That attitude by the press is what got him elected.
Chris Buczinsky (Arlington Heights)
I like imagining what Pynchon would make of Trump’s labyrinth of delusion and dishonesty. Pynchon would serve him up for us Lewis Carroll style, as a pink-nosed rabbit leading Uncle Sam down the rabbit hole of the postmodern pathetic. In the camera crew’s confusing spotlights, a band of Dodos plays “Hail to the Chief,” a team of playing cards—paper thin human beings gambling for democracy’s future—introduces the Great Golden Rabbit. The Rabbit steps to the podium and delivers his speech—incomprehensibly, munching leafy green 100 dollar bills. Pynchon a la Carroll, that’s my vote.
Bronwyn (Montpelier, VT)
In "Tyrant," Stephen Greenblatt did a masterful job of describing Shakespeare's nasty rulers as a pointed criticism of Trump. Recommended reading. Trump also has parallels in the evil characters of Choderlos de Laclos' "Liaisons Dangereuses" in that he has a sadistic streak and enjoys hurting the innocent. But the Vicomte de Valmont and Madame de Meurteuil are far smarter than Trump is.
Dan (All Over The U.S.)
Conservatives don't get it. They maintain the illusion that Trump is an outlier to their beliefs, when in fact he is the end result of their beliefs. All conservatives, racists or not, got us Trump. The end result of liberal beliefs was Obama who, even if one disagreed with his stands on issues, did not debase the office of President, did not provoke fights just because that was all he was good at, and did not enable racism. That's the ultimate Shakespeare tragedy--conservatives who cannot look to themselves to see what destruction their highfalutin ideas got them and the rest of us. Instead, they want to distance themselves from the responsibility they bear by criticizing Trump or mocking him or by criticizing him. Look at yourselves instead, please, conservatives. Conservativism had the possibility for only one end result--a Trump and fascism. Others could see that--you couldn't. You destroyed the country you thought you could save. Well done. But keep making jokes about it if that's what makes you feel OK about yourselves.
Kathy Garland (Amelia Island, FL)
I so agree with you Dan!
Callie (Maine)
As I read this essay, I suddenly realized that if Trump were to read it, he wouldn't understand it.
TLimp (San Francisco )
Rather than not reporting Trump’s blather, create a special section of just that kind of coverage. You would be giving us a way to find relief (by skipping over it) while not totally protecting us from Trump fatigue.
Mark Dobias (On the Border)
It’s been done about 60 years ago in numerous episodes of the Twilight Zone. It’s a Good Life and The Monsters are Due on Maple Street are two examples. The is a TZ marathon this New Year’s. It may be instructive to tune in.
JABarry (Maryland )
If you are looking for a literary figure to capture the present day American nightmare, look no further than authors of the works which make up the "Theatre of the Absurd." Samuel Beckett, Albert Camus, Harold Pinter and others could write masterpieces to satirize the absurd rise of Donaldo, the imp, who was embraced by fools looking for their savior, but who were served their deserved meaningless extinction. Present day America is rich with absurdity, false pride, self-deceit, great irony. The stuff of great literary works of art, but, it is not literary works of art that we need. We need the hard factual journalism of The NYT, The WaPo, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, et al. We need to keep pounding facts and reality upon the heads of the Trumpbats and we need the American institutions (especially Special Counsels), which our more wise forefathers created, to deliver great doses of harsh reality to Donaldo and the misnamed Republican Party. The failure to shake and wake America out of this self-imposed nightmare is unthinkable.
mouseone (Windham Maine)
Agreed that a ban on reporting tweets is not likely, but surely we can stop putting a photo of the man on top of almost every article that has his name in it. We all know what he looks like, and having to face him constantly with his scowls, grimaces, and jolly inappropriate grins is nauseating.
Jean (Cleary)
Just stop broadcasting his rallies. That alone would drive him crazy.
DW (Philly)
It can't be fictionalized, it's all too real. It's certainly not funny, but I wouldn't dignify it with the name tragedy, either.
Carson Drew (River Heights)
Trump could never be a tragic hero. He has no positive qualities whatsoever. He's beneath contempt.
Stop and Think (Buffalo, NY)
Well done, Bret, but we may wish to peer backwards a few more millennia to draw a better analogy. Rather than Falstaff, Richard III, or even Mussolini, Trump may be better compared to Pharaoh. You know, the dude who likes gold, jewels, and builds big monuments to honor himself. And he's the one who enslaves people to do the monument work that his family and friends find distastefully dirty, distracting, dangerous, and demanding. Oh, and about that other thing....He doesn't believe warnings about the coming of plagues. But they came, and smote Pharaoh's family and his MEGA mob.
Midway (Midwest)
President Trump is not a one character play. Instead of showboating your knowledge of Shakespeare and Russian Lit, how about something more contemporary? How about instead of trying to explain, you seek -- St. Francis-style -- first to understand? Shed your arrogance and ask: why DOES President Trump resonate with so many Americans? Why do we care about the impact of open borders in our own hometowns and communities? Why do we seek the end of foreign aid to the Middle East, where it turns out Journalist Kashoggi might have been simply a penname for the tne Qatar operatives he was communicating with? What do Americans who have lived for generations here understand that the Coasties are missing? Ask and keep searching for answers to gain wisdom, Mr. Stephens. Nobody much reads fiction books anymore, especially not the ones publishing houses are putting out today...
Tim C (West Hartford CT)
As for the Lysistrata/starve-the-beast scenario, it became clear a long time ago that the media were (and are) complicit in whatever evil the Donald inflicts. The Jim Accostas and Joe Scarboroughs and Katie Turs and Yamiche Alcindors and the rest, they need Trump and his tweets the way a drowning man needs air. There is no way the press would opt out of covering every POTUS jibe or lie. They claim a responsibility to do so. Having said that, the media also share responsibility for abetting his ravaging of America's reputation, spirit and dignity.
Lisa Murphy (Orcas Island)
I’ve said from the beginning that the tweets should be reported in a separate column on a back page. Trump’s tweets of the day. Read ‘em if you want to. Send the cub reporter to listen to Baghdad Bob giver her press briefings and never interview KellyAnn. I assure the NYT that I will be much happier NOT to have the lies and cruelties of trump entering my brain on a daily basis.
Mack (Los Angeles)
Mr. Stephens wanders too far -- both chronologically and geographically: 1946, Robert Penn Warren's novel, All The KIng's Men. (1949 film with Broderick Crawford as a proto-Trumpian cynical and corrupt populist). 1930: William Burnett's novel, Little Caesar. (1931 film with Edward G. Robinson as a Trumpian racketeer with dying words: "Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?") Bob Blakey, author of the federal RICO statute, has refused to confirm or deny that he coined the Racketeer-Influenced & Corrupt Organizations name with this film in mind, but RICO may be the legacy of Trump's conduct over the past decade.
Karen Lee (Washington, DC)
I'd write Trump's life as a series of Goofus and Gallant comic strips from Highlights magazine for children.
Joe (Washington DC)
Trump is neither an aberration of history, nor a disruption. Like every predecessor since Washington, he arose from an electorate -- comprising millions of "ordinary Americans" -- that willed his presidency into existence. Thus far, the press has done no more than a passing, anecdote-fueled, job of understanding and explaining why that occurred. Stephens' essay is in the family of probably 10,001 in a series of mournful opinion pieces published here and elsewhere that read more like self-pity than helpful for we ordinary Americans trying to navigate through this age.
Michael (Dutton, Michigan)
Your thoughts about how the media should handle AllThings Trumpiam - “… by denying him what he craves most? Put an absolute ban on quoting his tweets unless they contain substantive policy announcements. Stop sending reporters to his press conferences, which long ago became theaters of no information. Write more about what the administration does, less about what Trump says. Report news that has nothing to do with the administration at all.” - won’t happen, for sure. He craves the attention and they crave the bullet points, the never ending source of no-effort story lines ... a perfect codependent relationship. But it really is what should happen. Focus on real policy, not childish, belligerent, angry tweets. Help the readers kick their own addiction to insanity.
merc (east amherst, ny)
Life as Donald Trump sees it is simply a scripted series of events viewed through a Reality TV lens. Thus, and clearly inadvertently-Trump lacks the ability to think intuitively and does not know the difference as he imagines things as if they're being played out on the small screen, that is, on television, versus on life's 'big screen'. And by the way, '.....as if they're "played out on the small screen" by a very small man.'
Sajwert (NH)
Media ignoring Trump would do only one thing. He would, as a child does when having a tantrum, simply up the anger, frustration and loathsome behavior. There is no a parent who has had a child have a tantrum with yelling, door slamming etc. etc. and tried to ignore it. By being ignored, the tantrum ratches up until, finally, some peace is made or at least calmed so some compromise can be made. However, compromise is for adults, and children, like Trump, see compromise as losing.
DO5 (Minneapolis)
You don't have to go that deep into fine literature to find equivalents to reality. Try the film, "Halloween". Trump is Michael Meyers, the inhuman fiend who won't go away. Each film is worse than the one before but it attracts more fans, who cannot wait for the next installment. The more perverted his acts the more people try to look like him on the next October 31. Unfortunately reality is worse than fiction in this case.
Bryan (New Orleans)
"extremely effective, spear-wise. " Busted up laughing at a great line. Thanks
Bob Chisholm (Canterbury, United Kingdom)
As a character, Trump is completely bereft of noble qualities, so he is unworthy of tragedy. But when we look at his administration, we see something approaching a farce. It's easy to picture Trump as a character in a Marx brothers movie, or a Three Stooges episode. He would be the grumpy, erratic boss driven to fury by his incompetent minions--a fair description of his White House. Unfortunately, we may not be able to laugh once this show is over. But the only way to really understand Trump is forget any literary or show biz precedent, and look instead to the audience he aims to please. And it's a very ugly crowd.
ERP (Bellows Falls, VT)
Come on. Mr Stephens has missed out on "Hansel and Gretel", "Goldilocks", and "Death of a Salesman". He's not really trying. We can find a Trump moral in almost any story, as an avalanche of journalistic opinion (much of it appearing in news sections) has demonstrated for over two years now. And academics apparently spend much of their time playing the game too. It's a shame that more of them aren't devoting attention to coming up with policies.
Jdrider (Virginia)
Yes! Write less about what Trump says! - more about what his policies are doing to our nation...stop giving him (vs. his policies) the news coverage he craves. He's such a narcissist that he believes we all wait with baited breath to receive his daily tweets. We don't! Stop reporting them - please!
Beth Portolese (New York)
I totally agree. Stop giving Trump what he wants and reporting everything he says (mostly lies) and does. We need Trump free days in the media and less attention on his ridiculous Twitter account. He is like a child who behaves badly so that all the attention is on them. He is nothing without the media so stop giving him as much attention.
Labete (Cala Ginepro)
It is strange that Bret Stephens wrote this column: all the misinformation and lies are coming from people opposed to Trump. "Write more about what the administration does, less about what Trump says," writes 'conservative' columnist Bret Stephens. I carry around a list of 150 items that Trump has DONE or HAD DONE. If it weren't for Trump, the administration would do nothing. Surely you're not suggesting the Dems do anything now except avoid Trump, are you, Bret Stephens. The Dems haven't done anything except blow out hot air ever since Trump came to power. Except oppose Trump and our Wall, right?
unclejake (fort lauderdale, fl.)
"Bartleby the Scrivener" by Melville. Depressed , alone and unable to shake loose from his past dealings. Fits Trump .
William Trainor (Rock Hall,MD)
Yes indeed, stop quoting his tweets. Wait until he puts pen to paper, but soft, does he actually write or read for that matter? He is a dyslexic, so he is stunned to see his writing, if you call it that, get quoted everywhere. He has celebrity not wisdom. He is the Kardashian president, or the Manchurian Apprentice perhaps. He feeds on the applause and the notoriety, not the acknowledgement of wisdom or lasting historical note. None of his tweets will be remembered and he will be remembered in history as the buffoon who fooled the American people aided by the lazy press, who keep writing about the file cabinets (emails) of his opponents and amplifying his medieval grunts (tweets). The rabble loves the fight, they are entertained, unwilling to see his deal with mephistopheles, hopefully more entertained by his triumphant extraction to the dark world.
Bob Bunsen (Portland, Oregon)
I am still baffled by descriptions of Donald Trump as “magnetic” or “charismatic.” I am repelled by both his appearance and his oratory, and the ideas that spring from that “very, very large brain” he claims to possess are stupefyingly ludricrous. The reality that Americans support this incompetent and unqualified buffoon is a crushing indictment of the American culture and education system.
BeamInMyEye (Boston)
Dear Brett, if I may take an out of school stab at this, Trump is the resurrected living version of that grotesque, unflattering character in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod Crane, the fictional first ugly American. Like Ichabod, Trump is the material man. And as Ichabod played the scribe weaving tales of witches and demons, Trump, deludes himself via Twitter, in 140 character stories about the ghosts in his closet. Ichabod’s quest is to marry Katrina, trumps to marry as many lies as possible and defeat his arch rivals, civility and decorum, who in turn must impersonate the headless horseman to defeat trump in the showdown when the democrats take the house on Jan 3, 2019.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
We just live to become dead in the US. Where else would one find a popular band who call themselves “The Grateful Dead”? Becoming dead makes one an authority here. The dead elected Trump.
Guido Malsh (Cincinnati)
Quite simply, this is about the good and the bad. And it's ugly. The rest is way over my pay grade
walking man (Glenmont NY)
I wonder how many of Trump's base listened to Bob Dylan in the 60's and attended anti-Vietnam war rallies? Who provides the rallying cry now? Perhaps what we need are not the Shakespeares of old but the next generation of songwriters to emplore us to "gather round people wherever you roam and admit that the waters around you have grown". I doubt the likes of Nicolle Wallace or Rachel Maddow will win the Nobel Prize as Dylan did. So perhaps, Bret, you ought to try your hand at lyrics. Shouldn't be too hard for a man with your writing skills. After all how hard would it be to put together a way to look at Trump that might go: "I wish that for just one time I could stand inside your shoes and just for that one moment I could be you. Yes, I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes. You'd know what a drag it is to see you." Give it a whirl, Bret.
Brian (Oakland, CA)
Trump's biographer should have been Gore Vidal. Previous Presidents fit into archetypes, even Nixon, with John Adam's paranoia. Many noted Obama had a bit of Woodrow Wilson, in spite of Wilson's racism. G.W. Bush had the bumbling, twisted self deprecation of Harding. Historians group Presidents in categories like Jeffersonians, Wilsonians, Hamiltonians, and Jacksonians, and put Trump in the latter one. But that's a square peg in round hole. Vidal broke these molds, most dramatically with Burr. Aaron Burr was a wealthy New York city playboy, philanderer, immoral, untethered to ideology, media darling and rabble rouser. He is the most Trumpian of Americans, and Vidal adored him. Burr conspired with foreign gov'ts to overthrow the U.S. gov't. He was acquitted of treason, by the Supreme Court's larger than life first chief, John Marshall, a Jefferson opponent. We credit Marshall with curbing Presidential power, but this very case destroyed the Constitutional definition of treason, which may need new life for Trump. Gore Vidal would celebrate Trump's appetites, egotism, vainglory, cruelty. Trump is not tragedy, not comedy, but farce. Vidal's work, however well researched, has farcical sensibility. The President who like to go on Howard Stern would have found him a kindred spirit. The author who resurrected Burr, who defined "American values" as "Lying and cheating. There's nothing better," died too soon.
ACS (Princeton, NJ)
Does DJT remind anyone of the “King and the Duke” in Huck Finn? At the end of their bamboozling the town, I recall they are tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail once the citizens realize they are con men. One can only hope!
Michael Steinberg (Tuckahoe, NY)
Trump would be in the graphic novel section: First, to capture his gruesomeness; Second, so that his base wouldn't have to bother with big words.
Teresa (Bethesda)
Similar fictional script by Dan Henninger in the WSJ a few days ago. I have the same thoughts here--no amount of wit, sarcasm, humor can pacify us anymore, regarding this amoral, lying, megalomaniacal, incompetent man-baby known as Donald Trump. Been there, done that over and over again in the last 2 years with the likes of Collins, Blow, Bruni etc. I have been bordering on depression, living with fear and anxiety daily since this lower life form got elected. All of the media is now complicit in this daily reality show. Just report real NEWS, which there is plenty of. NPR has figured it out. The rest of the media? Mostly DRAMA on steroids. When there is no natural disaster for the media to divert them from the daily dribble of Trump, they simply manufacture imminent disaster 24/7 with "Breaking News".
amm (Anchorage, AK)
I've been thinking that he's more like someting from Twain: the Duke and the Dauphin on the raft with Huck and Jim, going down the Mississippi, cheating the crowds in each town with an ersatz show. The Duke and the Dauphin are eventually tarred and feathered by a final crowd.
Paul McGlasson (Athens, GA)
No, not Falstaff. Never Falstaff. More like Henry Drax in the novel The North Water. Sheer malice, destroying everyone, sucking the universe into himself, until the ship itself sinks.
Eric (Los Angeles, CA)
How about King Joffrey from Game of Thrones, per Hasan Minhaj
ggallo (Middletown, NY)
Let's have more annoying stuff about this guy. The media had their chance to hold this person's feet to the fire and refused to do so hiding behind some nonsense about journalistic ethics, while bathing in the rating$. Right in this article Stephens has the answer and then says, "That ain't gonna happen." Yeah. It ain't gonna happen because ... see above.^ And now? Watching some news program, yesterday, reporters were saying the president is lying, every other sentence. Really? How many years too late is that? And what changed that now it's "cool" to use "lie?" Nothing changed. The collective media was cowardly lagging behind reality, and mostly still is. Recently, I heard one person say, (paraphrased), "Reporters have to challenge the president in the moment he is speaking his untruths." Again, this was apparent to me at the beginning, so I don't want to give any credit for coming up with this so late. Ya helped put the monster in charge and now ya wanna write some story or movie or theatre about it? #1-Writers are just gonna muck it up. 2nd #1- I'm living through it. I don't need no half-baked tale about it. So, what to do? Fact check this knucklehead before you report it. He says things like, "They said," "Everyone is talking about it," "I heard," and so many other so apparently made up sources. Don't quote him until you verify. Fantasizing about some future story? Sure. Anything unproductive would be great. What's that? "Would anyone care for some tea?"
Nat Ehrlich (Ann Arbor)
Sometimes the easiest targets are overlooked: Trump is The Manchurian Candidate.
Glen (Texas)
I think Bret's final suggestion has great merit, though, as he recognizes, it has a fatal flaw. Looking to the ancients for inspiration has its own shortcomings. Deciding which of the scrolls to follow would lead to prolonged discussion and delay the rollout unnecessarily. The length of time needed to make character substitutions and track the original plotline and necessitate pushing pegs of one type through holes of another. Rather than look to the classics in literature (they would sail right over Trump's coiffure, after all, and he is the one we want to understand what is happening to him the most), turn instead to that classic of gutter-level skewering, "Mad Magazine." Harvey Kurtzman, William Gaines and their "usual gang of idiots" would be the perfect foil to the tragi-comedy that is Trump & Co. (Or should it be Trump $ Co?) "Mad" is more appropriate in every way: Monthly publishing, to keep current with the slapstick chain of disasters unfolding; comic book format, for the obvious reason of short, tweet-size attention span and garish colors to capture Trump's true hue; unlimited material for the back page "fold-in" feature (Trump's hair, just for starters). "Mad" kept me sane and laughing from 7th grade on into college. Covering the Trump Tsunami in the "Mad" way is just the medicine we need to survive this disaster.
WDP (Long Island)
On the NBC evening news last night, we were nine minutes into the newscast before Trump was mentioned, and I gotta say, it felt strange. And good. But you are right, if we survive these years, I suspect a fair amount of fascinating literature will be a byproduct. Comedy, tragedy - it is an extraordinary human story we see unfolding. I wish Shakespeare were here to interpret for us!
LesR22 (Floral Park, NY)
"Isn’t it time the news media try something analogous with Trump, by denying him what he craves most? Put an absolute ban on quoting his tweets unless they contain substantive policy announcements. Stop sending reporters to his press conferences, which long ago became theaters of no information. " - B. Stevens it's way too late now, but if only he had been given the same amount of media coverage prior to November of '0-16 as his opponent received, instead of wall-to-wall reporting of his every word and campaign rally 24/7, we wouldn't even be having this discussion.
nora m (New England)
@LesR22 The NYT could have and should have treated him the same way they treated Bernie: never report anything unless forced to and then do so in the snarkiest way possible.
Frank Leibold (Virginia)
@LesR22 Here's a novel approach not tried by anyone I've read. Let's talk about, as you said "What he's done, not said." It's also a good time to review 2018. The economy enjoyed a new 3% GDP growth with consumer confidence reaching a 17 year high while unemployment a 50 year low. On trade the new USMCA helps American farmers and China lowering U.S. auto tariffs helped. We are out of the WTO, PTP, and Iran deal. Dereg. contributed with a new policy of eliminating two for every new one. The First Step program will help those in prison while Try It First Act aides those in need of new meds. America is safer with 2k felons deported and no terrorist attacks since Trump took office. Being energy independent with Keystone and ANWAR in reserve bodes well for the future. Vets are happier as their VA can now fire the incompetent who have created delays for them. Globally, the ISIS caliphait is gone, Assad no longer is gassing his people while North Korea has returned the remains of American soldiers. Even NATO has pledged $10B more for their defenses. Hostages have returned from Iran, NK and Turkey and the U.S.embassy has moved to Jerusalem. Finally, SCOTUS has Justices Gorsuch and Kavenaugh. I would say it was a pretty good year. Don't you agree?
Kathy Garland (Amelia Island, FL)
Absolutely not!
Christy (WA)
Instead of an elitist foray into fictional characters that might be applied to Trump -- he has no character, by the way -- I would suggest that Mr. Stephens proposes more realistic solutions on how to deal with the "hill of flesh" in the White House. How about a nationwide referendum that answers such questions as: 1 -- Do we want a wall on our southern border? 2 -- Do we want Medicare for all? 3 -- Do we really want our air and water befouled by the EPA's regulatory rollbacks? ETC.....
SUE (North Carolina)
I recommend "Tyrant," by Stephen Greenblatt, who takes ALL of Shakespeare's villains and draws the appropriate parallels to our tyrant-in-process. His comments on "Richard III" are particularly interesting--and frightening.
swbv (CT)
Network, not Richard III. When the sources of our visual news progressed from 3 to 3 million, celebrity succeeded facts. Those of us not living within the beltway would all benefit from reputable news outlets focusing a lot more on what the administration is doing, what is actually happening across the country and the world and a lot less on Tweets and being "Outraged". If we are outraged at everything emanating from the White House ad its enablers, we no longer have the band-width to see the truly outrageous.
Yankelnevich (Denver)
No doubt, in addition to reviving the Democratic Party as a local, state and national party, the Trump era, mercifully, when it ends in January 2021, will also revive fiction and drama. An entire literature fictional and nonfictional will arise from the Trumpian period and it will last the balance of the century. Political and cultural history too, will experience a renaissance of energy that will parallel the artistic deluge. I am not be facetious. The post-Trump world will be like Thanksgiving everyday for a generation. Okay, now I am being facetious.
MKlik (Vermont)
While I recognize writing less about Trump is "not likely to happen", if you really want to do something about Trump you, Mr Stephens, could flesh out this idea some more (figure out exactly the parameters as you started to do in this piece) and start a campaign for it. I think if just one highly reputable news source tired it that would start a snowball rolling downhill and many more would gladly follow.
Thomas (Singapore)
Personally, I'd go with two more modern books: The Talented Mr. Ripley and Fantastic Mr. Fox as Russian plays or even Shakespearian drama is way too complex for a figure like Trump and in reality Trump does have a tendency to get away with some loot in the end.
flydoc (Lincoln, NE)
@Thomas Don't forget "Being There" Of course, Trump is also malevolent...
RAD61 (New York)
I agree wholeheartedly with the idea of ignoring Trump unless he has something substantive to say. Everything else is political posturing for his base and does not merit attention. Besides, we don’t need Trump on the front pages all the time. He loves that, hence his constant stirring of the pot to get attention. There are other things going on in the world that are more interesting.
joyce (santa fe)
More interesting, but not nearly as destructive. Trump has the ability to fix attention like a snake escaping the snake pit does.
Janet (Key West)
Regarding the idea of the press ignoring tweets and other bad presidential behavior-I have often thought that very same thing. The press should take a page from the work of Pavlov and Skinners, two behaviorist psychologists. If the press only paid attention to constructive and positive tweets, remarks, behavior, in terms of the aforementioned psychologists, reinforced good, appropriate behavior, because of the president's insatiable need for attention, would he actually begin to show more of that kind of behavior? Or would 99% of his actions just go unreported? In any event, watching Trump dissemble, is being unable to avert one's eyes from a train wreck only with the world's population on board.
Katherine Cagle (Winston-Salem, NC)
@Janet, the problem with that is few of Trump's tweets are constructive and positive.
Kathryn (New York, NY)
Richard lll is evil, but he’s also brilliant. That’s no good. It’s more of an Anne Rice novel about a family of vampires who inhabit the earth long enough to plunge the world into chaos and destruction. The original vampires get killed off by a hero named Mueller, but ultimately It’s too late - much of the population has been infected.
Mark Keller (Portland, Oregon)
Nice piece, but with a major flaw: Yes, Trumpism is a disease, and we should remove him from office; but it is very important to understand Trump did not cause the disease, and so removing him will not cure the disease. Here's the argument: As Republican policy positions have become less and less popular, the GOP has had to distract the electorate to remain in power, and has had to embrace steadily darker and darker methods over time. Three decades ago, Reagan-esque Jingoism and "Gays, Guns and God" wedge issues were enough to maintain a fear-based political relevancy; but since the overwhelming majority of US citizens figured out that they knew and liked gay people, and they knew and liked people of other faiths, they had to ramp up more sinister tactics. Make it harder for brown people and poor people to vote: gerrymander districts, reduce the number of polling stations and require superfluous government ID cards. Fight demographic trends by demonizing immigrants and stoking racism Finally, lie, lie and lie some more: "Huge tax cuts combined with increased spending produces a healthy economy", "Universal healthcare won't work here"; "The pharmaceutical industry cannot survive if we don't protect them with corporate welfare"; and on, and on. No. We should not ignore Trump. We should document how Lee Atwater, Reagan, Newt Gingrich, Denny Hastert, the NRA, Karl Rove, Mitch McConnell and the no-longer-Grand-Old-Party paved the way for our fact-free administration.
marty (oregon)
@Mark Keller I agree with most of your statement except that I have already read numerous articles in a variety of websites that document much of the historical basis of where we are now. Unfortunately I don't think that most readers read those type of stories or care about the historical precedents.
Knucklehead (Charleston SC)
@Mark Keller Personally I've been flabbergasted by Republicans since my parents expressed dismay over Goldwater in 1964. They don't believe in the golden rule.
Deborah (Montclair, NJ)
@Mark Keller Bravo. The Times should give you a column.
kurt (traverse city)
Trump may cause tragedies but he is not a tragic figure, he is a void. His legislative supporters within the GOP fall short of being tragic figures for the same reason, they can't conceive of any thing larger or better than themselves or their self-enriching and power hungry goals. Trump, by way of metaphor. is best viewed as a Venn diagram. a solitary gold-plated form in rectangle that will always be to small for his ego but existing in a square infinitely larger than any world that he could conceive.
Ramos (NC)
Trump is an aberration in American psyche.This is obsession that that has no end in sight. Trump has made history for himself and his fanatics who deem themselves the army of God while being duped to serve the worst devil human imagination can ever create.Even the classic writers could not even capture the idiocy of Trump the trumpeter.America is simply unbeatable in one respect; no other country can ever vote such a megalomaniac and erratic person to the highest office in land.
Marsha Pembroke (Providence, RI)
The trouble is that Trump is NOT an aberration in the American psyche— at least not for that of a third of Americans!
Djt (Dc)
movie title: the greatest showman meets the disaster artist. best lyrics: the man who sold the world. director and lead actor . DJT supporting actor: m pence best visual effects: marlon bundo
James Lee (Arlington, Texas)
Since the real Donald Trump resembles the caricature of a human being, satire might fail to capture the true essence of the hollow man behind the phony facade. How can even a genius like Shakespeare expose a man who daily gleefully whips open his overcoat to reveal the disgusting reality of his inner self? As for tragedy, that might not work either. Trump and his closest followers seem to lack the self-awareness and analytical ability to grasp the loathsome character of the man who squats in the Oval Office. Celebrating him as a healthy disruptive force in a corrupt society, Trump and his legions would undoubtedly embrace the tiresome cliche that one cannot make an omelet without breaking some eggs. Such willful cluelessness makes a mockery of the tragic element in human existence. Perhaps Faulkner or Joyce, with their mastery of stream-of-consciousness writing, could come closest to capturing the authentic Donald Trump. In his case, however, their portrait would uncover the incoherence at the core of his consciousness. A good working title for their expose might be "The Sound and the Fury."
Halt &amp; Catch Fire (San Fransisco)
Isn’t it time the news media try something analogous with Trump, by denying him what he craves most? aks the man who constantly writes about Trump. While this erudite article is somewhat amusing, it should not distract us from the fact that the GOP has full ownership of its creature and still -to this very day- aiding and abating Trumps' reckless actions.
Rob D (Oregon)
What to call DJT and his presidency now be it a tragedy, a comedy or a satire does not matter. Leave such labels to art and history. B Stevens' idea worth investing time, thought and energy in now is a rededication and focus on the news by reporting on the DJT administration and the presidency. By some means starve DJT, the person, of a significant fraction of the time wasted on his antics, lies and tweets he receives in every news cycle.
JCam (MC)
Though I don't agree at all with Bret Stephen's notions of casting - (Melania can't play Lady MacBeth, are you joking??) - I am impressed by his list of rules for journalists covering Trump. While he didn't take it all that seriously - or at least thought it was too fantastical - I think every single point was excellent, and I sincerely wish mainstream media would adhere to a strict code that avoids the trap of inadvertently disseminating Trumpian propaganda by repeating it endlessly without serious correction and/or interpretation. The older journalists seem to have had more trouble adapting to the new scenario of reporting on a potentially treasonous presidency.
Robert B (Brooklyn, NY)
It would be nice to play "what fiction most becomes Trump," but unfortunately we live in reality, and the author played a material part in making it. Trump happened because the author, like Newt Gingrich and other Republicans, believes that "Politics is nothing but a war for power" and that facts, constant enemies of Republicans and Conservatives, are best denied. (Climate Science, anyone?). Liberal democracy only exists if facts are respected. Liberal democracies throughout the world only flourish if soft power and consensus are employed, forming the foundation of institutions like NATO. In contrast, unilateral power was deemed undesirable, unnecessary, and self-destructive. Soft power, like alliances, initially meant to dissuade aggression by Germany after two world wars, necessarily constrained the US as well. Republicans and Conservatives like Stephens could not abide this. They craved hard power. They got it in the Iraq War. It was unilateral power built on lies. Our allies saw the lies, opposed the war, yet thanks to all those like Stephens, the US went to war anyway. Worse yet, Dick Cheney flagrantly used brutal torture to shatter international laws, actually North American and European agreements protecting core civil rights. These laws protected individuals while protecting the foundations of democracies themselves. All this demolished the foundations of the North American-European order. It made Trump and "America First" possible. That's fact, not fiction.
Jimbo (New Hampshire)
I find myself less and less interested in trying to understand, parse, analyze, dissect, find metaphors or analogies for, construct fictions around, or -- in general -- listen to or about anything to do with Mr. Trump and his whole, miserable, incompetent and malicious crew. I just want them gone. When you, Mr. Stephens, or anyone else can wave a magic wand and make that happen, I'll be happy to indulge you in conjecture and speculation. Until then, not so much.
Peter G Brabeck (Carmel CA)
Donald Trump is well known to thrive excessively on media attention. Preferably flattery, but any attention will do. Without the attention which he craves so desperately, Donald Trump will wither into the intellectual shell that he's always been. Stephens states that putting an absolute ban on quoting his tweets unless they contain substantive policy announcements is unlikely andhe knows that the only sure way to tame the beast is to starve it. The media's primary obligation is to objectively report all legitimate news, not all news regardless of content. Ridiculous tweets and nonsense babbling which bear no relevant content and are not based on facts do not constitute valid news, and there exists no requirement for the media to treat them as news. The real media would perform a significant public service by adopting Stephens' suggestion regarding a ban on reporting such mutterings. Too many people put blind faith in what they read in a newspaper or see on television. The media does a disservice in publishing such comments alongside valid news stories by lending a factor of legitimacy to them which does not exist. This is not censorship, but sound editorial discretion over what public media deems to be credible and relevant material. Perhaps we might expect the voting public to exercise more responsibility in informing themselves about the issues if the media exercises its responsibility to keep verbal garbage out its content. And Trump would lose his beloved limelight.
bertzpoet (Duluth)
Paraphrasing Picasso, "Art is the fiction that tells the truth."
Miss Ley (New York)
@bertzpoet, Pablo Picasso, the artist, might offer 'Portrait of a Fractured Man', to the onlooker who has the last word.
BrookfieldG (Arlington,VA)
@bertzpoet so the most cogent commentary on trump is by Barry Blitt in his serial characterizations in The New Yorker.
Robert Curley Jacobs (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
I am a Trump supporter, but great article though Mr. Stephens.
Miss Ley (New York)
@Robert Curley Jacobs, Joining you in extending appreciation to Mr. Stephens for this literary gift during this seasonal Winter's Tale, where the hunters, the hunted and the haunted are found embodied in the face of Trump.
Deborah (Montclair, NJ)
@Robert Curley Jacobs I am genuinely curious as to what parts of the Trump agenda you find worthy of support?
pkay (nyc)
@Robert Curley Jacobs WHY????
Bob Garcia (Miami)
Is Trump the end of the line of presidents who range from disappointing to disastrous, i.e., will he mark the ruin of our country and a long-term shift into authoritarian rule? We've become a militarized country that engages in continuous warfare to destabilize other countries. We've allowed the super-rich to shift the economy to their benefit as they loot the country (e.g., look at the national debt). We remain with racism on open display in our national politics, even as the country becomes more diverse. And even as our science leads the world, our actions defy facts and imperil the future (e.g., global warming denial). This can't end well.
Marilynne (New Windsor)
Perhaps I am alone in this thinking, but I am grateful for the reportage of Trump's tweets. How else could we see into the mind of this most incompetent, dangerous, and maybe even criminal man? It seems that those stream-of-consciousness missives--troubling though they are--are most illuminating, not just for citizens, but for Robert Mueller.
pkay (nyc)
@Marilynne hm.. perhaps they need to be edited. (to help Mueller)
John Jones (Cherry Hill NJ)
I'M GREATLY RELIEVED That the writer did not choose to analyze universe Trump (AKA Drumpf der Schlumpf) with the world of opera. Imagine the reign of terror of Trumpzilla being staged as Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung, where people bellow at each other for periods so extended that they make unseemly demands upon the most capacious bladders among members of the audience. But this is no piddling matter. One of the insurmountable problems is how operas usually end, with everyone dying slow deaths. Deaths that take long enough for the soloists to be onstage writhing on the floor until they give up the ghost. Or their voices wear out. Whichever comes first. Alas, in opera, the plots are so magical and contrived that a dead singer can be resurrected as a ghost in the next scene, only to start screaming and bellowing again. One bit irony would be the typical closing of a Shakespearean play, of "Exit All." With an opera some sort of decorum would have to be observed. Who leaves first? The recently departed? Those who died early in the shriek-a-thon, or those who noisily expired at the end? And who comes back in which order to take their bows. Never mind figuring out who died on stage as casted, or because of poor performances. Trump presents an insurmountable challenge for an opera composer--even a minimalist--because Trump could well be called Little Donny One-Note. Now Beethoven did use the one note theme in one of his symphonies. Though tone deaf Trump is no Beethoven!
Miss Ley (New York)
@John Jones, 'Roll Over Beethoven', as the listeners in the Opera Box are offered a thunderous rendition of Don Giovanni wearing a multitude of masks.
Rob (Paris)
"The more he drives us nuts, the more attention we give him" describes the co-dependency of Trump and the media. Once all the lies and hype recede, historians will be left with the sad facts of Trump's actions along with the Republican party: the wall and turning our back on immigration, brinksmanship and bully diplomacy, the North Korean denuclearisation deal (not), trade wars, defaulting on international agreements, turning our back on allies, embracing adversaries, letting industry dump pollutants into the air and water again, politicising courts, financial corruption, white nationalism...Tragedy? No, to be tragic the leading character has to be noble of spirit before the fall... unless the tragedy is the fall of America itself.
Alan R Brock (Richmond VA)
Beyond the fact of Mr. Trump constantly trying to impose his fictions upon reality is the fact of his essentially unwavering base of support. Is there some point where the constant stream of lies and manifest nonsense issuing from Trump, the pretend self-made billionaire and master deal maker, (also, one of the few humans who could contrive to go bankrupt owning a casino) will be too much for them? Evidently not. That is the self-evident mental illness that infects the U.S. electorate. Mr. Trump personifies it precisely.
kjb (Hartford )
Since Clementine Caligula won with 46% of the popular vote, it has felt as if we were living through the prequel of a dystopian novel. Perhaps George Orwell would have been best equipped to write this story.
Miss Ley (New York)
@kjb, Orwell already has in his '1984', and Norman Mailer might have been better placed with his tremendous energy to put a fine spin on this American saga.
Mike Livingston (Cheltenham PA)
How about a book where the hero is constantly underestimated but turns out to be smarter than they are?
Miss Ley (New York)
@Mike Livingston, 'Augustus' by John Williams comes to mind.
Grennan (Green Bay)
@Mike Livingston Since Mr. Trump would be the protagonist, surely you meant to type "overestimated" and "not as smart" ?
dc brent (chicago)
O'Neill's play, The Emperor Jones captures Trump's rise and eventual fall.
Robert (Out West)
I like the idea if a Trump tragedy with an allguy cast. It fits Trump’s fascination and hatred. Well, okay, Ann Coukter’s allowed in. But she has to play Kathy Griffin, and show up toting a severed head.
Who Knew (la la land)
Remember this classic: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness..." A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Larry Lundgren (Sweden)
Rima Regas: "There is nothing funny about what is happening to our nation." To which I add: "Using Trump as the basis for displaying one's knowledge of literature is to do literature a disservice." Do not report his tweets. Do report his absence of even the slightest interest in improving the welfare and health of his subjects - we the people. All efforts on the part of columnists (1) or comment writers to associate King Minus with humor, culture, or thought fail. Bring him down. Only-NeverInSweden.blogspot.com Citizen US SE (1) possible exception Gail Collins
FunkyIrishman (member of the resistance)
Well this is an easy one, and frankly I am surprised it was not mentioned in the column. (actually I am not surprised) Richard Conlon - The Manchurian Candidate This Presidency and administration (what meager is left) is going to come crashing down in a very short time. Even with glaring evidence of the story from above, republicans are not going to convict in the Senate, although a multitude of charges are going to await the President the nanosecond he leaves office. For all others in the administration and especially the family, I would recommend ''East of Eden'' by Charles Trask. The crossings and double-crossings continue .
bnc (Lowell, MA)
Henrik Ibsen's "An Enemy of the People" might also be used to expose Trump's assault on the environment.
Rmski77 (Atlantic City NJ)
The news media created him and helped him get elected. The only lesson Trump has ever learned is that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. I try to get actual news from the BBC and PBS who manage to cut through all the bilge and just provide the facts. Ignore him at your peril, but the media don’t need to report every ludicrous tweet.
memosyne (Maine)
Why Trump? Why was Trump elected through the electoral college even though his vote total was less than Clinton's? Because of slavery. The electoral college: the balance of state interests against federal interests was to insure that the balance of power would allow the South to control the federal government. Our forefathers believed, hoped, that enlightenment would eventually phase out slavery. Instead, Southerners told themselves lies: blacks are lesser folk, blacks are happier as slaves, blacks cannot take care of themselves, blacks are lazy etc.etc.etc. And they came to believe these lies, creating a habit of crediting their desires as truth. In starting the Civil War, Southerners ignored the truth of the North's larger population and larger industrial base. They told themselves Southern courage and fierceness would over come a timid and gutless North. Instead Robert E. Lee admitted before the end that the North just had many more men, that he had no more soldiers to send to battle. He was honest. After the Civil War, the South retained their prewar fantasies of white superiority. The industrial revolution upended the land-based economy. Realistic and courageous folk moved to the cities. But rural folks clung to their past: a fantasy of a golden age. Safety over truth. THEN TRUMP CAME. And fantasy suddenly had power. And lies were triumphant. Dreams seemed true. Alas! Truth-telling would rip out their guts.
damon walton (clarksville, tn)
[His imposture is revealed only after he’s left town.] Even after Trump left town his base would pine for him still. Trump could be impeached or even at the extreme end even imprisoned. They would still build statues in his honor. Trump knows his base well...for they prefer the clown over the statesman.
Andrew (Louisville)
I think Joseph Heller nailed it in Catch-22. No-one would have bought all Trump's foibles in just one character: but amalgamate Colonel Cathcart and Doc Daneeka and a slice of Milo Minderbinder (only a small portion of this terrifyingly competent man) and I think you have it. Maybe a pinch of Havermayer dispatching mice with his .45.
lawence gottlieb (nashville tn)
I see a comedic 'Citizen Kane', a man who craved love, but had none to offer. Just imagining the opening newsreel ala trump makes me giggle
Paul Proteus (Columbus)
Reporting on Trump should start by pointing out the lie and proving his fiction false. It should report by never quoting him directly and instead translate his gibberish into English. Finally, no pictures only caricatures.
Grant (Louisville)
Great column! There are several cool angles you’ve considered here. I’d like to suggest Dostoyevsky. To me, the most palpable angle from which this could be considered would be from inside the first person misery and pettiness that is the Trump mind. If you consider the absolute terror you can feel inside the head of Rodion in Crime and Punishment while reading Dostoyevsky, he could have an absolute field day with what must be going on inside the mind of Trump. How he must’ve been badly disappointed from the start, once he realized what winning the election meant... living the life of an indebted traitor in the role of president at the mercy of the Kremlin is a daily anguish few can imagine. I’d love to read Fyodor’s take!
Horsepower (East Lyme, CT)
The "starve the beast" strategy toward Trump was proposed in year one by several sources. With genuine discipline and a unified model, it may have been effective. However, the vicious cycle was accelerated by economic concerns for greater circulation, the need the need to compete, as well as the plethora of media outlets. The free press is less free when it is held hostage by economic concerns and market dynamics.
IN (New York)
This was a thoughtful article and raises the essential problem with the war against terrorism. It is probably never winnable and can only be at best contained. Thus, the main justifications for our military presence in Afghanistan and Syria is to control the terrorists in their home territories and to prevent them from moving their operations here. The fear is if we leave their home territories they will become more successful and threaten our homeland with the greater possibilities of terrorist acts. This is a conundrum with no easy answers or solutions. Could any responsible American leader take this risk? What would be the political consequences of another 9/11? I believe the main problem is the failure to admit that war against terrorism has no end and no real resolution! What would be the most effective and cost efficient way of combatting this threat? Are there alternative approaches that don’t involve military occupation that could be more effective? These issues should be discussed openly with the American people and with national security experts and with our allies as well.
Doug Terry (Maryland, Washington DC metro)
Could the major media starve Trump of what he desires most, constant attention? If only this could even be considered carefully and intelligently. "News judgement" is a term that is meant to imply some care and perhaps a dash of wisdom in deciding what is important and what is not. It is applied liberally when excluding so many varied subjects and players from consideration for their "news value", another common term in journalism. With Trump and the major media, all judgement has been cast to the four winds. Gulp, gulp, gulp...the media can only eagerly drink down everything Trump says and tweets. There is no judgement, no balance, no restraint. Who could pass up constantly reporting on this circus? It is, indeed, a feeding frenzy, the greatest one since Monica Lewinsky filled reporters and camera crews' pockets with overtime pay and Bill Clinton found himself caught in the special prosecutor's headlights. These years should be marked as historic in the long evolution of American news media. It is a time when the media turned control of the narrative, the storyline, to an amateur president because, gosh dern it, it is just so much fun. Long ago in my own life, I was drawn to journalism and daily reporting because it seemed like such serious business coupled with an urge at public service. Now I see it is just business. Money.
WhiskeyJack (Helena, MT)
@Doug Terry Well said!!! If you want in-depth, thoughtful, insightful writing you must go to magazines such as the Atlantic et al. The new media is generally pretty shallow in its own way and asks questions that often reveal little even if answered forthrightly. Perhaps I missed it but, for example, did any reporter ask candidate Trump to define the when, why or where of "make America Great again? And have any reporters asked the climate change deniers what their science background is or, gasp, to explain what they know about the scientific method?
Dave Oedel (Macon, Georgia)
By analogizing Trump to the riveting characters in works by Shakespeare, Bulgakov, Gogol and Aristophanes, Stephens tends to confirm the obvious. Trump has captured the nation's imaginations -- on all sides. And, like all the fictional characters mentioned, Trump is sui generis -- a class unto himself. The history is not over, and is still being writ. Mr. Stephens might better spend his time looking at the particular history that is unfolding rather than drawing flawed analogies to fictional characters. Although Trump did work with professional wrestling and its morality plays, he is playing on the real field now. Or is American politics just another form of morality play?
gm (syracuse area)
I don't think the press could or should pick or choose their coverage of Trump. However they could minimize the hyperbole and report his tweets and pronouncements in a understated manner that could be followed by opinion pieces that objectively assess the erroneous nature of his statements.
Daniel12 (Wash d.c.)
If history’s greatest novelists and playwrights were to come back from the dead so they could tell the improbable tale of Donald J. Trump, how would they do it? Easy answer to that question. They would first observe that they themselves in America would be profoundly restrained in their observations and imagination, that the actualized and permissible in imagination has become dominated by the film industry, committee oriented thinking, and that individual imagination rarely takes hold, which is to say anyone with any imagination can imagine almost any Hollywood movie better than it actually is as presented to public. Second, they would observe that reality as opposed to imagination is dominated by committee as well, like the film industry is dominated by committee, except the reality committee is that of journalists in all their tediousness, and trust me when I say only a journalist dominated reality could have led to an America today with an absurd and petty dichotomy of reality as opposed to imagination. It's amusing actually: Check the papers for the reality department; go to Hollywood for the imagination. Now what Trump is is an offense to both reality and imagination from perspective of our committee reality and imagination experts. From the perspective of film, imagination, he's the bad guy winning and from perspective of reality, well, he's the impermissible imaginable, the unimaginable, thus giving the lie America is secure in both imagination and reality.
sdavidc9 (Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut)
Bret wants publishers to engage in extreme censorship, something that is not going to happen unless managed by government, which Bret does not want. But if publishers did it by mutual agreement without government involvement, this would be even worse. The only really legitimate way to confront Trump's outrageous grabs for public attention is for the audience to see through what is going on and ignore it. If his audience starts shrinking, his bluster will matter less. New York financial circles learned to ignore his attempts to get financing. The electorate must learn to do the same.
Paul Bertorelli (Sarasota)
@sdavidc9 News outlets don't censor themselves, they gate keep as we learned in J-school those many years ago. They decide what to publish based on what they think is newsworthy and of reader interest. The tragedy is that Trump's hardcore base--which may or may not be loyal and large enough to re-elect him--is impervious to demonstrated and accepted fact. They are intoxicated with Trump as a disruptor merely for the sake of disruption.
David Underwood (Citrus Heights)
When I read about the Swindler In Chief, for some reason I am reminded of François Rabelais just seems to fit, not sure why. As for the Bard, what would he have done with such a person, he did not writes about fiends, more ordinary flawed people, Don the Dishonest is more of a study of the criminal mind. He takes after Yellow Kid Weil, but he, was at least a gentleman swindler. Of course making fun of him is one thing he can not stand, it drives him to fits of anger and a compelling desire to "Get Even," he is tormented by it. His opinion of himself is unmatched by any narcissist on record, but I can not think of any character in literature that matches his personality. Any good playwrights out there that want to take a shot at it?
David (Gwent UK)
@David Underwood How about a depressed Donald Duck?
Martha (NY, NY)
I like the column but not the conclusion because if we don't constantly talk about the horror, it will persist. I am even more impressed by the comments, for the various suggestions about literary comparisons are engaging. However, no one has mentioned Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men. Willie Stark starts off as an idealist and Trump was never one, of course. But Willie lost his way and all the hired hands couldn't stave off inevitable disaster. The corruption destroyed him. All the king's horses and all the king's men....
M. (California)
The President's story is too dire to treat as comedy, but it doesn't work as tragedy either, as the hero has no redeeming qualities. Plenty of hubris, but he would be an utterly unsympathetic character. Has Mr. Stephens considered the "cautionary tale" genre?
mer (Vancouver, BC)
@M. Sarah Byng, Who Could Not Read and Was Tossed into a Thorny Hedge by a Bull leaps to mind.
Jackie (Missouri)
In a Shakespearean sense, "Trump the First" would have to be a comedy because so far, none of the main characters have died. On the other hand, it would have to be a tragedy which were actually funnier than Shakespeare's comedies. ("Richard III," as played to sarcastic perfection by Laurence Olivier, was a hoot and a half!) I understand that writing this play would present a challenge, and I only hope that A.) I live long enough to see some witty playwright do it justice, and B.) there will be a happy ending!
David (Gwent UK)
@Jackie Any image of Trump being taken out of the White House in handcuffs would be a happy ending for me. He will however easily cop an insanity plea.
Susan Anderson (Boston)
Very interesting, terrific writing. Good point that we should stop giving Trump what he craves: center stage. My own revelation about Trump's shallow evil came from rereading a favorite book, Margery Allingham's The Tiger in the Smoke, set during a devastating London fog in 1951. The main character is a conscienceless remorseless murderer who is clever enough to cover his tracks, leaving behind a trail of victims. He meets up with the saintly Canon Avril, a deep thinker who is hardly safe out (sometimes they aren't) who has figured out who he is and manages to evade everyone and have a meeting to warn him (he calls himself Havoc) not to follow the path of death that is evil unredeemed by conscience. The canon's goodness is so "pure" that though he recognizes what he has found, he doesn't hesitate. Havoc has discovered that if he follows what he names "the science of luck" - never do the soft thing and go straight for what you want - there is a kind of success. Avril explains that it is a path towards death in life, but Havoc is unable to heed the warning. The glitter that is the goal turns out to be fake too. Avril quotes Virgil from the Aeneid: Facilis descensus Averno - the path of death is easy There are other classic authors who deal with evil, such as Milton: Evil, be thou my good; better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven Goethe also divides the fog with the notion of Faust. Make to mistake, Trump is wed to evil.
Susan Anderson (Boston)
No doubt, if he reads these comments, Bret Stephens will be disappointed to find I have not mentioned his failure to appreciate how serious our climate problems, so I will remedy the error here with a reference to a powerful article that explains the danger we all lshare: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/27/opinion/climate-change-sea-level-rise.html "A Forest of Ancient Trees, Poisoned by Rising Seas: An article about dying black gum trees hidden in a remote New Jersey swamp led me to make a list of other ecological losses. There have been a lot this year." "The Department of Homeland Security will substantially destroy the nation’s richest butterfly refuge beginning in July when it builds a 33-mile section of border wall in the lower Rio Grande Valley. The Supreme Court this month declined to hear a challenge to the Trump administration’s executive decree exempting Mexican border wall projects from environmental regulations. Some 240 species of butterflies and over 300 species of birds depend on the refuge. "About 60 percent of global primate species face extinction" "Most people no doubt would like to think all this harm isn’t harm to us, that we can take and nothing will be taken. But all life on the earth is interconnected. We depend on the ecological systems that are fiercely unraveling. If the trees of the Bear Swamp forest are doomed, so perhaps are we. This age of loss will really be a time of consequences. I’m not convinced anyone is prepared."
ggallo (Middletown, NY)
@Susan Anderson- Important stuff you are posting here. Thanks. You're using quotation marks. Are those words yours? Or from the article cited or another source? Just curious. My take away is most people don't see how "interconnected" everything is. "Six Degrees of Separation or "Six Degrees of Kevin Beacon," applies to more than ...... _____________.
Susan Anderson (Boston)
@ggallo The link is in my comment, from this paper 27 December. There is much else on the subject here and elsewhere. (Sometimes in science/climate.) Try this for a cauld grue: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/26/opinion/editorials/climate-change-environment-trump.html And Wunderground provides regular updates on the world's weather extremes, including lists of disasters costing $billions. This year, we're up to 37 of them https://www.wunderground.com/cat6/
Rima Regas (Southern California)
Mr. Stephens seems to have run out of ideas for a good column and we get this desecration of Bulgakov, among others. There is nothing funny about what's happened to our nation. Yes, it is the stuff Faustian tales are made of. But our reality and the consequences of the machinations that led up to Trump and got him elected are too dire to make light of. The Republican (and Russian) cast of characters, unfortunately, rivals that of Bulgakov's Master and Margarita, and that should frighten every one of our fellow citizens. Amuse? Only a fool would laugh. --- Things Trump Did While You Weren’t Looking https://wp.me/p2KJ3H-2ZW
Robert (Out West)
I feel just terrible that I still think “The Great Dictator,” is funny. By the way, might wanna think about WHY stuff’s funny once in a while. Jokes are not nice.
Rima Regas (Southern California)
@Robert There's a time and place for everything. Mel Brooks talks about making fun of Hitler and how people reacted in this interview. http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/spiegel-interview-with-mel-brooks-with-comedy-we-can-rob-hitler-of-his-posthumous-power-a-406268.html
Mike (San Diego)
Truth is stranger than the most creative fiction. This is something I learned while working or 43 years in the criminal justice system, 27 as a peace officer. The malignant and profoundly narcissistic Republican in the White House is a textbook sociopath. I've dealt with hundreds of them and they are often con artists and sexual predators. But to return to my original point, if you need to be persuaded that what's been happening in this presidency is something you couldn't have written a script for then compare the Orange Excrescence with the worst of our past presidents. There are no comparisons---only contrasts. You'll find comparisons only when you look at history's worst dictators, demagogues, and maliciously corrupt tyrants.
Buffalo Fred (Western NY)
@Mike - Very good and logical observations. The readers of this country see through the charlatan and chief, whereas the visual- and listening-only crowds of his supporters (aka, foreign news and AM radio) that are not readers and reflect the C-student body of our country. Trump spent a lifetime manipulating and cheating C-students, who became his marks in the current three-card monte game. Desperate populations would rather bring the country down to their level rather than engage in the real world.
nora m (New England)
@Mike I totally agree with your assessment, and yes, he is a sociopath. Forget all the rest of the opining on his father, his childhood, his supposed dementia. It really is easier than that. Take a walk through any prison, and you will find Trump many times over. They are not at all sorry for what they did, but they are furious that they got caught and feel it is deeply unfair that others get away with the same thing. That is the sociopathic brain in a nutshell. "It's not fair", says the man who is never fair to others when given the choice. The only difference between Trump and the guys in Sing Sing is that he was born into wealth and that money has papered over his crimes. We forgive everything for the rich and nothing at all for the poor. THAT is the unfairness that has to stop, now.
AJY (New Jersey)
The News Media SHOULD stop quoting Trump’s ridiculous tweets. Report on the EFFECT of his policies. Stop talking about his thoughts on the wall and the shutdown and START reporting on the suffering of people who live paycheck-to-paycheck. Highlight the ways he is sabotaging the ACA. The public needs to be educated in what Trump is doing to this country. Endless theories about who will be indicted next or what the Mueller Report will say is not as valuable as pointing to specific actions by Trump that have harmed people who don’t have his Twitter “megaphone.”
Expat (France)
@AJY Yes, ignore what he says or tweets, as it is mostly untrue anyway. Just report what he does formally and officially. It is not much but it is mostly against the public interest, and it is on that that he must be judged at the ballot box.
ggallo (Middletown, NY)
@AJY-The media can not do what you are proposing. Why? No good reason. They just can't do it.
CAL (WV)
@AJY Endless theories about who will be indicted next or what the Mueller Report will say fill time. One talking head and three panelists...next hour, a different talking head and three panelists. If you watch long enough, you will see the same panelists conjecturing with numerous talking heads on the same subjects. Three stories per day is about all they ever cover. It is the most economical and profitable method of operating a twenty four hour news organization.
Julia (tampa)
I think this presidency is most like Jarry's1896 Ubu Roi..to quote the wikipedia article about same "the central character is notorious for his infantile engagement with his world. Ubu inhabits a domain of greedy self-gratification". The hilarious adaptation in the 1990's at Boston's ART routinely led to audiences throwing programs, water bottles and food at the actors, a feeling I have about this administration pretty much every day.
ggallo (Middletown, NY)
@Julia- Yes Julia. I heartily agree. However, I would like to add the "rest of us," (you may be excluded) to the cast of dysfunctionals. I don't see our collective behavior too much better than my dear wacky president, though our attention, brains, emotions and thoughts are being battered about, as you say, pretty much every day.
bnyc (NYC)
As an English major from a major university, I'm impressed by Bret's literary allusions. I'm also embarrassed to admit that I wasn't familiar with Bulgakov. But let's not forget that conservative Republicans paved the way for this modern day fool. Bret is among them. Plaudits to Bret for denouncing the fool. But most conservatives, including those in Congress, have not.
Zeca (Oregon)
Regarding King Richard III, maybe you shouldn't buy so readily into Shakespeare's Tudor-sanctioned vilification of the rightful monarch who was so conveniently killed by Henry Tudor in order to claim the crown.
Mark (Springfield, IL)
I understand that Trump and the media have come to resemble the Itchy and Scratchy Show. But I also understand why the media feel compelled to expose and anatomize his each and every lie. It's a desperate effort to keep presidential lying from becoming normalized. The thinking is that each and every time a president lies to the American people, it should jar the constellations from their places in the sky, even on the ten thousandth time the president lies. I agree.
Jack (Austin)
Mark Twain wrote it. Huck Finn is rafting down the Mississippi of American life, trying to square what he encounters with what he was taught. Life on the raft has been catch as catch can at best for Huck and his desperate friend Jim, a fugitive hunted for reasons that seem increasingly untenable. They steer their way towards freedom and a chance for a decent life, but one dark and stormy night wild currents tear them past their destination. They can’t see a way back or a good way forward. Trump comes on scene as an old grifter claiming to be the Dauphin, rightful heir to the throne. As king he lords it over the other grifter with him, “the Duke of Bilgewater.” Under the circumstances Huck and Jim are stuck with them, sometimes even playing a role in their schemes. People in one town catch on to the grift, but no one likes to admit they were played and the Duke and Dauphin get away. Further down river they get caught, tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail. Perhaps it would have been kinder had Huck and Jim somehow found a way to just vote them off the raft.
Martha (NY, NY)
@Jack I'm up in the wee hours worrying and worrying and Bret Stephens's column made me feel worse, not because I don't like his allusions. I do. But we need to stay alert to danger. And so when I encountered your references to Huck and Jim and those grifters, I felt a lot better. Despite all the horrifying connections to dictatorships and oligarchies, this administration is classic Americana. No one ever described the gullibility of Americans better than Mark Twain. The odd thing is that more than a century later, we are exactly the same fools. I've thought of Huck Finn a hundred times these past two years, and I'm very grateful to you, Jack, for your perfect comparison of characters and contexts. Vote the whole darn bunch of them off the raft indeed. And then do not vote in a Tom Sawyer, who plays with Huck and Jim's minds, never telling them that Jim is a free man. We have to be alert to cons in whichever guises they take.
NM (NY)
The Trump presidency is beyond even the most gifted of writers. What we are witnessing is a horror movie, not a play.
furnmtz (Oregon)
@NM I prefer to think of it as Theater of the Absurd.
Grennan (Green Bay)
@furnmtz Another endorsement for Artaud?
Grennan (Green Bay)
Anybody actually staging a Shakespeare play that's obviously trying to show Mr. Trump would find two more obscure plays a lot more easily worked than R. III or Macbeth. Their characters and plots are way over the top, and they're nobody's favorite Shakespeare (a big advantage here). Titus Andronicus features politics running amok while a spurious ruler overdevoted to his daughter goes mad. Several reviewers have written that Titus's Rome is a bizarre mixture of every type of governance the city tried, between wolf and Goths. The other Shakespeare choice: Corialanus, about a ruler going mad with vengeance after being deposed. Shelley's "The Cenci" (or its Artaud interpretation or the several operas based on the story) has so much potential that someone may be adapting it as we read. Or may not. The pluses: nice fit for outline of characters (evil count, stepmother, daughter, daughter's husband, son(s), officials, servants), with a lot of scope for varying their actions and motivations. George Bernard Shaw thought Shelley's work was on par with Shakespeare's tragedies. The drawbacks: the original play has been considered close to unstageable for most of the last 200 years. While all versions feature the count's murder, usually as parricide but sometimes by a hired killer, the incest subtext ranges from suggested to fairly blatant. What all three plays have in common: unambiguously awful lead characters whose rotten deeds are too hard to believe most of the time.
dlb (washington, d.c.)
Maybe we should be thinking of crime novelists, it seems to me that would be the clearer perspective.
Paul (Phoenix, AZ)
"Put an absolute ban on quoting his tweets unless they contain substantive policy announcements. Stop sending reporters to his press conferences, which long ago became theaters of no information. Write more about what the administration does, less about what Trump says. Report news that has nothing to do with the administration at all. Award journalism prizes to stories that don’t contain the word “Trump” at all." I said this 2 years ago. Maggie Haberman said earlier this year the media MUST cover Trump's utterances because he is the president and if the president says it, then it is newsworthy. "O.K., that’s not likely to happen." And rest assured, thanks to the media, 2020 will be a Trumpian replay of 2018 and 2016.
Phillip Brantley (Sugar Land, Texas)
The rich literature of Scripture does not anticipate someone like Donald Trump. We can identify with all of the characters in Scripture. The betrayals for money by Gehazi, Achan, Judas, and Ananias and Sapphira spotlight human weaknesses we all struggle with. Though horrific, the shedding of innocent blood, such as King David's murder of Bathsheba's husband, still falls within the ambit of ordinary human experience. Even the worst sexual offenses depicted in Scripture are not beyond our imagination. All of the characters in Scripture possess a modicum of humanity that allows for us to relate to them. But someone like Donald Trump cannot be found in the rich literature of Scripture, because he is a sociopath and literature that portrays sociopaths is not what human beings find interesting to read.
Richard Mclaughlin (Altoona PA)
Trump is a mixture of Catch 22/M.A.S.H./Platoon/Wall Street/Hospital/Bulworth and All the President's Men. Farce and Tragedy rolled into one. The personification of the 'Peter Principle'. Finally hired to a position he'll fail at. Destined to hurt others while hurting himself. Destined to hurt his family while seeking to help them. Oh, and Trump's 'Lady Macbeth'? Her name is Nancy.
Eric Caine (Modesto)
Trump knows one or two things and that's enough. The most important thing he knows is he is not a cause, he's an effect. His power is derived from a toxin in the body politic concocted by people who will use him as long as he's viable; when he loses his audience they will find someone else to distract the masses and push their poison. No one should think getting rid of Donald Trump will do away with his enablers; they're always ready to option a newer and better grifter to provide cover for their ongoing theft of the nation's treasure and resources.
Jamie Ballenger (Charlottesville, VA)
@Eric Caine I agree. We should hold their feet to the fire the same as we do with DJT. Their participation in the abuse of the country is indirect, but just as cruel. I also agree with those who propose report only what is being done and how it affects others, such as, more mercury being pumped into the air because coal plants regulations are being stripped away. Pax, jb
Phyliss Dalmatian (Wichita, Kansas)
Sir, I appreciate your wit and the literary references. But let’s get real. HE is sui generis, one of a kind. A confluence of events, bigotry of several varieties, Voter inertia, foreign influences and the Electoral College gave us this Creature. The Celebrity Apprentice meets “ Elmer Gantry “ meets “ Dr. Strangelove “. Seriously.
Rick Gage (Mt Dora)
I believe the book about the Trump administration has already been written, the author just got the date wrong. If Orwell was omniscient the book would have been 2016 instead of 1984. Nothing encapsulates the cruelty and cowardice of our leaders or the sheep like following of the masses as well as that book did. The idea of making things up out of whole cloth and then changing the narrative on a dime to the cheers of the lied to was funny only because of the distance and safety of knowing it was fiction. Now it doesn't seem so funny anymore. I used to wonder why Alice just didn't sit back and enjoy the madness all around her in Wonderland or Dorothy didn't dig Oz more. I now know how frightening dislocation, disinformation, disharmony and feeling like you're disconnected from reality can be. Like those heroines I want to return home even though I know I wont be the same when I get there because of this dangerous and fictitious President.
Anne K Lane (Tucson AZ)
@Rick Gage I love your comment! I read the Oz books as a girl and still have those books on my bookshelves today - I cherish them. Dorothy was one of the very few female heroines offered to girls back then, but like you, I always wondered why she did not want to stay in Oz; her goal was always to get back home to Auntie Em and Uncle Henry, a concept I only understood as I grew older. And, as you stated, I would really like to get back home to MY America, the one that would never have allowed innocent children, regardless of their skin color or legal status, to die, of the flu, on her watch.
nurse Jacki (ct USA )
@ Rick gage Yes 1984 And how bout Brave New World? I read both in 1967 in the summer in our basement cuz we had no air conditioning in our family home and I had my little reading nook away from the bedlam upstairs in our 5 room one bath home . I was anxious and depressed reading what my future might hold. Kennedy had been assassinated. At school we kids were divided into Hawks and Doves. Friends went to war in Vietnam and some left for Canada I could watch actual war footage every evening on the news where photojournalists scanned the emaciated dead body’s our soldiers killed On the news we watched live footage of medics treating soldiers in the field and tailgunners in copters shooting at running victims. So after reading 1984 and Brave New World My sense of a better national future was destroyed. I waited figuratively holding my breath for the likes of Reagan. When he won my heart sunk to the pit of my stomach. A pall came over me. I knew...... the beginning of our Brave New World ..... was about to begin with Reagan and now as a retiree I feel anger at myself and other rational kind and loving folk for forgetting all the literary warnings along the way. We have lost the ability to create community. We continue to marginalize females and brutalize males in the military and in jails. Yes .... Rick we know .... the playbook and predictions were written long ago By assassinating “”The Helpers” Kennedy x2 and MLK .....Nixon time our country was sunk .
Carol stanton (Orlando FL)
@Rick Gage loved your insight into why the girls just wanted to go back home. My fear, as yours, is that "home" has changed to such a degree that it would itself be disorienting . My only hope is that this dreadful experience of disconnect will have been so painful that we will create a new sense of place where the common good, truthfulness and mature judgement prevail. Thank you and "go Mt.Dora" one of my favorite home-like places.
TOM (Seattle)
Macbeth is most apposite. ". . . and nothing is, but what is not." Macbeth, I.iii.141 During the 2016 campaign, one of Trump's handlers rejected "fact-finding" as for only the "liberal elite media," pointing out, correctly as it has turned out, that Trump's supporters "only care what the candidate is saying." So: Trump says the wall is being built, and his supporters are happy even though the wall is not being built. Trump says ISIS has been defeated, and his supporters agree even though ISIS has not been defeated. Trump says North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat and has agreed to de-nuclearize, and his supporters applaud even though North Korea has not agreed to de-nuclearize and is still a nuclear threat. The triumph and tragedy of imagination.
Grennan (Green Bay)
@TOM The light thickens...Mr. Trump makes the metaphor real.
Barbaro (East Coast)
My mind boggles at the possibilities. How about: Melville’s Confidence Man. Lovelace in Richardson’s “Clarissa” (my favorite novel). Benjy in Faulkner’s “Sound and the Fury”. Among current writers, only Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo could do him justice.
Jackie (Missouri)
@Barbaro I think Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner could have done an excellent job, but they're getting a wee bit long in the tooth.
BigGuy (Forest Hills)
Literary References Ennoble NYT Readers, Republicans in Congress are Held Harmless Bret is helping to restore our souls from Trump's evil. Bret came in after Trump was in office. He did not enable Trump and hurt Hillary, like most NYT reporting and analysis did. Bret calls out Trump, but rarely calls out Republicans in Congress who enable Trump. His columns do NOT call out the Republicans in Congress for aiding Trump's mal, mis, and nonfeasance. Bret's like the rest of the Times --in depth reporting of Trump family crimes did not occur until Trump was in office more than a year. It'd be nice to read a mea culpa from Bret for NOT calling Republicans in Congress into account. They have failed to protect our country from Trump, just like the Times failed our country by NOT investigating Trump in depth BEFORE the election.
the doctor (allentown, pa)
I prefer tacking on an ending to “Death of a Salesman” with Trump as Willie Lowman standing trial in the Senate docket or a courtroom of a New York district court. I think the law of probability weighs in my favor.
Edward Blau (WI)
Tragic figures from the time of the Greeks were bigger than life and competent but with a fatal flaw that brought them down. Trump is not worthy of being compared to any of them. He is not competent, learned or rational and has far more than a single tragic flaw. He could be cast as minor character, a buffoon full of false self worth in a comedy of manners.
BD (SD)
Mark Anthony ( Shakespeare's " Anthony and Cleopatra " ).
Sera (The Village)
There’s an old man who works down the street from me. He goes to work day, though he sure looks like he’d rather be home watching television. Every day, he bravely paints his face and combs his hair, over and over, to hide his advancing years. His dementia is getting visibly worse, but people make fun of him and call him names! Don’t they realize he’s sick? I wish someone would do something for the guy. He needs help. Would it be too much for some of his co-workers to just say “Look, don’t you think it’s time to go home now? Go home, order take out. Watch your news programs. We’ll call you if we need you...Mr President.”
Deborah (Montclair, NJ)
@Sera Maybe his family should step in. I hear they live nearby and see him everyday.
John Brews ✅✅ (Reno, NV)
Trump could not play a tragic figure because their are no noble qualities to despoil. He cannot play a villain because there is no strength of purpose. He cannot play a jester, because he would get only hollow laughs. The tragic figure is America and the hopes of its founders.
RKD (Park Slope, NY)
I'd do a riff on Lewis Carroll w/ DT as Humpty Dumpty: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that's all.” So is DT the master of the words or is the press?
A. Stanton (Dallas, TX)
I don’t think about Trump as a comedy, but I do think of him as a joke. It’s the one where a flunky walks into his office and asks him whether it would be a good idea to rename the G.O.P. and Trump thinks for a minutet and says “Why don’t we call ourselves The Aristocrats.”
scythians (parthia)
You have it wrong: Lady Macbeth is the Left/Democratic Party; the Republicans are Macbeth and Trump is Macduff.
Paul Connah (Los Angeles, California)
@scythians No, you have it all wrong: Lady Macbeth is Rush Limbaugh; the New Christy Minstrels are Macbeth and Trump is Madoff.
Gurbie (Riverside)
Check out Ray Bradbury’ short story, “A Sound Of Thunder” (a Trump-like character figures in the twist ending) Or, Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”. Or, “Forbidden Planet” (Dr Morbius is the GOP, Trump is the Monster from the Id). Or, Frank Herbert’s “Dune” trilogy (The Trumps are the Harkonens, of course). (Yes, we’ll have to refer to Sci-fi and horror, to take the measure of Trump).
Michael Judge (Washington DC)
Please don’t compare Trump to Falstaff. Haven’t you seen “Chimes At Midnight”, the masterpiece by Orson Welles? Falstaff, as Welles correctly drew him, is Merry Life, laughing at the world’s vanity. Trump, in his greed and smallness, is, if anything, the anti-Falstaff.
Matt (Salt Lake City UT)
What was that movie with Shirley McClaine and Peter Sellers (Chauncy the gardener), who becomes president and utters my all-time favorite movie quote: "I like to watch" [Fox News]? That's my nominee.
Jackie (Missouri)
@Matt "Being There," if I recall.
Miss Ley (New York)
@Matt, 'Being There'
bertzpoet (Duluth)
@Matt "Being There." Notable also how fawning acolytes gather around "Chauncy Gardiner", enabling him until the end.
Paul (Bellerose Terrace)
The story can only be written by the uncredited hack screenwriters who put words in the mouths of “reality show” characters. The best part is that Trump hasn’t read anything, not even the books putatively written by him.
Grennan (Green Bay)
@Paul A blank Tweet form, so to speak...
Victor Lazaron, MD (Intervale, NH)
It would best be written as "A Confederacy of Dunces." Both nouns spot on.
rpe123 (Jacksonville, Fl)
Shakespeare would find Cheney far more interesting than Trump.
Mark Siegel (Atlanta)
I can also see Trump as Lear, that crazed and paranoid old man howling on the heath. Except Trump would be Tweeting.
Tom Q (Minneapolis, MN)
You have gone way to highbrow for this administration, Mr. Stephens. For the First Family, think of The Beverly Hillbillies. For Trump, Giuliani and Roger Stone, think of The Three Stooges. For Trump alone, think of Chief Inspector Closeau.
Kay Johnson (Colorado)
Donald and Melania are Boris and Natasha of Bullwinkle more than Shakespeare.
mark (ct)
comedy, definitely. tragedy requires the protagonist to have, or at least to develop, insight sufficient to comprehend and process his fatal flaw. Trump's ostentatious stupidity and incuriousness, his irremediably disasterous presidency, have converged into a world without irony. no exaggeration, no overstatement, no matter how nuanced, could outshine or upstage our impossibly destructive, impossibly polarized, reality TV reality.
Cher504 (<br/>)
How about Harold Hill from Music Man, a real scam artist who paraded around as a musician .
Liviu (California)
There's one book whose title describes Trumps' presidency: Theodor Dreiser's An American Tragedy.
Jack Nargundkar (Germantown, Maryland)
“Write more about what the administration does, less about what Trump says.” Sorry Mr. Stephens, that would not give reporters much to write about. “All the same, in an era in which the president is constantly trying to impose his fictions on reality, it’s incumbent on the rest of us to keep the two separate.” Again, Mr. Stephens, there is not much separation between fiction and reality in the Trump world of “alternative facts” and “truth is not the truth.” Also, don’t know why you chose to ignore the great Shakespearean tragedy, “Julius Caesar” to capture the Trump persona. Maybe, you rightly didn’t want to associate it with assassination, but nonetheless, Trump is a modern-day Caesar in the making. Here’s how Cassius described Caesar in the play: “Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world Like a Colossus, and we petty men Walk under his huge legs and peep about To find ourselves dishonorable graves. Men at some time are masters of their fates. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” That could be an establishment Republican complaining about Trump! But does the GOP have a Brutus, who will be willing to impeach (since we do things in a more civilized fashion) a lawless president, who clearly would rather be a king? Trump wouldn’t thrice refuse – as Caesar did to an offer of a crown – a similar gesture, because Trump has indicated previously, albeit jokingly, that he’d like to be president for life the way China’s Xi is
Jamie Ballenger (Charlottesville, VA)
@Jack Nargundkar this administration is doing a great deal of harm. plenty to write about in my opinion. people and communities are being harmed by the 'policies' of this misbegotten administration. write about the enablers who are minions to DJT's evils. pax,jb
Frank Leibold (Virginia)
Just an opportunity for the writer to disguise Trump invectives as a silly attempt at a theatrical spoof.
John Gabriel (Paleochora, Crete, Greece)
The poet Kenneth Koch wrote a book called Wishes, Lies, and Dreams, a wonderful book for teachers about teaching poetry. The nation is sick of and sick from the trump Lies. In your publication, please feature more the Wishes and Dreams in our American narrative. Wishes and Dreams, part of our character and conscience, may or may not be elixirs, but they will pump desperately need oxygen into America's life support system. Please wean us from our daily trump consumer pathology. Start with one day at a time. Like AlAnon. If you think you have some news of merit or import about trump, put it in the back of the sports section, alongide WWF news. Or put it in the middle of the business section, just below "What makes Tulsa's economy tick?" Put the fraud in his right place. Write real news. All the news that's fit to print. Tweets from tweetle dum and tweetle dee are not news. US residents are sated with fear mongering and Lies from a prating moldwarp. Stop publishing the ceaseless trump indignities on your front page, your very capitalist proclivity. Your wallet is full. Restore some dignity to our national dialogue. For the national good, publish more poetic, less pustulant pieces, more grass roots, more pertinent to the millions of readers dumb trump numb, more vital to American democracy.
Bob Bacon (Houston)
You guys are feeding this thing...
dave d (delaware)
Ubu roi.
Ted Siebert (Chicagoland)
There was a time when the shock of the election subsided somewhat and there was a part of me that hoped he would succeed because maybe he would have a Scrooge awakening and place country over self. Obviously that didn’t happen. I think about this all the time- the idea that Trump is THE classic tragic figure. When it’s all said and done, possible impeachment, possible incarceration that others in the future will be aghast at the choices he made to run for president and risk he made ruining his lifestyle, children’s lives and his business and its legacy for what was basically a PR stunt to prop up his insatiable ego. But more should be pondered about the genius of Mueller and his tight lipped legal ship. My god- the information that they are privy to and the silence that they have demonstrated is the stuff of legends. It’s truly genius to watch Trump’s nemesis- a fellow GOP family member work in almost total silence. I appreciate the classic references Brett makes but with Trump he’s not sophisticated enough to be a Shakespeare character more like a Saturday morning cartoon and Foghorn Leghorn’s nephew has a lot of dirt on his uncle.
Steven Sullivan (nyc)
'The media' are businesses. And over and over we've learned that businesses care more about profit than principles. So as long as reporting Dolt45's tweets resulting in 'eyeballs' for their advertising clients, the media will continue to report them. Duh.
Bill Levine (Evanston, IL)
This is an interesting proposition, but in Trump's case life has already imitated art, because in 2016 the American people elected not Donald John Trump, whoever that really is, but rather the character "Donald J. Trump", larger-than-life real-estate mogul, tycoon, artist of "the deal". A work of collective fiction, in which Fred Trump, the New York tabloids, Tony Schwartz, Mark Burnett, and even Trump himself had a hand. A mediocre collection of artists, to say the least, but their creation has exceeded their modest talents. It is such a perfect fit for the weaknesses of American political culture that its shiny surface has blinded friend and foe alike. A pure creation of the imagination, the Donald Trump character is an ideal type, impervious to intrusion by the contradictions of reality. The press is laboring doggedly to expose the tawdry reality concealed behind this fictional tour-de-force, but it is hard going. The problem is that Trump can occupy the bubble of fictional invincibility as long as he can stay in-character. So the question comes down to this: is there something that can pierce through the bubble? I don't know a specific answer to this, but I do know one thing: reality has sharp teeth.
dnt (heartland)
"Put an absolute ban on quoting his tweets unless they contain substantive policy announcements." Why isn't likely to happen? Give it a try at least until the shutdown is over.
Miss Ley (New York)
Mr. Stephens, while the wit and wisdom of Voltaire are being brought to the attention of readers and commentators by Professor Darnton, an anglophile might add the travels and work of Jonathan Swift. Shakespeare, whom I have yet to read, but was introduced to his Macbeth when four years-old was a comedy, and I apparently liked the witches. A Mid-Summer Night's Dream, where the Nation falls under the spell of Bottom, came to mind back in 2015, followed by King Lear, for Trump will always be a tragic figure for this reader. There is nothing amusing or farcical about this ordinary man who got swept up and placed on the world stage. He is a sad figure, but fortunately does not realize it. There is not much left of his essence for we have taken it away. But all is not joy or sorrow in this existence of ours, and it is courtesy of Honore de Balzac, described as a universal genius with his vision of 'La Comedie Humaine', where one might find Trump center-stage and the Nation acting as the audience. We are going to have to do better than hope that during this brutal Tempest, All's Well that Ends Well. Trump may very well be Us.
Poesy (Sequim, WA)
@Miss Ley The tragedy is not that of this actor/character, but of America. He is just our objective correlative. Ts Eliot’s term.
Pete Rogers (Ca)
Why doesnt Trump just claim that the Wall is already finished and Mexico paid for it? They even paid more than he asked them for. Puzzling, I thought I had the guy figured out.
furnmtz (Oregon)
@Pete Rogers Trump won't be happy until his name is on the wall in big gold letters. He wants taxpayers to pay for the wall, and then his donor base will all chip in for the gold lettering. He is trying to erect a monument to himself to distract his base from his monumentally terrible presidency.
chickenlover (Massachusetts)
Stephens correctly notes that Trump "constantly trying to impose his fictions on reality" and the way to blunt its effects "it’s incumbent on the rest of us to keep the two separate." Those of us who can and do separate fact from fiction DID NOT vote for him but those of us who CANNOT separate fact from fiction voted for him and continue to stand in his corner. It is not a question of our ability to separate fact from fiction; it is that many Americans are incapable or unwilling to separate fact from fiction.
Phyliss Dalmatian (Wichita, Kansas)
@chickenlover Amen. It’s willful ignorance. Endemic in these parts.
LS (Maine)
@chickenlover It's Television. Turn it OFF.
Richard (Wynnewood PA)
The press needs to report the tweets. Ultimately, they may cause Trump's downfall as everyone begins to realize that the president is intellectually and morally bankrupt -- just like his business strategies that led to serial financial bankruptcies.
sammy zoso (Chicago)
@Richard What drives me nuts is the need to quote the tweet AND run a screen shot of it. Talk about overkill. Also not all tweets are worth covering, especially those of the tantrum variety of which most fit in that category. Rumor and innuendo from unnamed sources about him and the investigation are useless. The real job is to cover all of his behind the scenes deregulations and rollbacks related to the environment, finance, business, health care, etc. That's where his real evil lies and coverage is desperately needed.
JVHS (NYC)
@sammy zoso Thanks for your observation. Trump as ‘comedy’ is belied by how much damage his actual policies are causing environmentally, fiscally and morally.
Bob Krantz (SW Colorado)
@Richard More fundamentally, the press feel compelled to "report" tweets, lest they be replaced by Twitter.
Ian Carvin (Topeka, KS)
For a writer capable of bringing Trump to life on the written page, we need not look to Shakespeare or any other author who wrote primarily for an adult audience. Are you at all familiar with the character of Caillou, created by Quebecois authors Hélène Desputeaux and Christine L'Heureux? This duo seems uniquely well-suited to the task of accurately portraying Trump and similar characters in fiction. The resemblance between Caillou and Trump is profound and unmistakable.
Kathy (Chapel Hill)
Loved the MacBeth analogies. One further suggestion: The MacBeth by Jo Nesbo , bringing the classic story into the modern era.
Milton Lewis (Hamilton Ontario)
Stephens is absolutely correct. The media should deny Trump the exposure that his insatiable ego craves.But they will not .If Trump has one skill it is marketing and promotion.He also knows that he drives ratings for the fake and real media outlets. Trump generates ratings for all cable news networks.It might be good for America if the media ignored him but the bottom line of the media will determine his coverage.And it will continue round the clock.
Larry Figdill (Charlottesville)
@Milton Lewis Yeah, nice thought, but he is President of the United States, after all. For better or worse, it is a position that demand paying attention to.
Susan Fitzwater (Ambler, PA)
Well--that was good, Mr. Stephens. Thank you. But Shakespeare--even more than Gogol--has a word for every occasion. The marvelous lines uttered by Macbeth come to mind. No, NOT the celebrated "Tomorrow and tomorrow" soliloquy. Marvelous as that is! I was thinking of something else. As the English (aided by vengeful Scottish rebels) are inexorably closing in: " My way of life Is fall'n into the sere, the yellow leaf And that which should accompany old age As love, obedience, honor, troops of friends I MUST NOT LOOK TO HAVE--but in their stead Curses, not loud but deep--mouth-honor, breath Which the poor heart would fain deny but dare not." "I must not look to have"--as grim a self-diagnosis as ever I ran into. As who should say, "Such is my life from now on. I have myself. I have no one else. Nothing else." MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! Oh my! Yourselves, New York Times, pointed out the blindness and fatuity of this four-word slogan. What it comes down to (no fulsome flattery intended) is not AMERICA GREAT-- --but AMERICA ALONE. These words have echoed in my mind ever since. And hey! That's where Mr. Trump is right now. Isn't it? The man has gone through--what? Seventy one--seventy two years! So far as I can judge, he has shown not a particle of loyalty to anyone or anything. And now-- --like the Thane of Cawdor-- --he finds himself-- --alone. Like the country he leads.
DS (Montreal)
@Susan Fitzwater What about - "it [life] is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" -- change "it" to "Trump's life" and you got it perfectly.
Kathy Lollock (Santa Rosa, CA)
Delightful essay. The juxtapositions of notorious fictional characters with Mr. Trump are endless. Somehow it brings a little light until my otherwise dark perception of The Donald paradigm. Coincidentally just the other day I found myself thinking of Shakespeare's MacBeth. But what stumped me was his Lady. Certainly, although I admit I do not see why Melania sticks with this man, I could not see her in that role. But I immediately thought of Ann Coulter. Remember not too long ago it was she who criticized her president for being a weakling and not building The Wall? And suddenly we have a government shut-down..during the holidays no less. Speak about puppets and puppeteers... However, here we are. Exactly where - although anticipated by thinking America - we do not want to be. And never has that reverse cliche that life follows (infamous) art been truer. Alas, if only this were fiction.... (Btw, Bret, I loved your reference to "The Master and Margarita." That was an adventure to read!)
Deborah (Montclair, NJ)
@Kathy Lollock Ann Coulter is more likely one of the witches. The Lady MacBeth in this scenario is the ever-so-complicit Ivanka.
Brad (Oregon)
There is nothing even mildly amusing about the chaos and damage trump is causing. Look for a story where the villain blows up himself and everyone else when his day of reckoning comes.
Sunny Izme (Tennessee)
First, look no further than the book KILLING DEMOCRACY available on Amazon for the play about Trump. Set as fiction, but uncomfortably too true, it outlines how Trump will ruin our nation. Second, the point about starving Trump by denying him coverage is spot on. Frankly, I would be delighted to have a news source that said next to nothing about Trump and his pronouncements. It's all lies, so what is the point?
KM (Fargo, Nd)
sorry Mr Trump does not meet quality requited for tragedy or comedy. He is absurd, the very epitome of absurdity. In fact the last two years and, I expect, the next two will be written as the best absurd drama in history sans meaning, sans truth, sans understanding, sans humanity.
Lkf (Nyc)
WE can 'stop sending reporters to his press conferences' and 'stop quoting his tweets' but my suspicion is that we will have then made the Washington Post's 'Democracy dies in darkness' a proven fact rather than just a slogan. One of the great dangers of Trump is that, while he fulminates and distracts,his malign coterie works quite silently dismantling our civil government. Ignoring Trump and not bearing witness to his assault on America is a mistake we must not make in these dangerous times. There is little doubt that Mr. Trump is just a failing clown but the peril is that his supporters don't recognize he is a clown and the rest of us don't find him the least bit funny.
Alfred Yul (Dubai)
@Lkf Correct. The real tragedy for America is not so much that Trump is in the Oval Office but that millions of Americans believe he is a Godsend. This really portends doom for democracy and America's place in history.
JCam (MC)
@Lkf Showing up at a press conference where there are no real answers is a waste of time, and confers a legitimacy on this ritual that it no longer merits. Report the facts as they are discovered - by legitimate reporters - and discuss the contents of his tweets, but don't quote them. I am an ardent loather of DJT and all his policies, but as I awoke one morning, this sentence darted through my head: "No collusion!" Of course, I was amazed, and dismissive of the whacked-out blip, but there are people out there, as is all too terrifyingly obvious, who are easily brainwashed. Trumpian propaganda - like all fascist propaganda - has an unconscious power inherent in its sheer repetitiveness, and should be contained as much as possible.
jrd (ny)
The tale of the American "conservative" movement, with its aggressive wars, fee-for-service medical care, pursuit of global warming, politics by subscription and social engineered inequality, is just as absurd and terrifying as the story of Donald J. Trump. In fact, it's exactly the same story. One is the PBS version, the other the reality TV show. Trump is not the only one who should be taking a bow.
Blue Moon (Old Pueblo)
"Understanding what fiction is ... is a good place to start." Unfortunately, it's unclear how many Trump supporters bother to read, pretty much anything. If you can figure out how to encapsulate these literary lessons into a 30-min sitcom or perhaps a graphic novel/comic book, then maybe you'll reach some of them?
Chaz Keely (Wisconsin)
Sure do like the report what administration does rather than what Trump says/tweets. Just think it’s unwise to take Trump’s self-serving bait. I envision a mere talking-head report. More than that is superfluous, trending obsequious.
LT (Chicago)
Fear and Loathing in Trump's White House I'm not sure even the late Hunter S. Thompson at his most drug addled could capture the inanity of Trump's tweets and the insanity of placing this child in the Oval Office. Perhaps only a "gonzo" journalist could capture a president who has lost touch with reality and still commands the support of about 40% of Americans. After all, he did a nice job with another GOP president: "Nixon represents that dark, venal and incurably violent side of the American character almost every other country in the world has learned to fear and despise."
Pete Rogers (Ca)
But the is also a dark side
Cal Prof (Berkeley, USA)
Narcissists thrive on attention -- it's their currency, their oxygen. Journalists have to cover Trump, it's their job. But citizens can ignore him. That's our prerogative. Resolution for 2019: Make Trump Irrelevant Again. Apart from substantive policies (which the New Democratic House will mostly stymie), change the channel, turn the page, leave the website. You'll improve your mental health and strike a blow for the Republic.
John Locke (Amesbury, MA)
"Sound and fury signifying nothing," for some reason this comes to mind.
Jerry Farnsworth (Camden NY)
How could you omit the preceding, declaration proclaiming, “... a tale told by an idiot?” Itself preceded by the bit about “a poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage.”
She Who Must be Obeyed (Alpharetta, Ga)
@John Locke And the beginning of the quote - " a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury …" Such is our President
Paul (Bellerose Terrace)
@John Locke Don’t omit what precedes that, it makes it even better: “It is a tale told by an idiot All full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.”
Kathy (Oxford)
Fascinating food for thought, a wonderful parlor game that will no doubt be written by many, fictionalized and not. I would begin with Richard III as he ascended the thrown by devious methods, some obvious, some not. He was born high and carefully studied the landscape before he saw his opening. He eliminated opposition one by one. He seduced his wife, by offering protection and status. And ultimately he could not hold his realm together - perhaps because so much energy went into getting the throne while keeping it proved beyond him. That led to a very bad end.
John (Switzerland, actually USA.)
I like this. Trying to fit Trump into the great stories of literature. But, before now there was no twitter. Is there a short story of removal of immunity, conviction and removal from power, convictions for financial crimes, along with the family members and their businesses, and long prison terms for all of them? Just prose, and short. Nothing fancy, not even literate, as befits Mr. Trump.
Miss Ley (New York)
@John, 'The Way We Live Now' by Anthony Trollope comes to mind when reading your input, and his tragic Melmotte and family. But it is hardly a short story, and the long saga in the times we are living is coming to an end.
We'll always have Paris (Sydney, Australia)
A wonderfully erudite fantasy. But, as usual, Oliver Stone will probably make the movie.
Mark (Illinois)
Mr. Stephens writes: "Understanding what fiction is, and all the ways Trump seems to spring from it, is a good place to start." I understand the campaign funded by the far right, a campaign that aims to discredit the research results of virtually all legitimate scientists who study global warming, to be fiction. Based on his writings here and elsewhere, Stephens does not understand this particular fiction. And don't kid yourself, the conservative-led assault on the accepted science connected with the study of global warming is an important plank of their platform: if their followers accept their nonsense about 'climate change' as well as the theory of evolution, well...they'll believe just about anything. I fear for the future of democracy in my country.
Blue Moon (Old Pueblo)
@Mark "... if their followers accept their nonsense about 'climate change' as well as the theory of evolution, well...they'll believe just about anything." What's most difficult is trying to tie this in with Trump's statement at a campaign rally that he loves the uneducated.
Gerald Marantz (BC Canada)
I believe it also goes to the belief in a supreme being, a God. If somone can take such a leap of faith, they will also believe just about anything. Evidence the Evangelical support for Trump
Jan Syme (Sydney)
@Gerald Marantz - I’m a Christian, but yet take seriously the science on climate change, as well as science about other things as well.
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