A View of Trump from the Ancient World
Though its authenticity is hotly debated in the Classics community, both Cambridge and the University of Tübingen possess copies of a corollary to Plato’s Republic, considered by modern scholars to be the first example of a self-indulgent thinkpiece. The manuscript posits the existence of an additional sixth form of government: “Coprocracy.” From the Greek words κόπρος κρατια (kopros kratia), literally meaning “rule by feces,” the most widely accepted translation of the intended meaning is “government by the biggest piece of shit imaginable.”
The dialogue between Plato and Socrates, who are both implied by the context to be heavily inebriated, supposes coprocracy as a combination of all the worst aspects of the other forms: as in timocracy, the coprocrat would value “honor” and the pursuit of wealth over noble pursuits of the mind; as in oligarchy, he would engender constant conflict between oligarchs and the masses, in order to secure his own position; he would be completely and utterly unqualified to rule, as only demagogues in a democracy could be; and would inevitably be corrupted to tyranny as demagogues always are, surrounding himself with a loyal entourage of lackeys, both for his protection and to maintain his control over the people who surrendered their rights to him.
Any man capable of being a true coprocrat would, by Plato’s account, have none of the qualities of his philosopher-king: without shame, totally unreliable, enamored of ostentatious living, and reflexively abhorrent of truth. The only truly unique feature of coprocracy that sets it apart from the others, as Socrates countered, is the extent to which the citizens of the polis would devote their mental energy to wrapping their heads around what an unbelievable piece of shit their ruler is, and how the hell they let themselves get into this situation.
Okay, I think it’s been firmly established where I’m going with this, and I’ve flogged the Republic Wikipedia page for everything this joke is worth. If that bit came across as a bit professorial and high-falutin’, I apologize. After listening to that inaugural address this morning, I’m feeling a desperate need to fire as many synapses as possible to stave off the onset of brain death (the speech was Reaganesque in one particular sense, then).
Trump’s inaugural really did feel like the most insipid presidential address I’ve heard in my lifetime. The news reported that he had the help of a speechwriter, and if he did, I guess they held it to a fifth-grade reading level, avoided any attempt at imagery or flourish, and loaded it with small grammatical missteps just so it would sound like Trump’s own words. As diplomatically catastrophic as “Axis of evil” was, it was at least a stab at a rhetorical device on Dubya’s part, issued in incoherent response to three non-fictional, genuine geopolitical threats. Speaking of which, I nearly just pissed myself at the thought of the words “genuine geopolitical threat” in the same context as “President Trump.”
He went out of his way to demonstrate that he doesn’t really grasp, like, anything about the job he’s doing, let alone the world he lives in. In Trump’s mind, we are arbitrarily allowing our problems to happen, and he will stop them by not doing that. You have a crappy job because people in Washington are taking all the money and jobs from working people, but this cabal of second-rate billionaires is the answer to income inequality. Radical Islamic Terror is a discrete object that can be blown up, and blow it up he shall. Furthermore, the brother of an alcoholic describes addiction as a thing that he can and will destroy. All of our [black] crime and poverty problems are easily-Duterte’d “American Carnage,” which sounds like a direct-to-video thriller from 2009 with a couple of name actors that you see every time you open Netflix, but you never actually watch it until you’re hammered one night, and then you remember you saw the ending on TBS three years ago.
Now, that’s without even getting into all the laugh lines. When he dropped “a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before” and his crowd of 250,000 rabid supporters barely bothered to humor him — I cracked up for like three straight minutes. Trump is the master of inappropriate uses of the word “beautiful,” and his assertion that our “cash-flush education system leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge” was a classic entry in that canon. In conclusion, “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice” is one of the most utterly meaningless phrases I’ve ever heard — this country was founded by patriots who owned people. I was rolling in the aisles at the non-logic.
In spite of the overall laughable delivery, he still managed to terrify on some key points. “Politicians who are all talk and no action” was probably just a redneck applause line, but still one that portends a coming assault on the essential workings of democracy. He pandered to his murderous kleptocrat of a Russian pimp — lest we forget that he is very likely betraying the United States — then promised protectionism and the abandonment of the world, as well as a random threat to dismantle global supply chains; after the speech, I had the swift deletion of the climate change, LGBT rights, and civil rights pages to remind me who I was dealing with, not to mention the steamrolling of Obamacare.
Athens has been conquered by a barbarian who has declared it no place for Athenians, and promised to degrade and destroy the essence of its greatness to glorify his own image. We’re left to rely on the tenuous goodwill of a couple Spartans (word up Mad Dog) to keep the place relatively intact. Our philosopher king has been driven from the city, and an incalculably huge piece of shit has been left to rule in his wake. For the first time, this once-comfortable white American knows what it must have felt like to be trapped in the walls of one of those tiny, ancient city-states when a new brand of asshole took over, from within or without *cough* Putin *cough*, uncertain of how his cruel whims, ambitions, and fits of pique might upend my life. He’s taught me that, if nothing else, I can no longer count on my quarter of society to be spared from the purges — all bets are off.
We’re not quite there yet, but from this day forward, we need to all maintain our collective awareness that an avowed and proud shitball has set us on the trajectory towards coprocracy. American exceptionalism is still a going concern in many ways, but far fewer than it was before noon today. I’ve listened to plenty of people call him some kind of revolutionary political genius, as if a complete dumbass has never been good at sales before, let alone good enough to distract from what an utterly incompetent manager he is — I call that the Michael Scott Effect.
Trump hasn’t found some genius new political strategy, no matter how many times we tell ourselves that to avoid facing the frailty of our way of life. He’s used some money and profile to convince a lot of pissed-off people that they need a daddy to fight the evil other, just like every other asshole who’s littered human political history with corpses. It’s high time we remembered that what makes America great is that we found the solution to the depredations of men like him, and the solution to political violence itself. It’s called the liberal democratic republic, and I’ll be goddamned if I surrender that sacred tradition to that piece of shit because he wants the attention.
Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori — but if we don’t let it get that far, civic engagement will do. I’ll be at the march in the morning.