This week’s midterm elections remind me of a story about Ernest Hemingway. A fellow approached him as Hem sucked up a margarita at La Floridita bar in Key West, and said, “Mr. Hemingway, I like your books, but I have a few criticisms. Would you like to hear them?” And Hemingway said: “No. If you criticize me it’ll make me feel bad, and if you praise me it won't make me feel any better.”
Quod erat demonstrandum.
Regardless of the outcome of this week’s elections, or of the next ones, or the ones after that, it’s obvious that the Republican Party has seized control of our government, and it’s just as obvious how they’ve done it: by ruthless, dishonest gerrymandering and suppression of the right to vote.
Democrats, even when they held the White House, and a house of Congress, have refused to be so ruthless. So, naturally, they lost. Over and over again.
Make no mistake: Our country is sliding into a second civil war, and the Republican Party loves it, because that’s their campaign platform, and their way of governing: Divide and rule. When Republicans go low, Democrats go home.
I’ve been on an Abraham Lincoln kick lately. Throwing $70 to the winds, I bought, at long last, a reprint of the three-volume “Herndon’s Lincoln,” by Lincoln’s longtime law partner, William Herndon.
Billy Herndon worked with Honest Abe for 16 years. His memoir is the closest glimpse we ever will get at the man who saved the union.
Next up was “Lincoln’s Herndon,” by David Herbert Donald, the first, and so far as I know, only biographer of Lincoln’s law partner.
David Herbert Donald — who was so poor he could not afford a last name — went on to write perhaps the best one-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln, named, suspiciously, “Lincoln.”
David Donald won two Pulitzer prizes for biographies of people other than Lincoln — Senator Charles Sumner and “You Can’t Go Home Again” author Thomas Wolfe.
But, hey, what else can you expect from an East Coast Liberal, born in Mississippi, president of the Southern Historical Association, and … never mind.
Where were we?
Pardon me for reading books — that’s still allowed, isn’t it? — but this week I polished off Bob Woodward’s “Fear,” and “Tyrant: Shakespeare and Politics,” the latest book from the world’s leading Shakespeare scholar, Stephen Greenblatt.
“Fear” is a frightening look into a White House ruled by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing but what the idiot thinks he might think next. Or think he thought. It’s a terrific piece of even-handed reporting — not a hit piece by any means. In its first 100 pages, Woodward actually made me like these people, who brought Hillary Clinton down by sheer showmanship, and by — dare I say this? — their professionalism in U.S. politics.
Greenblatt’s book was written in haste, but that’s all to the good. In it, without mentioning our president by name, even in a brief endnote, Greenblatt tells us what Shakespeare thought of tyrants — but even more, how tyrants manage to ascend to power, and rule.
Craftily interweaving little don john’s campaign rhetoric with Shakespeare’s plays — Richard III, MacBeth, Coriolanus, King Lear, the King Henry histories — Greenblatt shows us how, and why, tyrants are always the same. And how they pull it off. Richard III, Shakespeare’s first great creation is emblematic. We know he’s evil, we know he’s a liar, we know he’s despicable — but we can’t take our eyes off him.
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