Shakespeare Sunday: Pride Before the Fall

In reference to the title, it turns out that “pride before the fall” is actually a misquote from Proverbs.  In the King James Bible, the quote is, “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before the fall.”

Sound like anyone we’ve seen in the news recently?

In casting about for a Shakespeare moment that I liked for today, I couldn’t get my mind off the cascade of news coming out of Washington. It’s like I have the Trump virus and it’s infected my brain.  However, his bully-boy tour of Europe and decision to pull the U.S. from the Paris accords, his continued narcissism and dog-eat-dog mentality took me to a quote from Julius Caesar, where Caesar admits that yes, there are other men but compares himself to the Northern Star, immovable and incomparable–in other words he too sees himself as unpresidented.  It goes like this:

I could be well moved, if I were as you.

If I could pray to move, prayers would move me.

But I am constant as the Northern Star,

Of whose true fixed and resting quality

There is no fellow in the firmament.

The skies are painted with unnumbered sparks;

They are all fire and every one doth shine.

But there’s but one in all doth hold his place.

So in the world: ’tis furnished well with men,

And men are flesh and blood, and apprehensive.

Yet in the number I do know but one

That unassailable holds on his rank,

Unshaked of motion; and that I am he

Let me a little show it, even in this:

That I was constant Cimber should be banished,

And constant do remain to keep him so. (3.1.64-79)

Of course, this is moments before he is lured into the betrayal by his most trusted allies and is brutally assassinated.  The quote reminded me of how fragile leadership is especially when it is not tempered by self-awareness and a sense of morality.

And then columnist David Brooks’s essay in the New York Times, kicked my Trump virus into full gear with his insightful break-down of a statement made by two of Trumps lackeys this week.  Brooks wrote:

“This week, two of Donald Trump’s top advisers, H. R. McMaster and Gary Cohn, wrote the following passage in The Wall Street Journal: ‘“The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a cleareyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.”’

What disturbed me most (and made me think of Roman times) was their use of the word “arena” to describe the world view of the Trumpistas.  They claim that their leader has a “clear-eyed” world vision that we are locked in battle with everyone seeking our own “advantage.” It derides and sweeps away generations of foreign policy that were centered on the creation of a “global community” for the greater good.

Brooks continues to comment that this attitude, “explains why people in the Trump White House are so savage to one another. Far from being a band of brothers, their world is a vicious arena where staffers compete for advantage.”

Have you seen the reports of how difficult it has become to find anyone willing to work at the White House? There are fewer people running this White House than there were cast members of the “West Wing” television series.

Brooks ends his column with a historical insight (Greeks this time) that suggests we are on a path that fills people like me with dread:

“I wish H. R. McMaster was a better student of Thucydides. He’d know that the Athenians adopted the same amoral tone he embraces: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” The Athenians ended up making endless enemies and destroying their own empire.”

Likewise, the Biblical passage above is somewhat incomplete.  The full passage is, “Pride goeth before destruction and an haughty spirit before a fall. Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.”

Bits of wisdom that Mr. Trump would be entirely immune from.  Besides, they come in long sentences with big words and no pictures.

Oh, well.  Think I’ll just brew me up a big pot of covfefe and enjoy the rest of my Sunday.  I hope you do too!

Let’s Elect a President Who Has Already Been President

I really have resisted for as long as I could. It is simply not possible to be a writer and not long to comment on the 2016 presidential campaign, especially as it becomes weirder and more unpredictable by the day.

As of today, the front-runner on the Republican side is reality star/businessman Donald Trump, who almost daily spews out some kind of new outrage, continually lies about what he has said in the past, and stomps all over any kind of decent political discourse. Most disturbingly, his clone-lets across the country continually mouth his rhetoric about “making American great again” and profess their loyalty because “he’s someone who tells it like it is!” even though he never actually says anything.

And on the Democratic side there is the surprising candidacy of Bernie Sanders, who I thought simply wandered into the race by accident. He is from a state that is about as big as my garage, but he has a strong, idealistic, and completely unrealistic agenda that is capturing the imagination of yuuuuge numbers of young people pulling for the old dude to upset the presumed coronation of Hillary Clinton.

You can’t make this stuff up. It’s beyond what fiction would allow. Every day that I read the paper, I feel like I’ve stepped into a Dali painting. It reminds me of how I felt in 2003 when California, in the midst of a deep energy and economic crisis, recalled Governor Gray Davis and replaced him with an Austrian weightlifter—and then we kept the Governator on the job for 8 more years!

So nothing seems particularly outlandish to me anymore and I am ready to unveil my radical proposal. Let’s elect someone for president who has already been president!

No, I’m not suggesting we bring back Bush, Bubba, or Barack. Let’s choose from some of the fine actors who have pretended to be president in film and TV because, after all, isn’t being president all about pretending that you know what you are doing most of the time?

So, let me suggest the following five candidates, in no particular order chosen based upon two criteria. One, they showed the ability to give a great speech, one that inspires and unifies, and two, that they showed the ability to get something done.

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 As far back as I went in my research, America’s first African-American president was not Barack Obama, but rather Tom Beck, played by Morgan Freeman in the 1996 film Deep Impact. Personally, I’d feel very comfortable with Freeman at the helm given the air of thoughtfulness, honesty, and wisdom that he shows in this film. After all, he faced an oncoming ecological disaster (a comet racing toward earth) without pretending that it didn’t exist or that it was no big deal (see all Republican candidates re:climate change). Not only that, he came up with not one, but two plans to see that life would continue on earth after the catastrophe and helped to calm the nation both before and after.

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Kevin Kline also gets my endorsement as a candidate for his role in the 1993 film, Dave. Kline is uniquely qualified because as an actor he has already pretended to be a guy who is pretending to be the president! Kline plays Dave Kovic, a look-alike for the sitting president, Bill Mitchell who takes over the role when the president suffers a catastrophic stroke. Not only is he able to stand up to his scheming chief of staff, he works cooperatively with his cabinet to cut ridiculous appropriations to save his not-First Lady’s pet homeless shelter project, and launches an ambitious jobs program. He addresses Congress by owning up to the sins of his predecessor and summarily exposes all of the corruptions that had been allowed to flourish. His ability to pretend to be warm and honest would serve him well as our president. I would have no problem endorsing Kevin/Dave/Bill for president.

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My third potential candidate would be Dennis Haysbert who played President David Palmer from 2001-2004 (in season 1, he is candidate Palmer) in the action series, 24. During his presidency, he faced an unprecedented series of potentially catastrophic terrorist attacks, supported by CTU, possibly the most inept counterterrorism unit ever created. I realize they needed to keep the crisis going for a full 24 episodes, but honestly, not once did a CTU leader say the words, “you guys cover the back in case the terrorist decides to sneak out the back door when we storm the front.” Just never occurred to them. Despite this, Palmer inspired calm and confidence and managed 3 full seasons without ever being shot or tortured by Jack Bauer, no small accomplishment. And through every potential disaster, he kept it quiet that he had our back—he had an Allstate Insurance policy lined up for the entire country.

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My toughest-to-make endorsement goes to Kevin Spacey who has now completed two seasons as President Frank Underwood in the Netflix series House of Cards. Sure, he is unprincipled and ruthless, but those certainly have never been presidential disqualifiers. We have seen his ability to work behind the scenes to push legislation through, cajoling, charming, threatening, and occasionally murdering individuals that might resist his agenda. Frank has also shown to be modest and compelling in giving a speech, even as he lets us, the audience, know that he is dishing pure, undiluted bullshit. Kevin would have to reign in some of Frank’s rough edges to get my full endorsement, but let’s face it, there are scarier people than Frank Underwood who are currently being taken seriously as candidates today.

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My final recommendation is certainly my most heartfelt. From 1999 to 2006 on every Wednesday night, I could comfort myself that for one hour my president was named Josiah “Jed” Bartlet played by Martin Sheen on the immensely popular television series, West Wing. Bartlet showed toughness, compassion and a strong intellect as president. As long as writer Aaron Sorkin was nearby, he was never at a loss for a speech that was comforting and forceful. Maybe his most important contribution was helping me to hold faith in the American political process while suffering thought eight years of George Bush. For seven years, Jed Bartlet was my president. I’d have no problem voting to give him another four or eight.

Fanciful? Maybe. But look at the five remaining candidates and tell me if you think that the primary winnowing process has produced the five most trustworthy and qualified people to lead our country. Tell me you have complete confidence in any of them. Now, look at my five candidates, each one of them with extended experience in being a pretend president. I’m not even sure where the write-in box is for the presidential vote, but I may be looking for it when November rolls around.