by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
I once wrote that whenever Donald Trump exits office, he will likely leave as a “tragic hero.” Over two millennia ago, the Athenian tragedian Sophocles first described the archetype in his portraits of an angry and old but still fearsome Ajax, and heroic but stubborn and self-fixated Antigone.
In the iconic John Ford Western “The Searchers” and in a host of other films from “Shane” to “High Noon,” we have seen stories of these sorts.
The legalistic but impotent town council, the idealistic but outgunned sodbusters, or the incompetent posse in desperation turns to unconventional deliverance. They suddenly need a John Wayne as a scary Ethan Edwards, or a mysterious gunslinger like Shane.
But to call in such Manichean outsiders is to admit that the status quo of a sober establishment has failed.
The outsider deliverers are suspiciously seen as self-absorbed. Their methods bother an endangered, polite society, even as they begin to bring it results.
We know such checkered iconoclasts from our own war stories of Generals William Tecumseh Sherman, George S. Patton, and Curtis LeMay. All three shredded pretensions. They reminded Americans that war is hell, and that the only thing worse than fighting so brutally against dangerous enemies is losing. And all three — only after the conflicts ended — were eventually deemed eccentric enough to be expendable.
As we learn from the second half of Sophocles’ tragedies and the last 30 minutes of classic Westerns, the nearer the tragic hero comes to ensuring results, the more his benefactors can begin to second-guess his bothersome methods.
They start harping about his uncivilized mannerisms and recalcitrant stubbornness, but only because they now have the luxury of regretting their initial invitation to enlist his aid.
The denouement is as tragic as it is predictable.