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Bush as Greek Drama: "Hubris" and "Tragic Flaws"

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CrisisPapers Donating Member (271 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-25-06 08:27 AM
Original message
Bush as Greek Drama: "Hubris" and "Tragic Flaws"
Edited on Tue Apr-25-06 08:56 AM by CrisisPapers
| Bernard Weiner |

The world of theatre that I've swum in for decades as a drama critic provides a useful prism through which to view today's political events and players.

This is especially true when thinking about drama from ancient Greece and Europe's Renaissance. Those periods remind us how often human tragedy repeats itself over the centuries. (Which is why many modern directors return so often to the wisdom of these ancient plays, often staging them with contemporary conceits so as to make the connections overt for their audiences.)

Much of ancient Greek drama focuses on the disastrous results of "hubris," an overweening pride and arrogance that can lead rulers to go outside the ethical/legal boundaries. (See Oedipus Rex, Antigone, The Orestia.) Almost invariably, because their reckless attitude upsets the delicate balance required for proper rule, punishment or even tragedy results - and not just personal, but for society as a whole.


Richard Nixon, coming off a landslide GOP victory in 1972, committed "hubris" by thinking himself immune from normal laws ("When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal," he claimed) by authorizing secret wiretapping, breaking & entering, bribing of witnesses, etc. - the felonies that came to be subsumed under the rubric "Watergate." To avoid his imminent impeachment, Nixon resigned, the only President to do so in American history.

Ronald Reagan, a popular Republican president in the 1980s, had his dip into hubris by engaging in the Iran/Contra scandal (illegally selling arms to enemy Iran in order to secretly finance anti-government guerrillas in Nicaragua), and then claiming the violations of law never happened. Reagan probably avoided later criminal prosecution when GOP President George H.W. Bush sandbagged the scandal by pardoning key participants "pre-emptively," before questioning under oath could begin.

The Democrat Bill Clinton entered the halls of hubris when he, believing a President could get away with anything, lied about having engaged in dubious conduct with a government intern. He was impeached but the Senate did not convict, believing, along with the overwhelming majority of the American people, that lying about sex did not constitute a "high crime" against the country or Constitution.


Now we have Bush Junior, who has attempted to codify his power-grabbing hubris by claiming that the President can do whatever he chooses to do as long as he does so as "commander in chief" during "wartime." Using this dictatorial theory, Bush has authorized torture, illegal spying on U.S. citizens, breaking & entering into citizens' homes and computers without their ever knowing such violations of privacy occurred, leaking classified information to friendly reporters, and on and on.

The scale of Bush's hubris is unprecedented in American history, which may be why, five years into his rule, even friends and conservative supporters are opposed to his unconstitutional grab for power. Many of them recall Bush's predilection for operating outside the laws and traditions of our democratic republic; three times he has expressed an affinity for dictatorship. What may have been Freudian-slip jokes when uttered several years ago, such as: "If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier - just so long I'm the dictator," now don't seem so funny.


Which brings us to the next theatrical concept from the Greeks, and honed in the works of Shakespeare in the Elizabethan period in England more than 400 years ago: the "tragic flaw."

The essence of this theory is that, by and large, rulers are not brought down only, or even mainly, by external events - rather, they bring ruin upon themselves because of some significant deficiency in their own character, a "tragic flaw" in their psychic and ethical makeup. They are consumed by overweening lust for power, or don't mind using immoral means in the service of good ends, or can't control their obsessions, etc. Think: Macbeth and ambition; Othello and jealousy; Hamlet and indecision.

Nixon's "tragic flaw" was his paranoia, needing always to know what his political opponents were up to, hence the break-in and wiretapping of the Democratic Party headquarters, the building of his "enemies' list," digging up personal information for his "dirty-trick" operations against political opponents, etc.

Reagan's "tragic flaw" was his simplistic view of the world, divided into "the evil empire" (the Soviet Union) and us good American guys; this stark black-and-white view of reality led him to illegally sell armaments to another enemy (Iran) in order to find ways around Congressional laws that prohibited U.S. funds going to the anti-Communist Contra guerrillas in Nicaragua.

Clinton's tragic flaw, again derived out of a weak aspect at his core, was his need for constant affirmation, which he could assuage by finding a woman who would sexually service him out of adoration.


Bush is the apotheosis of all those weaknesses into one humonguous Tragic Flaw unlike any that has been seen in American politics, with worldwide consequences that result in hundreds of thousands of deaths and maimings. What is different is that the other leaders, at some level, knew they were misbehaving and tried like the dickens to hide the evidence. These politicians were undone when they came to learn, once again, that the coverup is always worse than the crime.

Bush, of course, has tried to conceal his many mistakes, but when that doesn't work, the Rovian approach for Bush is to loudly assert, in a threatening in-your-face manner, that his worst weaknesses are really his strengths. (For example, he's violating laws and the Constitution in order "to protect Americans.")

As the many violations and scandals begin breaking through the denial dam, the policy is altered to proudly assert a "constitutional right" to do whatever Bush and his cohorts are doing or planning on doing. In short, a variation of Nixon's claim (a theory knocked down instantly by the Supreme Court in the early 1970s) that whatever the President does is ipso facto legal. Most legal scholars today support the Supreme Court's outright dismissal of that claimed right to abrogate the Constitution and upset the separation of powers structure - but let us not forget that Bush may well have a working majority on today's Supreme Court.

From where does Bush's tragic flaw derive?


In almost any area of governance you can think of, George Bush is ridden with the fault-lines of his tragic flaws - and may have borrowed some from earlier leaders.

Bush is so bereft of self-esteem (much of it derived from his upbringing, by constant humiliation by his parents, by a string of personal and business failures, by his inability to admit error and tell the truth), that he can't help himself from over-compensating by displaying a persona of cockiness and belligerent authority. In short, the bully syndrome: deficient on the inside, aggressive on the outside. Bush, let us remember, delighted in blowing up frogs with explosives as a child.

Incompetent by nature and practice, Bush surrounds himself with yes-men and those who likewise are boastful bumblers. Basically ignorant, dogmatic and intellectually incurious, Bush easily is manipulated and swayed by those few insiders he trusts; namely, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, the architects of his political ideology and modus operandi.

One can sense that the American people during the past year or so figured out that Bush and his crew are way over their heads when it comes to intelligent leadership - witness the debacle that is Iraq, the post-Katrina-disaster federal "assistance" they thoroughly botched in New Orleans, the economy which has put future generations trillions of dollars in hock, the Medicare and Social Security messes, Plamegate, domestic spying, torture, etc. etc.

When Bush uncorks another of his deficient media performances these days, a majority of the American people simply don't pay much attention anymore to what he says, since they know it bears only the slightest connection either to what he is doing or to the activities of Rove, Cheney and Rumsfeld behind the curtain.


Many citizens, numb and apprehensive, seem fixated on somehow riding out the next two-and-a-half years of disastrous policies and destructive consequences under Bush. Or perhaps they suspect that something will come along, maybe the Republicans losing the House or Senate in the November midterm election, to finally offer some hope for the future - including Bush and Cheney resigning rather than to face impeachment. Don't count on it.

These guys will have to have the stake of impeachment and conviction driven through their hearts to get them to vacate the White House - which is why we have to keep driving this issue this early in the process. We have to make it a viable, mainstream option and reasonable topic for discussion.

Certainly, our immediate future - the pending attack on Iran, perhaps using "tactical" nuclear weapons - does not offer the slightest bit of encouragement. On the contrary, I'd say the odds are 50/50 that America will survive that reckless adventurism, which potentially could lead to a World War III-type conflagration.


As we prepare to march and demonstrate Saturday in New York and elsewhere against the war in Iraq, it essential that we remember there's another war re-flaring in Afghanistan and that Bush & Co. are quite eager to take us into the maelstrom of still more military madness in Iran. A trifecta of dangerous, reckless wrong-headedness.

That's why the generals are speaking up (finally!) in opposition to the Cheney/Rumsfeld war policy, and why we need to crank up our opposition on the civilian side. We did it decades before with regard to the Vietnam debacle, and helped bring that conflict to a close, and we can do it again here with regard to Iraq/Iran. But only if we're ready to do the heavy lifting to build a truly effective oppositional Movement. Let's get to work.

-- BW
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Demeter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-25-06 08:42 AM
Response to Original message
1. 50% Greek Tragedy; 50% Theater of the Absurd
I don't know which part is worse, but the amalgamation is horrendous!
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oxbow Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-25-06 09:12 AM
Response to Reply #1
2. If history repeats itself, then we are rewitnessing
...the fall of the Roman Empire. The similarities are so striking that it seems impossible that it's really happening sometime. And yes you're right Mr. Weiner, we can't afford to sit and wait for the smoke to clear anymore.
Life is too short to watch it go by, especially in these times. It's time to get out and get to work...
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dfrailey Donating Member (22 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-25-06 10:06 AM
Response to Reply #2
3. Fall of the American Empire
I have heard the comparison to Rome so many times lately it's frightening. It's either the fall of the American Empire or the start of the 2nd American Revolution.
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motocicleta Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-25-06 10:22 AM
Response to Original message
4. Nice combination of outlining the problems
while keeping hope alive. Thanks. And expect a bunch of anonymous hits on this page as my non-DU kin come check it out as soon as I send the link! A few years ago, they wouldn't respond; now I think they're salivating waiting for my next recommendation. Hope exists!
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Felinity Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-25-06 06:57 PM
Response to Reply #4
9. Excellent article, I quote my favorite paragraph:
"Incompetent by nature and practice, Bush surrounds himself with yes-men and those who likewise are boastful bumblers. Basically ignorant, dogmatic and intellectually incurious, Bush easily is manipulated and swayed by those few insiders he trusts; namely, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, the architects of his political ideology and modus operandi."

If only he had mentioned my personal favorite overemployed lackey, Condi. Surely there is room in the ashes for her, too! Or is someone going to argue that she's not incompetent and weak-minded, merely a pawn among the King and his Court? Well, at least she will be the first to be sacrificed in the inevitible march to Endgame.
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motocicleta Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-25-06 08:55 PM
Response to Reply #9
10. welcome to DU, felinity, from the land of canine!!
Why do you think Condi will be the first to be sacrficed, though? I am curious ...
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rasputin1952 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-25-06 12:34 PM
Response to Original message
5. I have always stated that bush has the Reverse Midas Touch...
everything he touches turns to crap.

Without exception, this man has had disastrous consequences follow everything he has had a hand in. He is a failed businessman, a failed governor of TX, a failed father figure, a failed president. He has sown disaster wherever he has trodden.

It would not be so bad if only he was the recipient of the results of his failure; rather, he has taken the people of TX to new lows, he has bankrupted the nation financially and morally and he believes he is doing this in the name of God!

Greek Drama, yes. But I fear we are witnessing Roman Imperialism at work as well. bush is to the point of equating himself to god-like status just as many of the Roman Emperors felt the could.

Failure after failure, he continues to destroy what is and might be good; while elevating everything that is noxious about mankind to new levels.

This man is an idiot; he is soulless and he treads heavily on the Rights of not just every American, but every citizen of the world. His legacy will be failure at best, and a nuclear holocaust at worst. He is a frightened little man with an incredible amount of power; without reigning him in, he could prove to be quite simply, the worst human being that ever came to power. The death and carnage this buffoon could create is beyond description, and he shows no capacity to buffer his self-righteous image of himself.

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fghijkl Donating Member (1 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-25-06 02:17 PM
Response to Reply #5
7. Not a Greek
Bush is far from a "tragic" figure. Such people were noble souls who continually waged an internal battle between their base human instincts and what they knew to be right. Bush, besides being a sociopath, is incapable of recognizing right from wrong. His madness is that of a spoiled child, not of a conflicted human being. He is extremely dangerous.
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woo me with science Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-25-06 01:25 PM
Response to Original message
6. Does this mean he's gonna gouge out his own eyes? nt
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Joe Chi Minh Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-25-06 03:52 PM
Response to Original message
8. A most insightful article by Mr Weiner, expressed with a similar
Edited on Tue Apr-25-06 03:54 PM by KCabotDullesMarxIII
clarity to that displayed by his colleague, Ernst Partridge, in his articles.

It seems to me that what makes their articles seem so consummate, so perfect, is that on top of their strikingly penetrating analyses, expressed with masterful simplicity and clarity, the remedies for the problems are always at least implied on some level or other, when not explicitly stated; whether in the direction of remedial action, a rallying call to make a concerted response, encouragement to attend a march organised by others, or simply a reminder of the hierarchy of truths to be borne in mind by the reader. So that the articles are never unremittingly negative, as one might have expected from the nature the context.

Truly, to paraphrase the words uttered by the Psalmist, our gurus at CrisisPapers seem to be "borne on eagles' wings," though they would probaby prefer that saying of a great scientist, I believe, to the effect that they are borne on giants' shoulders; the army of people, here at DU and elsewhere, who provide so much information, sometimes highly technical, which they have researched and provided for readers, as well as insightful comments by DUers and others elsewhere. Great stuff!

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Independent_Liberal Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-25-06 10:48 PM
Response to Original message
11. Great piece, Bernard.
As usual, I agree with everything you've said. You hit the nail on the head.
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