Trump as Caesar: Another View

This morning I had an appointment between Annapolis and Baltimore, and everyone over there was all abuzz about the shooting in Alexandria an hour or so earlier.  On the ride back to the Shore, I listened to several radio stations to piece together what had transpired.

Interestingly, updates on the shooting were intermingled with debates about a current production of Julius Caesar which is running in Central Park.  This version of Shakespeare’s timeless (and timely) classic has created a firestorm of criticism because Caesar is portrayed as President Trump.  Apparently someone bootlegged a recording of the assassination scene and posted it online, which has caused an uproar.  Some are even saying that the public performances in New York City made it inevitable that something like this morning’s shooting would happen.

While I can certainly understand why people would be disturbed by the nightly staging of our President’s assassination, I have to say that the real message being sent is exactly the opposite of what many might think.

Consider, first of all, that this play is classified as a tragedy.  The audience is never intended to laud Caesar’s murder.  Second, the conspirators kill Caesar in an attempt to protect the republic, but it backfires.  The nation erupts in war, close friends continue to betray and kill one another, and all of Caesar’s killers are dead within a few short years–many of them by suicide.  Third, in today’s political climate we like to make everything black and white, but the characters in Julius Caesar are nowhere near so simplistic.  They don’t even share the same motives with one another. And finally, the end result is exactly the opposite of what Caesar’s assassins intended and much worse than what they tried to prevent: the republic is destroyed and is replaced by centuries of powerful dictatorships.

So if you wanted to show contempt for President Trump or try to incite violence against him, portraying him as Julius Caesar would be counterproductive.  The message of this play–which, by the way, is more social than political–is that you can’t protect a democracy by using undemocratic means.  In other words, if you detest your leader and the direction he is leading your country, murdering him multiplies rather than reduces the chaos.  If we want to draw a political message from this production, it should be that presenting Julius Caesar as Donald Trump is a warning to fringe leftists that politically motivated violence is doomed to hurt rather than help their cause.

Should sponsors of the play in Central Park be shunned?  Should we be outraged that the sitting President of the United States is depicted as a slain dictator?  Has art crossed the line into political taboo?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But one thing is clear: no one benefits from thoughtless, reactionary diatribe.  We would do well to pay attention to the message of Julius Caesar, as it is every bit as relevant today as it was in Shakespeare’s time.

(By the way, if Trump is compared to Caesar, that should not concern us nearly as much as this question: Who today would be our Mark Antony?  He was the one that Brutus & Co. really had to worry about!)

Published in: on June 14, 2017 at 9:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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