Bookended by two Richards, one of the most turbulent eras in English history came to be known as the Wars of the Roses. The first Richard was Richard II, a monarch who started well but, for my money, ended by cutting the most resonant resemblance to Donald Trump: paranoid, mistrustful, disloyal, arbitrary, self-dealing, and rendered, in the end, limply pathetic with interminable self-pity. The second, some 83 years later, was Richard III, depicted by Shakespeare as possibly more villainous than he actually was – what else was the ever politically-aware Bard going to say of Queen Elizabeth’s grandfather’s mortal enemy? – he was even so a little too intelligent and personally courageous for an apt comparison with Trump.
But it’s the part that happened in the middle, the part that started badly and ended worse, those Wars of the Roses, inspired by the overthrow of that first Trumpian Richard, that has me most worried these days. If the enemy and usurper of Richard II, Henry Bolingbroke, who later became Henry IV, taught us anything, it is that no matter how deserving a King may be in losing his crown, the process of removing it sometimes comes with an unavoidable price. Nancy Pelosi understood this, and it was upon this understanding that she built her reluctance, until Donald Trump himself made impeachment her only option.
Trump, who is an idiot, nevertheless made a prescient threat, when he tweeted, in part: “So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights.”
There but for actual circumstances sits the Republican Party today. And lest we think, after the depredations of Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell and Matt Gaetz, such a thing as a Republican Congress could never happen, think again. It was merely a scant six years and three months after the resignation of Richard Nixon that the Republicans Party began a twelve year Republican dynasty in the White House, one whose antecedents led an erstwhile relatively virtuous party to the shocking embrace of a man like Donald John Trump.
Before Richard II, it’s true, the Plantagenet dynasty had its shaky transitions, but those transitions were largely based on the relative merits of blood claims to the succession, and not by the sword in the field of battle. We have taken up the sword against Donald Trump because we cannot wait for the rite of succession, and it was the correct thing to do, but it will forever put the Republican Party on an impeachment footing. For a party past pretending that anything they do is ultimately for the good of the American people, their third most driving incentive, behind their love of money and power, is vengeance. And it will be a terrible vengeance that they will take one day, if we let them.
It was after the deposition of Richard II that the crown became a tug of war, with one faction or another the winner – and England the loser. Not until Henry VIII, a monster in his own right, who murdered the last of the Plantagenets and ended forever the wars between the white and the red roses, was a kind of stability restored. We need to get rid of Trump, to be sure, but we also need to be thinking clearly about what kind of world we are going to rebuild in a post-Trump era. We will only have one chance to get it right.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.