Once, in Aleppo …

     Strange that no one has used “Othello” to study the wearying face-off between President Obama – the noble Moor – and the motiveless malignity of the Republican Party.
     Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the phrase “motiveless malignity” in his notes for a lecture on Iago, the evil lieutenant who plotted his captain’s death.
     Then Shakespeare scholars noticed that this curious lack of motive applied to another great villain, MacBeth, and to a tragic victim of himself, King Lear.
     The witches promised MacBeth he would be king. He had no motive to murder Duncan. All he had to do was wait around for it to be his turn. But he killed his king anyway, and brought ruin upon everyone.
     Lear had no motive to give his kingdom away to his daughters. But he did it, and brought ruin upon them all.
     Iago had no reason to hate Desdemona or Othello, aside from envy: that they were decent, admirable human beings, and he was not. But Iago arranged it so that both of them died.
     Shakespeare’s fourth great tragic hero, Hamlet, is the Democrats. Hamlet had all the motives in the world to act, but lacked the resolution.
     The Republicans’ somewhat sickening campaign against President Obama, now in its fifth year, has an obvious motive: they want power, though history proves that, like MacBeth, all they need to do is wait around and it will come to them.
     Not that they don’t have power already. They have the House of Representatives, the banks, the insurance companies, big business, most newspapers, the farmers, most of the old voters, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.
     What do the Republicans want – besides absolutely everything?
     This explains the motive, I guess, but from whence comes the malignity?
     Why has the Party of Lincoln, again and again, felt entitled to drive the country it wants to control – and does, in great part, control – to the brink of financial and political disaster?
     I am writing this before anyone knows how the multibillion-dollar budget sequestration will turn out.
     But how it turns out does not matter for the question I’m asking.
     What is their motive for doing this?
     Aren’t the alarming consequences of what the Republican Party is doing wildly out of proportion to any motive they possibly could have?
     Our presidents have a tradition of refusing to blame their predecessor for the problems they face. I suppose that’s a good tradition, though it can be dishonest in its charity.
     The fact is, President Obama’s predecessor inherited a multibillion-dollar budget surplus, which he squandered on tax cuts for the rich.
     Now we face trillion-dollar problems created by the avarice of Republicans and the cowardice of Democrats.
     And now Republicans claim that taxes that would not rise even to the level they were when the budget was in surplus, will ruin the nation.
     For five years the Republican Party has shown over and over again that it is willing to drag the country to ruin, if by doing so it can hurt a single man who beat them, fair and square. Twice.
     “I am not what I am,” Iago said.
     But he was. So are the Republicans.
     It’s motiveless malignity.

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