Shakespeare on Trump: A Tale Full of Sound and Fury

By Jamie Stiehm

September 19, 2018 5 min read

WASHINGTON — Thunder, lightning and rain lash us. The White House flies in the eye of the "Scottish play," whose name theater people will not utter. And Donald Trump, the president, in an earlier life served as the original model for "Macbeth," the Bard's greatest tragedy.

That was Abraham Lincoln's favorite play. He knew it by heart. Oh, to hear Lincoln recite Macbeth's famous line about life: "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Perfect. Shakespeare captures any day in the life of this tawdry presidency. If you're searching for meaning, give up the ghost.

The drama's daggers, sleepless nights and a steep fall into madness, are signs of the times we live in. I saw a splendid production at the Folger Theatre, staged in lavish Restoration style. (The September run is sold out.)

The American president was sworn in, scowling and angry, and every day since he's expanded the people he hates. The press is "an enemy of the people." So much for the First Amendment. But that was just the beginning of his savage mockery.

Trump counts conspiracies against him, decrying his own Justice Department, insulting Attorney General Jefferson Sessions and even scolding NFL players taking a knee. The Puerto Rico humanitarian crisis was all about making him look bad.

That's pretty much what Trump does for a living: He stirs the boiling cauldron of his grudges, mixing in what roils us most, race. His colors came out when he sullenly stated that both sides of the deadly Charlottesville race riot had "very fine people." Again, an angry scowl. He can't act a bigger character, in public or private, for all the bling in the world.

(If he stays mum on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, it's out of self-preservation, given his wretched record on women.)

Fear is Trump's watchword, especially as Bob Woodward's best-selling book by that title just came out, sourced by advisors who dare not speak their names.

The book's tragic chorus is that Trump knows not what he does — and worse, doesn't care that he knows nothing about government. Chief of staff John Kelly calls the chaotic White House "Crazytown." Not even the former Marine Corps general can impose order on the boss's sound and fury.

This state intensified as Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, flipped in the Russian investigation, and an anonymous aide penned an Op-Ed in The New York Times describing Trump as a mercurial ruler.

The black arts his White House aides and Cabinet members practice is "slow-walking" orders, or ignoring them altogether. The president's grasp of policy is a bitter jest.

The tough, sane Secretary of Defense James Mattis ducked holding a massive military parade on Pennsylvania Avenue; he has to mind the Pentagon. But Mattis, another former Marine Corps general, may pay with his job.

So, we hold our breath and hope generals guard the fiend well.

In the play's second act, the thane — or general — Macbeth murders the "great and good" Scottish king, Duncan, while the king slept in Macbeth's castle. Egged on by his "dearest love," Lady Macbeth, Macbeth then takes Duncan's crown at court. His path to power is soaked in blood, but he can't turn back.

A self-aware villain, Macbeth charts his descent into breakdown. Woodward says this White House is on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

It quickly becomes clear to all that Macbeth seized the chance to become king by bloody murder. Banquo and MacDuff, a general and a nobleman, are his next victims. It is not pretty.

From our angle, Duncan is cast as Barack Obama, since Trump all but destroyed Obama's legacy and denied his birthright.

There are no tweets in "Macbeth." Daggers — real and feared ones in men's eyes — play similar parts in the hurly-burly. Trump and Macbeth both live in states of rage and heightened paranoia. They are suspicious of the men around them. Loyalty is all.

The haunting play made me shake awake, hearing cries of "Treason!" In the foggy dark, it's hard to tell between 1606 and 2018.

Macbeth could sleep no more; he murders sleep. Trump stays up all night, too, and murders truth.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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