“When a condition or a problem becomes too great … it goes inward and minces up with a lot of other things already there and what comes out is discontent and … a compulsion to get something — anything — before it is all gone.”
― John Steinbeck, “The Winter of Our Discontent”
Although Donald Trump has always been a doppelganger for Ethan Allen Hawley — the protagonist of John Steinbeck’s last novel, “The Winter of Our Discontent” — the weeks since Joe Biden’s election triumph have made the similarities even more striking.
Hawley, a member of an aristocratic Long Island family, resorts to bribery, theft, cheating, lying and betrayal, including of friends and others who trust him. He conspires with corrupt politicians, businessmen and bankers to obtain wealth and power.
His banker friend observes of Hawley what has ever been true of Trump and his sycophantic fellow travelers, “We all bow down to the Great God Currency.”
That enduring greed for money and power have been thrown into even more stark relief by the COVID-19 pandemic, with scientists and all other rational observers anticipating a winter not only of discontent, but also of increasing suffering and death until the vaccines are sufficiently effective to produce the elusive “herd immunity,” which Trump has said could be accomplished by simply permitting enough of us to suffer and die.
But Trump’s winter and “discontent” are separate from our own. He is increasingly revealed to be a demagogue committed not to our republic and democracy, but to his own greed and unrighteous corruption of power: power given to presidents not to bully and harm all who disagree with them, but to protect the safety and well-being of the citizenry and the endurance of the institutions of government.
Trump’s discontent has increasingly been revealed in his monomaniacal declaration to those who believe anything he says that he has been robbed of the presidency, dethroned by a cabal of corrupt and sinister powers (i.e., Democrats).
In this last act, not of tragedy but of farce, Trump has inadvertently stripped himself of any vestige of leadership or respectability. The Donald Trump we see sulking and skulking during a national crisis his ineptitude and indifference helped create has deepened how cold the winter will be for all of us.
Everything Trump put in place was to ensure a second (and imagined third) administration — cronies and acolytes in the White House and Congress, playing to the self-interest of the wealthy while covering up corruption and obstructing justice, stacking a federal court system and the Supreme Court — and were insufficient to overcome the will of the people.
But that has not stopped Trump from using a bullhorn to parrot conspiracy theories to the gullible and engage a coterie of lawyers less interested in either the law or their reputations than in retainers and fees (and in Rudy Giuliani’s case, a pardon). Even after dozens of failed lawsuits — each more outrageous and comical than the last — Trump continues to bellow out his supposed injuries, claiming “a landslide” and insisting dark forces have stolen from him the reelection he believes he has earned, if not won.
Steinbeck borrowed the title of his novel from Shakespeare’s “Richard III.” Richard became king by acquiring immense power and wealth — including vast properties and high-rise castles — and entered into a conspiracy with a powerful group of allies to usurp the throne.
History and the Bard portray Richard III as one of the worst British monarchs in history, as history already has begun to assess the evils of the soon-to-end Trump presidency.
Robert A. Rees, Ph.D., is a visiting professor and director of Mormon studies at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, Calif.
Clifton Jolley, Ph.D., is president of Advent Communications, Ogden.