Christie as Prufrock & Other Lit Allusions

Christie and Trump

Christie and Trump


There were a number of literary citations in articles written about the Super Tuesday primaries this past week. I’m always glad to see that happen since it means that theorist E. D. Hirsch’s dream of literature as a common cultural referent is still alive.

For instance, there was Amanda Marcotte of Slate quoting Shakespeare as she predicted that Ted Cruz, following his devastating loss in South Carolina, was “about to fall on his face.” She wasn’t entirely correct—Cruz won three states—but it’s possible that Cruz’s failure to fare better in the southern states spells the beginning of the end for him.

As Marcotte sees Cruz, he wants to be Macbeth but is actually Malvolio. Speaking about Cruz’s sense of himself as divinely appointed, even as none of his colleagues can stand him, Marcotte wrote,

But alas, it appears God has changed his mind and Cruz is crashing back down to earth, where the number of people who are willing to catch him can’t put together a half-court basketball team.

Cruz himself is already shifting narratives, imagining himself the noble hero in the classical tragic style. He’s been referencing the Alamo a lot in his Texas campaigning. ““I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor and that of his country,” he dramatically recited to a crowd in Houston last week. “Victory or death.”

Sadly for Cruz, however, there is no Alamo-style last stand possible here. It’s really victory or slinking back to the Senate with your tail between your legs, and after tonight, the latter will seem more certain than ever. His story is not tragic, but pathetic. It’s not the story of a great man brought low, but of a deluded man who has fallen on his face. He’s not Macbeth. He’s Malvolio from Twelfth Night, prancing around in his yellow stockings while public humiliation awaits. And like Malvolio, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

In some ways, I see Marco Rubio as more like Malvolio than Cruz. The son of a Miami bartender appears to be willing to do or say almost anything in order to rub shoulders with the rich and powerful. But okay, Cruz works as well. I can certainly imagine him exiting the political stage at some point vowing to be “revenged on the pack of you.”

Blogger John Scalzi, mentioning the failure of either Cruz or Rubio to seriously contest Trump until recently, sees the two of them as Tweedledee and Tweedledum from Alice through the Looking Class

Neither Cruz nor Rubio is going to drop out of the race — Rubio because the establishment’s assassins will murder his future if he does, Cruz because his monomaniacal sense of manifest destiny doesn’t allow for quittin’ — and neither of them is likely to poll substantially better than the other. They’re Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum all the way down the line. You want to choose between these two embarrassments to the name of Generation X? After you.

This allusion seems particularly appropriate given what happens to the brothers. After they square off in a battle that is more ridiculous than impressive, they are routed by a monstrous crow. Think of the rattle they fight over as the Republican nomination and the monstrous crow as Trump. Here’s the nursery rhyme:

Tweedledum and Tweedledee
Agreed to have a battle;
For Tweedledum said Tweedledee
Had spoiled his nice new rattle.

Just then flew down a monstrous crow,
As black as a tar-barrel;
Which frightened both the heroes so,
They quite forgot their quarrel.’

And here’s what happens in the book:

It was getting dark so suddenly that Alice thought there must be a thunderstorm coming on. `What a thick black cloud that is!’ she said. `And how fast it comes! Why, I do believe it’s got wings!’

`It’s the crow!’ Tweedledum cried out in a shrill voice of alarm: and the two brothers took to their heels and were out of sight in a moment.

In another literary citation, Charles Pierce of Esquire invokes Watership Down to explain how the GOP is responsible for having brought the Trump disaster down on itself. After all, it has been engaging in racist appeals since Nixon’s southern strategy, and we have seen Ronald Reagan’s attack of welfare mothers, George H. W. Bush’s Willie Horton ads, and the GOP leadership remaining silent in the face of Obama birtherism. Noting that Trump will probably be the Republican presidential nominee,” Pierce, quoting Hamlet, opines,

It is a consummation devoutly to be wished, especially by those of us who see the Republicans as having been cruising for this particular bruising ever since it so greedily ate the monkeybrains in the 1980s. But, from the people who make their living at being Republicans, we are seeing the kind of existential panic that you only see once or twice in a century. It’s Watership Down, with Super PACs and Mitch McConnell.

I assume the Watership Down reference is to the Armageddon that comes down upon the rabbit warren early in the book. Fiver foresees it and encourages a few brave souls to leave, but almost every other rabbit dies. This Armageddon, appropriately enough given Trump’s profession, is brought about by a housing development company, which plugs up the rabbit holes and poisons the rabbits prior to clearing the land. What ensues is an apt analogy for the panic going on in the Republic establishment at the moment, with some defecting toTrump while others quarrel about who to support in opposition:

Very soon the runs were crammed with rabbits clawing and clambering over each other. They went up the runs they were accustomed to use and found them blocked. Some managed to turn round, but they couldn’t get back because of the rabbits coming up. And then the runs began to be blocked lower down with dead rabbits and the live rabbits tore them to pieces.

And further on:

There were all sorts of forgotten shafts and drops that led in from above, and down there were coming the most terrible sounds—cries for help, kittens squealing for their mothers, Owsla trying to give orders, rabbits cursing and fighting each other.

Yes, it sounds like this year’s GOP primaries.

The best literary allusion showed up in an article about Trump’s victory speech Tuesday night—or rather, about how New Jersey Governor Chris Christie appeared to be a hostage on stage as Trump talked. Accustomed to wielding the microphone himself, Christie looked thoroughly uncomfortable, reminding The Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri of J. Alfred Prufrock:

A man who had seen the moment of his greatness flicker, and seen the eternal footman hold his coat, and snicker.

And, in short, he looked afraid.

To be sure, Christie is not like Prufrock in most ways. He often charges in where Prufrock hangs back. Still, whatever dignity he once had has given way to this humiliation at the hands of the Donald. The eternal footman—Death—is not impressed with this man who once had the potential to be president.

Petri also may see Christie as Kurtz from Heart of Darkness:

His were the eyes of a man who has gazed into the abyss, and the abyss gazed back, and then he endorsed the abyss.

Ah, literature–ever ready to respond to the events of the day.

This entry was posted in Adams (Richard), Carroll (Lewis), Eliot (T.S.), Shakespeare (William) and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


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