The Scary Connection Between Donald Trump & Macbeth

FIRE BURN AND CAULDRON BUBBLE

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BY ANTHONY CAPPO

As the Trump campaign’s self-implosion continues, and the candidate increasingly lashes out, many have pointed to historical parallels: Hitler in the bunker, Nixon at the height of Watergate.  But for me, the figure who comes to mind is not a politician but a literary character: Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Macbeth, whose “vaulting ambition” led to murder, civil war, and his own eventual destruction. Now I’m not saying that Trump has murdered anyone (Don’t sue me, Donald!), but the parallels are there.

Macbeth was already plenty successful (a military general and a thane), when he encountered Three Witches (The Weird Sisters) on the heath. The Witches prophesied that Macbeth would become king of Scotland. Spurred by this prophecy, Macbeth, kills the king, and Macbeth, the king’s kinsman, assumes the throne of Scotland.

But soon Macbeth begins to act erratically and the court and nobles begin to become suspicious, with some abandoning him and going into exile. Increasingly anxious, Macbeth consults the Witches on the heath again to find out more about his future. The Witches reassure him by saying, among other things, that he would never be vanquished until “great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him”—a seeming impossibility that a distant forest could uproot and move to the grounds of Macbeth’s castle in Dunsinane.

So who are the Weird Sisters in this contemporary tragedy, the ones who assured Trump that despite his volatile temperament, his rampant narcissism, and all of his past bad behavior—complete with incriminating videos and audio—he could still rise to the presidency.  Certainly, Roger Stone is one, the rogue political operative who has apparently been planning a presidential campaign with Trump for 30 years. Steve Bannon, the head of the alt right Breitbart News, who is stoking Trump’s conspiracy theories and paranoia as we speak. Julian Assange—whispering in his ear that he has such explosive material on Hillary that her campaign is surely doomed. 

And beyond those three, so many other candidates: Roger Ailes and Sean Hannity, Trump’s Fox News media cheerleaders; Chris Christie, his erstwhile rival and first big name Republican politician to go to his side; Newt Gingrich (“eye of Newt and toe of frog” - essential ingredients in the Weird Sisters’ brew); and many other enablers and associates.

The weekend the Access Hollywood video came out, prominent Republican after prominent Republican either denounced or abandoned Trump. In Trump Tower a siege mentality was said to reign, as allies fled and his enemies gained strength. I could imagine Donald ranting:

Bring me no more reports; let them fly all:

Till Birnam Wood remove to Dunsinane,

I cannot taint with fear.

(V.iii.1-3)

In “Macbeth,” the rebel forces, backed by the English, advance on Macbeth’s castle by camouflaging themselves with branches from Birnam Wood.  Besieged by media reports and party defections, Birnam Wood was now coming to Trump Tower.

As the pressure tightens, Trump is not even pretending to play nice anymore. Earlier in the campaign, when at rallies his supporters would scream “Lock her up,” Trump would say simply, “We will defeat her.”  But now those chains are off.  At the second debate, he promised to appoint a Special Prosecutor and assured that Clinton would end up in jail. He repeats these lines now at rallies and the crowds go wild. Similarly, Macbeth, resolved to do whatever was necessary to retain his hold on power, says:

. . . For mine own good

All causes shall give way.  I am in blood

Stepp’d so far that, should I wade no more,

Returning were as tedious as go o’er.

(III.iv.134-137)

Like Macbeth, Trump has insulted so many, said so many outrageous things, that there is no turning back. It’s all about self-preservation now. Deny the allegations, destroy his accusers, and pile lie upon lie about Hillary and how the establishment is conspiring against him. 

And the mood among Trump’s supporters has become darker. Weeks ago, Trump would talk occasionally about the election being rigged, but did not seem to push the point too hard. Now he mentions this at almost every opportunity, now including “establishment” Republicans, along with the media, as culprits. Trump is encouraging aggressive poll watching, and calling into question the legitimacy of any election result that does not see him crowned the winner. And his supporters are consuming it whole. On television, an otherwise congenial woman threatens that if Trump does not win, his supporters are well-versed in Second Amendment remedies. Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee, a fervent Trump advocate, has said it’s “pitchforks and torches” time.  A Trump supporter recently said that if Hillary wins, she “needs to be taken out.”   

This seems to be the mood among the Trump faithful and Trump is doing nothing to discourage it. Instead, Trump, his poll numbers flagging, buffeted with criticism from all sides, is acting out like a petulant child.  He does not seem to care what damage he leaves for the country, as long as he himself saves face. If Trump is going to go down, he’s going to take the whole stinking edifice down with him. Macbeth, his enemies advancing on his castle, declared:

I gin to be a-weary of the sun,

And wish th’ estate o’ th’ world were now undone.

Ring the alarum-bell!  Blow wind, come wrack,

At least we’ll die with harness on our back.

(V.v.48-51)

This is the tragedy Trump threatens to play out now.  I used to fear a Trump presidency and all the destruction—both domestically and internationally—it would bring. Now I fear the aftermath of a Trump loss. His supporters seem to be in no mood to accept a losing electoral verdict, to acquiesce to the “rigged system.” And Trump is stoking the flames, threatening to keep the nation “in suspense” as to whether he is going to accept the election results. He seems perfectly ready to bring the whole “estate o’ th’ world” down with him. If Trump continues to question the legitimacy of the election, the consequences could be unpredictable. We could be in for a post-election full of sound and fury, and maybe worse.


Anthony Cappo is the author of the chapbook, “My Bedside Radio” (Deadly Chaps Press, 2016). His poems have appeared in Prelude, Connotation Press – An Online Artifact, Stone Highway Review, Pine Hills Review, Yes Poetry, and other publications. Anthony received his M.F.A in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College. He was one of the first contestants on the 1990s TV quiz show, “Trump Card,” but, thankfully, did not have to meet The Donald. Anthony’s work can be found at anthonycappo.com.