by James F. Jones, Jr.
Heraclitus of Ephesus (c.535-c.475 B.C.E.), Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.E.), and Ben Jonson (1572-1637) on The Aberration as President (2018)
We are not certain where the brilliant minds of yesteryear gather to discuss critical matters of concern for present-day mortals, but they are certain to be in Valhalla, Olympus, or Elysium and decidedly not in Hades. The conversation below is just one of many they are having about the increasingly dangerous crisis before the United States at this time.
Heraclitus: Well my friends, the chaos engulfing that greatest of all experiments in democracy, the United States of America, continues on a daily basis. Marcus, let us hear again those immortal lines of yours that ring so true for America today as they rang true centuries ago for a similar megalomaniac who was also a pathological liar.
Cicero: How well I remember that first oration in the Senate against that monstrous Cataline! Many commentators have since concluded over the centuries that they were my greatest lines as an orator. After much rhetorical deliberation, I decided to begin that oration in 63 B.C.E. thus: “Quo usque tandem abutēre, Catalina, patientia nostra? Quam diu etiam furor iste tuus nos eludet?”
Jonson, excited, interrupting quickly: Indeed! As if only yesterday, I recall having to render your famous oration into English for my qualifying examination at Westminster under our Latin master Mr. Camden! I translated those lines: “How long, pray O Cataline, will you continue to abuse our patience? How long will that madness of yours continue to vaunt itself before us?”
Heraclitus: What do you imagine goes through the minds of those elected representatives, who may still have some conscience, some remaining modicum of decency and integrity, when such “madness” does indeed “continue to vaunt itself” before the American experiment in democracy on a daily basis? The Aberration apparently most relies with complete confidence only upon something called, tellingly, “Twitter” to communicate his garbled pronouncements to the world. Recall that early on in this nightmare, one of his most public sycophants, the most appropriately named Madame CONway, advanced in all seriousness that The Aberration relies only upon “alternative facts” to explain his patently absurd false statements, far too legion to name as the three of us have tried to keep a compendium for the past many months. His attacks upon simple truths, together with those of his enablers, are as appalling as they are terrifying in their consequences.
Cicero: The Aberration obsessively a-twittering alone in his chambers! What an image of tormented isolation and utter madness! But, seriously you two, what about those present-day successors of Messrs. Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Dr. Franklin who had studied so diligently our philosophies when they were putting their new country upon such a supposedly firm foundation before 1776? What must their successors in the U.S. Congress think today about their leader? Their abdication of their solemn oath to uphold their Constitution will haunt these elected representatives for the rest of history. And, lest we forget, The Aberration never reads anything. So without any doubt, The Aberration is too ignorant ever to have heard of the three of us or any of our myriad friends across time.
Jonson: Although many think “Drink to me only with thine eyes” my most memorable line, I have always thought my truest declaration to be “Language most shows a man, speak that I may see thee.” I do not know about you two, but The Aberration’s hallucinogenic meanderings of speech seem nothing more than babblings lacking all coherence, logic, or forethought. His unhinged use of language resembles that which we have witnessed countless times in other demagogues across history’s long march. Eventually that revealing, linguistic incomprehensibility buries itself in its own tomb. If The Aberration’s language does most show the man, those poor mortals in America today face a most dangerous future. Mind boggling, all of it. And to my mind utterly inexplicable. Why would present-day American citizens have done such a suicidal thing to their fabled democracy by electing The Aberration to their highest office in the first place?
What do you imagine goes through the minds of those elected representatives, who may still have some conscience, some remaining modicum of decency and integrity, when such “madness” does indeed “continue to vaunt itself” before the American experiment in democracy on a daily basis?
Cicero: I wish I had some explanation, but I do not. But we three do know for certain what inveterately happens to such demagogues and tyrants and just as importantly to their sycophants. To a person they are always condemned by history’s inevitable judgment to eternal dustbins of shame.
Jonson: Over all these months witnessing such degradation, I have concluded that President Aberration is the most bizarre oxymoron in the history of that once honorable English language he has so sorely debased.
Heraclitus: History is always the harshest of judges, as our dear friends Mr. Gibbon and Monsieur Voltaire taught when they founded historiography for the moderns in their eighteenth century, and yes, we know what dustbins contain the eternal refuse of history’s myriad tyrants to say nothing of their enablers. What matters most is what happens to the American body politic until The Aberration ultimately falls victim to his delusions and his hubris. And fall he will in due course as history teaches time and again. Such an inexplicable tragedy. The Founding Fathers who were all steeped in our learned philosophies did propose the Enlightenment’s most thrilling concept: the noblest experiment in human history to found a true democracy. A tragedy to see that concept so tarnished by irrational madness and an abject lack of decency. Yes, Marcus, “How long will that madness of yours continue to vaunt itself before us?” looks more timely today for the American experiment in 2018 than it did even in 63 B.C.E. before you pointed out unavoidable truths to your fellow Senators as history engulfed Cataline in the throes of his madness.
Jonson: I concur: the issue for the Americans is truly how long will, or even can, the present madness possibly continue. Recall that our mutual friend Sir Walter Scott once wrote: “O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!” It seems to me that The Aberration’s entire adult life has been one deception after another, and now, he is deceiving, and soiling, the greatest experiment in democracy the world has ever witnessed. Ever since The Aberration descended his escalator to announce that he, of all people imaginable, was going to run for the presidency of the United States, I have taken solace, my Greek friend, from the most prescient sentence you ever uttered.
Heraclitus: Like your line, Ben, that one can “see” a person simply by listening to that individual’s words, this one line I wrote in my fragments centuries ago does portend for certain where The Aberration is unquestionably headed as it has shown itself true for all similar demagogues across time:
“A man’s character is his fate.”
Cicero: How true, as history always teaches. A person’s character always defines that individual’s fate. I so hope that George, Tom, Abe, Teddy, Franklin and certainly Winston can join us tomorrow so that we might hear what they have to say about this tragic state of affairs and how their characters foretold their fates as true leaders and thus secured for themselves their noble places in history.
History is always the harshest of judges, as our dear friends Mr. Gibbon and Monsieur Voltaire taught when they founded historiography for the moderns in their eighteenth century, and yes, we know what dustbins contain the eternal refuse of history’s myriad tyrants to say nothing of their enablers.
Jonson: I think we should now include the recently arrived shade of Madame Barbara Bush in our next discussion. How perfectly the dear woman’s character foretold her fate, which is why she is being so justly mourned for her decency and integrity in the chaos The Aberration has brought upon on the United States since his first mad ravings began, an eternity ago or so it seems to me.
Cicero, Jonson, and Heraclitus then faded from view, shaking their heads in disbelief, fear, and great sadness at what had of late so tragically befallen the United States of America in such a short period of time.
James F. Jones, Jr. is President Emeritus of Trinity College, where he was also the Trinity College Professor in the Humanities, President Emeritus of Kalamazoo College, and former President of Sweet Briar College. He is the author of three books, one of which was nominated for the Gottshalk Prize, the editor of a fourth, and the author of scores of articles and reviews. He presently serves as Alumni Ambassador at Woodward Academy, his prep school, the largest private school in the continental US.
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