What to make of things? Events are marching in front of motives clouded by a mist of confusion and anger. In the US, the age of “Trump” has dawned. In Oz, similar stirrings, borne on similar attitudes, by a small but vocal subgroup of the majority, are pushing the Turnbull government (mainly from within) further towards an ideologically driven right.  Meanwhile, some influential media organisations have unleashed a host of Cassandra’s feeding off the confusion and anger, to peddle their scapegoating and divisive narratives.

It is a strange time and yet… have we been here before? While history may offer some salient pointers as to where we are and where we are possibly headed in this age of “post-truth” it is literature, tragedy to be specific, where guidance and understanding may be found.

In Trump, we have an archetype of the of Greek tragic hero. A self- anointed self-made man, who like his fictional brethren, conveniently forgets his elite heritage and the advantages it bestowed upon him compared to the hoi polloi.  Perhaps it’s this blindness which gives rise to their hubris, to their proclamation that they are both special yet ‘everyman’; to tragically assume their personal interests are identical with the public interest, to believe that only they have the solutions for all ills… we know how that worked out for Oedipus. And just like Oedipus, Trump appears on centre stage when society feels itself under duress, promising to unravel the cryptic forces which shape people’s lives – ironically, forces that Trump rode to reach his exalted status. While Oedipus in the end found personal redemption, to say things did not end well for Thebes would be an understatement.

In Malcolm Turnbull, as befitting the colonial heritage of OZ, we have the outlines of a Shakespearean tragic hero- one whose traits infuse their actions with a hesitancy, an uncertainty, or a rashness from the sudden rush of escaped emotion unleashed by whispers and, all too often punctuated by pauses filled with musings fuelled by self-doubt. Malcolm is our Hamlet and Lear rolled into one – determined to demonstrate his failings in the public glare.

Malcolm is a man who has perfected the remarkable art of ‘gesture without movement’; to turn a discussion into a self-indulgent soliloquy; a man who speaks to others to convince himself of what he cannot come around to accept. Surrounding himself with a cabinet whose loyalties lie with the resentful man he usurped, he seeks to please all, only to stoke everyone’s ire. He is the procrastinator whose caution stems from fear and weakness not reason coupled with empathy, and whose actions inevitably lead to what they sought to avoid.

The real tragedy for us though would be that reality should mirror the legacy these fictional figures bequeathed to their people, while we sit like an audience in stunned silence at the folding of events, unwilling to challenge the fate our leaders are imposing on our lives.

Share with: