In the more starry-eyed retelling of the story, Thomas Becket grew into the position of Archbishop of Canterbury. He took the job as a conniving crony of Henry II, intent on doing Henry’s personal bidding, but wound up succumbing to the position’s gravitas and majesty and human responsibility.
Becket’s life and eventual noble martyrdom make for great historical fiction (particularly in the eponymous 1964 film), but what part did ego and what part did honest piety play? Legend has it Becket really was wearing a hairshirt underneath his vestments when he died. Historical record suggests he was also prickly and egotistical.
The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. But whatever the underlying reality, true transformations of fundamental human frailties into something better are rare, and Donald Trump certainly doesn’t represent one of them. Those realists among us who witnessed Trump’s inauguration held out little hope that Trump would ever become a mediocre president, let alone a good one. (Those who hectoringly proclaim that “we never even gave him a chance” are, to put it indelicately, full of crap. He was president of the United States, for Christ’s sake. What choice did we have BUT to give him a chance?)
So Donald Trump had his shot at being another Becket and, to say the least, he blew it. What I don’t get is why anyone is surprised. Why is the recent article in the Atlantic (“Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers’,” September 3, 2020) characterising Trump’s contempt for the military met with such outraged incredulity? Are people actually shocked that Donald Trump ever said such things? By this point I would be shocked if a five time draft dodger who disparaged a Goldstar Family, claimed that his experience with venereal disease constituted his “personal Vietnam” and looked the other way when Vladimir Putin put out hit-jobs on American soldiers had anything less than contempt for the military. Trump’s entire life is a metaphor for contempt for the military.
I’m not shocked at all by what Trump said. I’m shocked at how shocked everyone is. Is it some kind of huge surprise when this evil man who does six evil things every day before breakfast says something evil? Are we really that naive?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the political backlash the Atlantic article has caused. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn later that the Atlantic article turned out to be the lynchpin, the inflection point, the final truth that put the prospect of a second term out of Donald Trump’s reach forever.
But I keep wondering when we’re going to stop being incredulous about the degree of Trump’s depravity. After all, this is a man who stole money from a cancer charity for children. This is a man who locks children in cages. This is a man who sends children back to school in the middle of a pandemic that claims a thousand deaths a day. This is a man who probably raped at least one child. Calling soldiers suckers and losers seems tame by comparison.
At any rate, there are a million reasons why Donald Trump is unfit to be president of the United States, this has been, however unsurprising, another one. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.