By John Freivalds
Freivalds runs an international communications firm in Lexington.
There is nothing new in human nature. We are much the same as the characters in the Bible, the tyrants of world wars, or emperors in the streets of ancient Rome or chilly ports of Denmark. This all came together in a just out new book “Appeasement” by Tim Bouverie (Tim Duggan Books 2019). In it Bouverie points out that Neville Chamberlain, then prime minister of Great Britain, signed an armistice with Hitler’s Nazi Germany hoping for “peace in our time.” This armistice allowed Hitler to cut up Czechoslovakia and Chamberlain believed that this would be Hitler’s last land grab.
But as Bouverie points out “Chamberlain had never met anybody who in the least resembled Hitler . . . he had found that people he met were not dissimilar to himself--reasonable and honest. These dictators, so it seemed to him, must also be reasonable men.” Alas Chamberlain, although a university grad, hadn’t read enough about the Romans and Cicero (106 BC-43 BC). Cicero today is known mostly as a tough suburb of Chicago. But in his day Cicero was a noted statesman and philosopher. He introduced Romans to Greek philosophy and developed a philosophical library. He was against Mark Antony (of Cleopatra fame) who came to power after Caesar was murdered. Cicero wrote “Dictators lie to their victims and appeal to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. They rot the soul of a nation — -they work secretly in the night to undermine the pillars of a city — they infect the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to be feared.”
But, of course, this upset Marc Antony who called Cicero an “enemy of the state.” He was executed in 43 B.C. and as a warning to anyone else his severed hands and head were displayed for all to see in Rome. Today we face a president who says the media is the “enemy of the people” and flaunts most, if not all, the norms of polite society.
Hans Christian Andersen satirized people like Trump in his 1837 booklet “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Two tailors convince the gullible emperor that his new clothes are invisible. And none of the emperor’s courtiers has the guts to tell the emperor he has no clothes for fear they will be seen as stupid.
According to Wikipedia “scholars have emoted that the phrase emperor’s new clothes has become a standard metaphor for anything that smacks of pretentiousness, pomposity, social hypocrisy, collective denial or pretentiousness.”
The current president is not so unique as history is full of his types. The only thing that Donald Trump is afraid of is losing the next election. Nothing else fazes him. He lives in a world of alternate reality and has surrounded himself with frightened acolytes and the cults at his rallies who keep telling him his new clothes look great. And it is up to us to say “it isn’t so.” Virginia affirmed this view in the election of November 5.