Maureen Dowd: The US president and the damage done

Macbeth has his doubts. But his wife taunts him about his manliness until he bloodies his country.

It’s hard to believe, four centuries after Shakespeare, that the fear of being unmanned is still so potent that it could wreck a country. But it is. And it has. Donald Trump’s warped view of masculinity has warped the US’s response to a deadly pandemic. And Trump doesn’t even have a diabolical Lady MacTrump whispering in his ear, goading him about being a man. He goads himself, fuelled by ghostly memories of his autocratic father.

As Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt wrote, “The tyrant, Macbeth and other plays suggest, is driven by a range of sexual anxieties: a compulsive need to prove his manhood, dread of impotence, a nagging apprehension that he will not be found sufficiently attractive or powerful, a fear of failure. Hence the penchant for bullying, the vicious misogyny and the explosive violence. Hence, too, the vulnerability to taunts. Especially those bearing a latent or explicit sexual charge.”

Trump’s fear of emasculation led to his de-mask-ulation. Instead of cleaving to science and reason, he stuck with the old, corny Gordon Gekko routine, putting concern for the stock market above all else.

Like Macbeth, the president made tragic errors of judgment and plunged his country into a nightmare. Our trust in government is depleted, and our relationships in the world are tattered. As Fintan O’Toole wrote in The Irish Times, the world has loved, hated and envied the United States. But never before has it pitied us. Until now.

Trump has always said that the whole world is laughing at us because it’s taking advantage of us. That sound you’re hearing is not laughter.

“He could be on his way to re-election now if he had done what many of the governors did and followed science and public health advice and if he had levelled with people about what the requirements were and why,” said David Axelrod, the former Obama strategist. “If he had done those things, the country would have responded and been in a much better place. But he didn’t have the emotional capacity to do it. At a minimum, it’s Shakespearean. It’s almost biblical.”

Another crisis

Even Trump’s allies are baffled about why he can’t fake a sense of compassion and competency. He has made enough cheesy movie cameos even one hawking cheese-stuffed Pizza Hut crust – that he should know how to pretend to be halfway human.