After more consideration of my query regarding Trump’s putative Shakespearianforbearers—if he took my (imaginary) Buzzfeed-style, PaulCantor-authored quiz, would he be Antony (eros) or Coriolanus (thumos)?—I have come to the tentative conclusion that he would be Coriolanus.
So yes, this is properly not an Unanswered Question post—
consider it more of a Tentative Answer post.
Hear me out, mon frères, because I know you’re shaking your heads; and remember that this is a dichotomous query: there’s no third box for Trump, to elevate or debase him beyond the given options. After all, what is the internet about if not oversimplification in the interests of entertainment?
Trump’s great flaw, most people agree, is his ego; speaking on the bright side, his self-confidence is his greatest asset. More specifically, he is braggadocious. He wants to be seen as huge. This contrasts one aspect of Coriolanus’s character—after all, the desire not to show off, not to be praised, is pivotal in the plot of Shakespeare’s play (as it was in Shakespeare’s source: Plutarch’s life of Coriolanus). But as anyone who knows the play well will recall, Coriolanus’s modesty is actually a form of humble bragging: he doesn’t want to show off before the plebs because he thinks himself above even their praise.
Now obviously, that’s not Trump’s issue. He does not seem to see himself as above, or above wooing, those who voted him into office. But the very way he courted them, in loud, expressive terms, along with his avowed tendency to fight back at anyone who resists him, is thumotic. And recall too that the great scandal of the presidential race for Trump involved bragging about being able to do something, and in a scenario were such bragging would increase his reputation. Even his eros has thumos.
In contrast, consider his erstwhile opponent, Mrs. Clinton, and her husband, the former president. The accusations against them have usually involved coverups of one sort or another, and coverups generally designed to conceal acquisition: of money, oftentimes; and for the former president, of affairs as well. Their tendency to grasp—again, I am flattening everything to fit this dichotomy—is, in the broad sense of the words used here, erotic. Their gods live mostly in their bellies. Trump’s lives mostly in his chest.
That’s not a judgment about the morality or immorality of either, or a comparison of who’s worse or which ring in Dante’s hell they would go to (or, please God and allowing for deathbed conversations and all that, what respective rings on Mount Purgatory they’d find themselves on). It’s simply an observation by a writer who tries to see things schematically: who likes to get the big washes of color down before filling in the details of the portraits that make people interesting, and (for better and for worse) human.