An individual court jester in Europe could emerge from a wide range of backgrounds: an erudite but nonconformist university dropout, a monk thrown out of a priory for nun frolics, a jongleur with exceptional verbal or physical dexterity, or the apprentice of a village blacksmith whose fooling amused a passing nobleman. Just as a modern-day television stand-up comedian might begin his career on the pub and club circuit, so a would-be jester could make it big time in court if he was lucky enough to be spotted. In addition, a poet, musician, or scholar could also become a court jester.
Fools Are Everywhere: The Court Jester Around the World
Beatrice K. Otto
If you’ve forgotten everything you once knew about the ‘court jester,’ this might be a good time for a refresher.
And why is that, you might ask?
Because after observing the 45th president of the United States day-in and day-out for the past 345 days, not to mention the prior eighteen-or-so months of his campaign and transition, it occurred to me that the behavior he’s adopted is that of a jester, a court jester, as the term of art has it.
In this instance we have a turnabout of the historic dynamic; during medieval and Renaissance periods court jesters would perform for the monarch or the autocrat. In more recent times, according to one account, the role has shifted somewhat:
"Originally the term was used to describe a ridiculous but amusing person. The term is now frequently used in a derogatory sense to describe someone considered foolish, or someone displaying inappropriately vulgar, bumbling or ridiculous behavior that is a source of general amusement.”
Donald Trump has taken the character of court jester and made it his preferred political persona. It explains the content of his tweets, the cacophony of his public rallies, and the character of his pronouncements on political and public policy issues such as climate change, Charlottesville, and Roy Moore. It accounts for his buffoonish characterizations about personalities and organizations from Kim Jong Un to James Comey and from the CIA to the FBI. And there is the interminable obsession with his former rival, Hillary Clinton.
Always the jester.
Then who, you might ask, is the court?
It’s his base, the roughly one-third of voting age population who have taken him as their political emancipator. It is for them that he tweets, belittles, defames, holds forth at rallies, and makes a mockery of an office that has been spared such callow deportment by any of its earlier inhabitants.
He is there for them, knowing they will stay with him through the perils of his presidency. He clowns for them. They applaud. He tweets for them. They retweet. He orates for them. They cheer him on. He wears his MAGA cap. They wear theirs.
He has them right where he wants them. And they, in turn, have him right where they want him, doing what they take delight in, displaying clamorous contempt for a process by which the people get their public business done, and which he and they degrade at considerable risk to the republic.
It may be the one place in his life where loyalty is rewarded, that is if you’re willing to ignore who got what in the recently enacted tax legislation, originally titled “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” until that was ruled out of order by the Senate parliamentarian.
As we close out 2017, a year that a significant majority of Americans will think of as our national annus horribilis, here are four sets of observations on Donald Trump and Trumpism that merit your consideration.
The first is by former Wall Street Journal and now New York Times columnist, Bret Stephens — Why I’m Still a Never Trumper — whose condemnation of POTUS 45 should be considered in the context of these comments:
“What, for a conservative, is there to dislike about this policy record as the Trump Administration rounds out its first year in office?
“I agree with every one of the policy decisions mentioned above. But I still wish Hillary Clinton were president.”
The second is by historian and presidential biographer, Jon Meacham — “The Limits of the Reality TV Presidency” — who incorporates a quote from POTUS 34, Dwight David Eisenhower:
“Now, look. I happen to know a little about leadership. I’ve had to work with a lot of nations, for that matter, at odds with each other. And I tell you this: You do not lead by hitting people over the head. Any damn fool can do that, but it’s usually called ‘assault’ — not leadership.
“I’ll tell you what leadership is. It’s persuasion and conciliation, and education, and patience. It’s long, slow, tough work. . .”
Next is an interview with another historian and presidential biographer, Robert Dallek — “The Fish Rots from the Head” — in which he makes this observation:
“Well, our system depends upon something like a consensus, something like majority rule. But now we have a president who outright lies about . . . everything. He lies about the number of votes he received, about the size of his inauguration crowd, about his own achievements, about Muslims cheering in the streets after 9/11, and so on. He lies about basic observable facts.
“I think the cumulative effect of all this lying is to make people deeply cynical about our entire system, and that’s very corrupting.
“It’s pathological. This is the kind of thing you see when you’re dealing with a malignant narcissist, someone who believes everything revolves around him. Trump has to be the best, has to be admired, has to be the most successful. He lacks a rational restraint that you would hope to see in a leader or a president.”
And finally, a compilation of perspectives by Politico, which incorporate the observations of a dozen historians on this salient question:
“Was 2017 the Craziest Year in U. S. Political History?”
There will be no ‘spoiler alert’ here, except to suggest that you will either find comfort in these conclusions . . . or you will not. And after you’ve had a chance to make your own comparisons, perhaps you will have finally put 2017 into a more sensible frame of reference than when you began reading this TMR.
annus horribilis, Bret Stephens, CIA, court jester, Donald Trump, FBI, Hillary Clinton, James Comey, Jon Meacham, Kim Jong Un, malignant narcissist, Mar-a-Lago, Politico, POTUS 45, Robert Dallek, Roy Moore, tax reform