4 January

This Week, Donald Trump’s Doomed Coup: Confronting Tragedy – Shakespeare’s Hard Message For America.

by Jon Katz

Nobody can hurt me without my permission. – Mahatma Gandhi

Peace Comes From Within. Do not seek it without. – Siddhartha Gautama

Never respond to an angry person with a fiery comeback, even if he deserves it..Don’t allow his anger to become your anger. – Bohdi Sanders.

I can’t speak for others, but I’ve given enough of my psyche, peace of mind, and good energy to Mad King, ambitious and amoral politicians, and people who no longer can tell fact from fiction and don’t care to learn.

I don’t need to argue to the choir that what is happening in Washington this week is wrong. You know it, I know it, even they know it.

The question for me is what does it mean? What messages are we missing?

And how to get past it in a calm and meaningful way.

One of the greatest lessons in spirituality is learning to distance oneself from all of the negativity, falsehoods, and cruelty – they are the greatest barrier to inner peace.

One day we’ll all talk about this week, but for now, we will just have to go our separate ways.

This is a good week to learn how to be peaceful in the midst of continuous provocation. I refuse to listen to hours of speeches we know are false and have no other meaning than to promote individual political careers.

My plans.

1. As disturbing and frustrating as this week will be, it also has much less meaning than the drum-beaters and hysterics will give it. On January 18, Joe Biden will be President of the United States, Kamala Harris will be the vice-president. We will move on.

There is no way the machinations, posturing, and fear-mongering coming from Donald Trump can or will halt or overturn the election.

2.I don’t care how many Senators jump into the 2024 campaign early and start fund-raising or as just happy to kiss the President’s butt. Without the House of Representatives, the election will stand. And the House of Representatives, as you probably know, is controlled by Democrats.

The young senators leading this folly are all thinking about running for President in 2024. If they’re so willing to blow our democracy up they sure aren’t stepping out of the way for Trump.  What, exactly are they fundraising for?

3. Has democracy been profoundly damaged or even destroyed? Not yet. The future is upon us; whatever happens will almost surely not be what we expect to happen. And so far, democracy is holding up pretty well.

4. Trump’s tenure has days to go. Listening to that tape, I see that he is clearly losing his mind and falling apart. I choose to see this as sad, a humiliating chapter for America, and personal tragedy.

But I am less afraid of him than ever. Everything he touches turns to shit, every person around him is a dead man or woman walking, every scheme of his fails, every plot disintegrates, he stumbles and bumbles day after day.

He may seem menacing now; he will be on the road to being a national joke the minute he leaves Washington.

Which he will definitely do.

This grisly chapter – our King Lear or Julius Ceasar – will start on Wednesday morning and end sometime early or late Thursday. When it is over – no matter how many Senators join the farce, the theater that it is, Biden will be certified President by Congress.

Trump will be in his final days, rushing toward irrelevance. And he knows it, just listen to the tape.

If he doesn’t blow up the world, which we can do nothing about, but which Pentagon generals are already preparing to block  – he will begin preparations for exile in the land of Mar-A-Largo, and God help him then. The poor man doesn’t even dare to go back to New York City, where he had so much fun.

I drove past Mar-a-Largo once. I would go mad there in a week. It might seem glamorous if you live in North Dakota in the winter, but a reporter who covers it tells me this is the most boring place in North America.

For all of his warts and flaws, Trump is a born New Yorker, full of hustle and bullshit, which New York City is famous for. Palm Beach is for old farts who lie under tanning machines. It is the epicenter of nothing.

Trump probably doesn’t know it, but New York City was the perfect place for him, a big enough playground for his ego and pretensions and money-grubbing scenes. He actually seemed happy there, not the glowering sociopath of Pennsylvania Avenue.

This week in Washington has no relevance or meaning in my life, it would make my stomach sink to watch it, and I will take Elizabeth Gilbert’s good advice: Somewhere, within us all, there does exist a supreme self who is eternally at peace.

I am going to hang out with my supreme self this week. And William Shakespeare

I’m going to read Shakespeare, especially Julius Ceasar, perhaps the world’s greatest cultural look at Tyrannicide, a tragedy about power which eerily captures our time.

And don’t kid yourself. Nobody is looking to stab Trump to death, but if you listen to that tape from Georgia, you will see that he is killing himself, death by a thousand cuts.

Losing is the blade in his back.

We are into tragedy now, not politics.

Here’s where we are, and here is the logic of the moment. Shakespeare has a lot to teach us, he is worth paying attention to. A nod to Shakespeare and Julius Ceasar.

We are a deeply divided country, where a political entity called the Right has fallen in love with a celebrity turned strongman, and the Left, which hates the arrogant and disturbing celebrity turned strongman, who paradoxically, is a lifetime member of the urban elite turned populist.

In a modern context, the Left, enlisting all manner of lovers of liberty of all colors and ages, has succeeded in removing the strong man leader without killing him.

He refuses to go.

The ugliness of the campaign against the strongman, lingering love for him by the working people he has lied to and manipulated, and the vacuum left by his removal have permitted a bizarre far-right coalition of upper-class autocrats and resentful lower-class revolutionaries to end “corrupt politics as usual” by tearing democracy apart altogether.

They seem to be trying to replace representative government with a permanent kind of monarchy, whose harsh economic, law-and-order, and anti-immigrant policies mean to deprive individual citizens of their liberties and the right to participate in government.

Suddenly, the tragedy looms. Is our democracy dying?

Is this our story? It’s the same question Shakespeare posed in Julius Caesar.  Is he arguing for or against Tyrannicide and despotism, political or literal?

Shakespeare has no political agenda, say his scholars.

But we in America are obsessed with the same question he raised in his play: are we in danger of losing our liberties and the right to participate in democratic government?

Isn’t that what’s on the table in Washington this week?

A good cause for some nail-biting. After all, we’ve been through, a month after the election, we have come to this. A Trump attorney calling for Mike Pence to be taken out and shot?

Is this a new beginning, or the beginning of the end? This is a question absolutely nobody wants to ask, listen to, or hear.

In Julius Ceasar, Shakespeare shows us two things that emerge in the aftermath of a divided culture engaged in a civil war: we have a strongman hero and a huge part of the populace ready to worship and obey him.

In a democracy, the people are supposed to have the power, and in our democracy, Donald Trump’s power comes very much from the people – millions of them.

Women are fighting against being sidelined and ignored. A disenchanted and increasingly impoverished working class becomes a mob, angry and excitable, pathetic and fickle.

The people do not really want the strongman as a king.

What they really want is money in the bank and food in their bellies, and the fun of wreaking vengeance on the elites, who they are convinced have been betraying and ridiculing them.

The mob has abandoned the idea of truth or even reality; they are fragile and needy enough to be easily manipulated by well-funded political professionals and billionaires with wide access to money and influence. They have created a new world to live in, that is their tragedy as well ours. They really don’t know that their alternate world is now real.

But they will have to find out. Conspiracy and fantasies are not places to live, they are places to hide.

In modern, not Elizabethan, terms, here is the situation we face this week. A celebrity whose only value is personal ambition (like Julius Caesar?) seeks to keep or increase his power and prestige and refuses to accept his humiliating defeat by the larger polis, the body politic.

The senators are unhappy with their displacement by centralizing power in one man but are fearful of engaging in public debate against him. So they plot against him secretly.

The strongman thinks he is all-powerful. He is, instead, quite vulnerable.

The strongman’s supporters are desperate and struggling, but they are easily manipulated by politicians on both the Left and the Right.

So now, at the precise moment of transfer of power and the exile of the strongman,  the greatest threat is revealed: to democracy itself. Shakespeare’s vision of politics is shockingly relevant.

Who will ultimately be responsible for removing Trump from office and protecting our laws? Not the Left, whose opposition is out in the open but which somehow seems feeble compared to Ceasar.

The most effective opposition for an end to the fighting will have to come from the Right; in a July 2018 cartoon, the New Yorker channels Julius Ceasar. On his knees, Trump is saying “Et Tu Cohen” to his former attorney, who had turned on him.

This week, a lot of them are turning on him, including the powerful Senate leader. Plots are thinning. Et tu?

And what happens to the Republican Party when they finally rid themselves of Trump (I hope you don’t think that these ambitious young senators happy to pee all over the Constitution to get their fund-raising going are about to step back and let Donald Trump steal their ambition and their future?

The party has already begun eating one another, blood is being spilled in public. After years of eroding the traditions and sacred rules of democracy, the Senior Republicans are shocked – shocked!  that younger colleagues would abandon their oath of office for some money and a kiss from the emperor.

I can almost hear the knives in the background of all those Fox News interviews.

I’m with John Adams and Shakespeare himself.

The best chance for the recovery of any collective democracy lies in the political action of ordinary citizens. Both Adams and Shakespeare never lost sight of or faith in the people who always remained silent when they were called to support the tyrant, or the servants who tried to stop their vicious master from going too far, or the hungry citizen who demanded economic justice.

Donald Trump has given us so much to think about. I’m not going to waste my week by watching cable news obsess on this new play: the Republican efforts to block the election. The bloodless and doomed coup.

That’s just theater, a carnival, a chance for corrupt politicians to pose and suck more money from their followers. In four years, we might not even remember it.

Give all the power to the many,” said John Adams, “they will oppress the few.  Give all the power to the few; they will oppress the many.

When I look back at 2020, and the clouds and dust clear and lets me open my eyes a bit, I see and feel the people who remain silent but who make a lot of noise when they speak. Ordinary citizens.

There were signs of this all over the place – Black Lives Matter, suburban women, Portland Moms, Black Women, kids new statues. Change is coming, at its own place and in its own time.

I believe democracy was the only true winner of 2020, apologies to Joe Biden.

Trump is many things to many people, either the epitome of cruelty and immorality or the hero of a return to the glory days of American exceptionalism.

But in his book Shakespeare and Trump, Harvard professor Jeffrey R. Wilson offers us hard news. He says that Trump is really a sign of tragedy to come.
Trump was elected in part, he writes, because of a failure of imagination. No one thought it could happen.

Shakespeare has a brilliant imagination. He offers us a deeper understanding, Wilson says, than we get from the news or the pundits. Well, so does my donkey.

The echo of the Shakespearan tragedy in Trump moves us from the story’s facts to their true meaning.

“The echo of Shakespearan tragedy in Trump forces us to take seriously the possibility that this is the beginning of the end” of America we know and still expect to see, says Wilson.

This makes sense to me. Trump promised a return to the glory days of America, and in so doing, touched a deep yearning in much of the country that almost everyone else missed.

This isn’t a revelation that most people, myself included, really want to hear. It seems America was never really as glorious or exceptional as people like to think.  Voters don’t want to hear it. Politicians will dread to say it out loud.

Shakespeare, say the scholars, was unflinching in his willingness to confront tragedy directly and in-depth. More and more, I think this is why the tortured Angel Trump was sent back down to earth. To tell us have a problem.

It isn’t that America will disappear like Atlantis one day and fall into the see. But we might all have to see ourselves and our country as not really working in this form any longer.

We might need to face that and talk about it.

Scholars believe this is the very reason Shakespeare continues to be so important and relevant today. Maybe the true lesson of Trump is that we need to confront the idea that our country really needs to change, not that we are over.

We need to confront Trump’s idea: that we were so great and that we can be great again. It seems we can’t. He didn’t get us any closer than we were, he just bragged about it.

It might mean that we don’t need to be a military superpower any longer, or that a handful of billionaires can no longer control half the wealth of the country, or that a dose or two of the “radical leftist socialism” the Republicans are always screaming about – health care a share for workers of that of big fat corporate profit might be good for us.

We might need a different kind of government to function in a different kind of world. Do we really need to be a superpower at all, to be at war most of the time, to spend most of our money on bombs and new jets?

Trump asked a lot of the right questions. He just never bothered with answers.

Or that the Constitution we and our judiciary evoke so blindly and rigidly doesn’t work as well as it dug two centuries ago. Maybe we need a new and revised one, to reflect the challenges and promise of modern times.

Maybe we can’t keep blaming the poor for being needy. Maybe we need to make it illegal to threaten people online with death rather than cluck and moan about freedom of speech. Maybe we can believe in learning and science again.

Maybe we need to agree that homelessness on this scale is not acceptable for a civilized and wealthy nation and that we need to open our hearts to refugees again.

Maybe we could even face what many sociologists and scientists tell us is the greatest challenge of our lifetimes: the destruction of our planet. I notice that the Democrats running so desperately for election in Georgia, never mention Mother Earth. They are afraid people will think they are socialists and turn away from them.

How sad that the idea of helping people be safe and secure is now heresy.

What makes the spectacle in Congress and the turmoil around a tragedy is that we can’t bear to think about what it really means.

In that sense, we might all benefit from paying some attention to Shakespeare and what he says about us.

Perhaps Trump appeared for a good and important reason. America has forgotten how to be good to humankind.

“There are seasons in every country when noise and impudence pass current for worth; and in popular commotions especially, the clamors of interested and factious men are often mistaken for patriotism.” – Alexander Hamilton.


  1. Thank you for your perspective, I have spent so many sleepless nights ever since Trump raised his ugly head and declared he had not really lost the election. I continue to feel depressed about his nutty attempt to sabotage our country for his own aggrandizement. I loathe his kind of human beings and just want him to disappear forever. I want to see him broke and in prison. So reading that he may lose his latest battle to keep his throne does bring me some peace.

  2. this hits home for me, Jon. Very good writing (as usual). Hits me and connects in the mind and the gut. However……I could do without the header pic (LOL)…….I thought you weren’t going to use that photo any longer……….. I love it in general….but make it go away LOL. Maybe after Jan 20th it *can* go away!
    best always to you and Maria
    Susan M

  3. Trump in a way has done all of us a favour – woken the American people from a slumber thinking they are simply the best. With all due respect to all your readers, the label “the greatest country on earth” is more a self-gratifying political statement today, than an acknowledgment of the obvious – a failure to take care of a population that has been the backbone of the American society. This was the very reason Trump was seen as a game-changer in 2016. We know now it was a dreadful choice and paying forward with a terrible price.
    We cannot change the past four years. The nation has given birth to a new breed of politicians and those who have been there long enough to understand the reality, have lost their moral compass. Together this bunch of craven opportunists have sold their souls to the devil. They are destroying all moral norms in pursuit of absolute power. What they are setting out to do, even if it ends up in failure, is an insult to the Constitution and American democracy. I simply wonder what the country will be like if the shoe was on the other foot and the Democrats behaved this way? Unimaginable!

  4. of writing, reflecting some of my own thoughts about these tumultuous times. I have often tried to see the possible good the chaos & division may prompt in our country since Trump won the Republican nomination & the only reassuring hypothesis that I have deduced is as you stated, “Perhaps Trump appeared for a good & important reason. America had forgotten how to be good to humankind.” May we never, ever forget again!

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