I’m both fascinated and repulsed by Donald Trump, and since 2016 I’ve been looking for a character in literature to use as a metaphor for his rise and fall.
In the beginning I thought his affection for golden toilets and chandeliers made Jay Gatsby a comparable figure, and I wrote an essay making the case. Both are criminal pretenders, but Jay Gatsby operated behind a quiet, tasteful, polished persona. Trump could never pull that off.
Then, his penchant for lying brought Pinocchio to mind. Imagine the image of that nose based on the number of lies told during his term? Enticing as that is it’s not a fair comparison. Pinocchio was kinda cute, but Donald is anything but cute. Still, the little puppet being manipulated is tempting.
Closer still are the major crime figures – Corleone and Soprano – but Freddo is the only Corleone or Soprano that’s as dumb and weak as Trump. We know the Don cozies up to real life Mafiosi, but neither Tony nor Michael were cowards which don’t stand up as comps.
Recently, though, someone mentioned The Art of the Deal and the Faust legend popped to mind. In Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s retelling of the ancient German legend, Faust, like Trump, is the quintessential wannabe willing to sell his soul to be someone important. The Faust story is the prototype for “the art of the deal.”
In Goethe’s tale, Dr. Faustus is the striver. He wants to learn everything that can be known and when he fails to achieve it he turns to magic. Enter the devil…Mephistopheles.
Mephistopheles sees an easy mark and bets God he can turn his favorite human by promising him everything he wants while he is here on Earth. In exchange Faust will give up his soul and serve the Devil in Hell when his life on earth is over. Except for the “ambitious for knowledge” part it’s all very Trumpian. Still, when it comes time to deliver, I can see Trump trying to weasel out of the deal. It won’t happen; this guy Mephistopheles is all about “Promises made, promises kept.”
The American version of the story has several interchangeable characters, but the basic version is this: Donald Trump is no seeker of knowledge. He’s a greedy insecure swampish wannabe who squandered $433 million of his father’s money seeking Manhattan society’s acceptance – something he could never achieve.
So, after a litany of business failures including five bankruptcies, he turns to reality television and a low class portfolio of beauty pageants. Enter the devil…
In Moscow, Mr. Trump meets his Mephistopheles, Vladimir Putin, someone he’s admired and tried to meet for years. And, there in the Miss Universe contestants’ dressing room, he thinks up a deal. He will run for President of the United States while initiating a plan to build his dream – a luxury hotel – in Moscow. He thinks the presidential run will impress Putin, though he doesn’t expect to win. It’s another sleazy art of the deal deal; he will gift the penthouse of the Moscow Trump Tower Hotel to his idol in exchange for permission to build.
The Devil sees a pigeon fluttering on his windowsill. The former KGB officer has just the tool he needs to rebuild the Russian Federation. Executed properly his tool could disrupt America’s hegemony in the world. Promise the tool anything. Introduce him to oligarchs and money launderers. Buy his condos. Give him cash to buy the golf courses he loves. Send hookers up to his hotel suite. Flatter him. Make him feel important.
The hook is set and his soul, if he ever had one, has been sold for a building permit. It’s a fanciful bargain if Trump thinks he can outsmart a KGB officer who’s been running agents and turning asset for 40 years.
So far the Devil’s return on investment has been astonishing. It has yielded a deafening silence to Russian bounties for US military scalps, US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords, withdrawal from the JCPOA (Iran nuclear treaty), removal of 11,000 American troops from Germany, compromising our Kurdish allies by pulling back US Special Forces in Syria, alienation of NATO and European Union partners, calling American servicemen and women “losers” and “suckers,” greenlighting white supremacists, and refusing to call out Russian election interference or the murder/poisoning of Russian dissidents. Quite a list.
Mephistopheles is no fool. He has Trump by the balls and when Don the Builder goes to collect on his art of the deal, my guess is Putin will smile and show him the “golden showers” pictures from the Ritz Carlton Moscow. You were in way over your head when you made this deal with the Devil, Don.
Of course there are other versions of the Faust story rising from these swampy waters, and often Trump plays the role of Mephistopheles. There’s Jared Kushner and Mohammed Bin Salman, Evangelical Christians and Donald Trump, Mike Pompeo and Donald Trump, Lindsey Graham and Donald Trump, Melania and Donald Trump, Ivanka and Donald Trump. As the former Republican Rick Wilson says in the title to his book, Everything Trump Touches Dies.
“Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio/A lonely nation turns its eyes to you…” Paul Simon (Mrs. Robinson)