If history's greatest novelists and playwrights were to come back from the dead so they could tell the improbable tale of Donald Trump, how would they do it? How might they capture the man and his presidency in all of its hallucinatory, absurd and terrifying detail when we journalists usually seem to come up short?
Let's begin with Shakespeare. Would the Bard write Trump as a comedy or a tragedy?
Back in 2015, when Trump announced his candidacy, it would surely have been a comedy. The Donald would have been Falstaff, that "huge hill of flesh", as Prince Hal calls him, whose lies are "gross as a mountain, open, palpable". Here we would have a character who always plays for the cheap seats - ribald and ridiculous; magnetic but pathetic - and who, fortunately, would be destined for nothing more.
Except that in our real-life, present-day drama, this Falstaff has somehow managed to usurp Henry and seize his crown. Thus we move from comedy to tragedy: Trump as Macbeth.
Admittedly, it's hard to picture Melania as a model for Lady Macbeth. But Roger Stone, Steve Bannon and Ann Coulter are perfect as the three witches. Banquo? That's easy: Michael Cohen, both as living accomplice and ghostly reproach. Macduff, of course, is Bob Mueller.
What about something in a more satirical vein?
Just as Trump's presidency is a saga of epic political disruption, Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita tells a story of what happens when the devil and his retinue arrive in a capital city that is so full of its own moral certitudes that it thinks it can deny the possibility of his existence.
Even a resurrected Bulgakov, however, would have trouble recasting his professorial Satan as a cheap and heedless reality-show star. As an alternative, Nina Khrushcheva of The New School in New York suggests I take a close look at Nikolai Gogol, particularly his 1836 play The Government Inspector.
It's the story of an out-of-towner named Ivan Khlestakov - a civil servant of no great means or talent but with spendthrift habits and unlimited chutzpah - who is mistakenly taken by the corrupt local mayor as a secret government inspector. Khlestakov takes advantage of the mistake to extract big loans from the locals, bully the mayor, and run off with his daughter. His imposture is revealed only after he's left town.
"There is no direct comparison" between Russian autocracy and American democracy, Khrushcheva acknowledges. "And yet there is some resemblance to the Russian reality - the idiot is sitting on top of you, spouting orders and tweets, and you have to tolerate his presence and even call the moron your president."
Can nothing be done? The cliche about Russian literature is that it has a tendency toward fatalism, whereas what we really need is literature that supplies remedies. That's especially so when it comes to Trump's codependent relationship with the news media. The more he drives us nuts, the more attention we give him. The more we give him, the more he's inclined to drive us nuts - a classic vicious cycle.
Aristophanes would know how to break it. The father of comedy understood that the only sure way to tame the beast is to starve it. In Lysistrata, the women of Greece decide to put an end to the Peloponnesian War by barricading themselves in the Acropolis and withholding sexual favours until the men of Athens and Sparta put down their spears. It's extremely effective, spear-wise.
Isn't it time the news media try something analogous with Trump, by denying him what he craves most? Put an absolute ban on quoting his tweets unless they contain substantive policy announcements. Stop sending reporters to his news conferences, which long ago became theatres of no information. Write more about what the administration does, less about what Trump says. Report news that has nothing to do with the administration at all. Award journalism prizes to stories that don't contain the word "Trump" at all.
OK, that's not likely to happen.
All the same, in an era in which the President is constantly trying to impose his fictions on reality, it's incumbent on the rest of us to keep the two separate. Understanding what fiction is, and all the ways Trump seems to spring from it, is a good place to start.
The New York Times