The Tartuffe-Trump Connection

On a superficial level, Molière's play, Tartuffe, or the Hypocrite has a lot in common with Donald Trump.
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On a superficial level, Molière's play, Tartuffe, or the Hypocrite has a lot in common with Donald Trump. It's about a man who makes himself out to be what he is not; that is, he wears a mask of piety and convinces everyone that he is even though he isn't. What Molière knew so well is that the word "hypocrite" has a rather fascinating origin. It comes from the Old French ypocrite, via ecclesiastical Latin from Greek hupokritēs meaning, "actor." In other words, a hypocrite is one who claims to have moral standards or beliefs, but to which one's own behavior does not conform to those beliefs hence the notion of "acting." What Molière also knew is that being an actor is akin to wearing a mask and the mask of hypocrisy seems to be an almost perfect fit for Trump (as it was for Tartuffe), and, presumably, ensures a steady increase of power to the wearer.

In Trump's case it works very well since, in fact, he is an actor and has been both on and off television. This elementary contrast within the man who plays a "part" is a basic feature of the role of being Trump. The part he plays is of vital importance to him. It assures his well-being and his domination over his Republican constituents. What's different for Trump is that the mask is not a mask of piety, ascetic, world-renouncing, sanctimonious, but just the antithesis since it plays on the fears and prejudices of a vast swathe of the American electorate. But this part is not kept up all the time. We see more than the mask, at times, when for one reason or another he, like Tartuffe, is not hypocritical, but sincere. For example, in Ray Nothstine's July 23, 2015 report for the Christian Post Reporter, Northstine writes relative to CNN's Anderson Cooper's interview, "Trump has reiterated on several occasions on the campaign trail his Protestant and Presbyterian background, and more recently, his admiration for his former pastor, Norman Vincent Peale, a popular Reformed minister. Anderson Cooper followed up asking Trump if "asking for forgiveness" is a central tenet in his faith life." I try not make mistakes where I have to ask forgiveness," Trump answered. When further asked about repentance again by Cooper, Trump said "I think repenting is terrific." "Why do I have to repent or ask for forgiveness, if I am not making mistakes?" asked Trump. "I work hard, I'm an honorable person." In talking about his Iowa appearance, Trump said, "We were having fun when I said I drink the wine, I eat the cracker, the whole room was laughing." One of the great ironies here is that Peale was most notable for his book, The Power of Positive Thinking which, in Trump's case would be just the antithesis; however, in a doubly ironic way, Peale's theory does fit in with Trump's theory. In a 1955 The Nation article by psychiatrist R. C. Murphy, titled "Think Right: Reverend Peale's Panacea," Murphy writes: "Between races for instance, this belief leads to prejudice. In child-rearing it drives parents into trying to obliterate rather than trying to nurture one or another area of the child's emerging personality ... In international relationships it leads to war. As soon as a religious authority endorses our capacity for hatred, either by refusing to recognize unpleasantness in the style of Mr Peale or in the more classical style of setting up a nice comfortable Satan to hate, it lulls our struggles for growth to a standstill ... Thus Mr Peale's book is not only inadequate for our needs but even undertakes to drown out the fragile inner voice which is the spur to inner growth." This would seem to come out of the Trump-Manafort playbook if not the Trump-Tartuffe playbook.

Trump's Liberty University Biblical gaffe of calling Second Corinthians, 2 Corinthians (which he blamed on Tony Perkins) was only second to his gaffe about the Bible itself. Don Johnson said in his article in "Charisma News": "Donald Trump has kept audiences around the country hanging on his every word. But he's revealed that he depends on the Word. At the local Republican Party's Lincoln Day Dinner in Birch Run, Michigan, on Tuesday, Trump talked about the pitfalls of President Obama's nuclear deal with Iran - including the fact that it does nothing for Americans being held hostage. The Donald said he could do a better job negotiating with the mullahs and mentioned his book, The Art of the Deal - which a member of the audience had in his possession. 'Hold that book up,' Trump told the man. 'That's my second favorite book of all time. You know what my favorite is?' he asked. 'The Bible!' he said, giving a thumbs-up. 'Nothing beats the Bible, not even The Art of the Deal. Not even close.'"

Tartuffe could not have said it any better. In the end, Tartuffe is revealed to be a fraud by the King thus saving the fortunes of the aristocracy. Unfortunately, in this tale Trump and the King seem to be the same and the only victims are the American middle-class.

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