Following the Paris terrorist attacks, I warned about how fear could lead to the rise of Grendel’s Mothers. Following the Brussels attacks, right on cue, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz advocated monstrous retaliation while attacking President Obama as weak and inept. I am reminded of the arguments between Goneril and her husband Albany in King Lear. Goneril advocates extreme measures while Albany is a principled man who believes one should take the moral high road.
Trump, Goneril-like, has openly called for the torture of Salah Abdeslam, the Paris terrorist who was recently captured:
“He may be talking, but he’ll talk faster with the torture,” Trump said, suggesting torture could have prevented Tuesday attacks which have left at least 30 people dead.
“I would be willing to bet that he knew about this bombing that took place today,” Trump said. “We have to be smart. It’s hard to believe we can’t waterboard which is — look, nothing’s nice about it but, it’s your minimal form of torture. We can’t waterboard and they can chop off heads. ”
Trump said he would “go further” than waterboarding and would listen to the “military people” about how to do it.
Cruz, meanwhile, has advocated carpet bombing of ISIS in the past, and in response to Brussels he advocates such unconstitutional measures as singling out American Muslim communities for domestic surveillance.
The president, Albany-like, has responded that that’s “not who we are.” Here’s the Crooks and Liars blog summing up his remarks:
The president explained that we have to be smart how we go after ISIS and not be reactionaries. “[B]ut what we don’t do and what we should not do is take approaches that are going to be counterproductive.”
He then focused his ire on Ted Cruz.
“So when I hear somebody saying we should carpet bomb Iraq or Syria, not only is that inhumane, not only is that contrary to our values, but that would likely be an extraordinary mechanism for ISIL to recruit people willing to die and explode bombs in an airport. That’s not a smart strategy.”
Obama then said that the reason we haven’t had more attacks on U.S. soil is because we have integrated and very patriotic Muslim communities in America. Obama then lowered the boom on Cruz’ statements about patrolling Muslim neighborhoods.
“…they do not feel ghettoized, they do not feel isolated. Their children are our children’s friends. Any approach that would single them out or target them for discrimination is not only wrong and un-American, it would also be counterproductive. .
Here’s the debate between Albany and Goneril after Goneril has sent her father out into the wilderness. (Albany doesn’t even know she wants him dead.). While he is sermonizing her, she is pointing out that France and Cordelia are invading their shores:
Albany: What have you done?
Tigers, not daughters, what have you perform’d?
A father, and a gracious aged man,
Whose reverence even the head-lugg’d bear would lick,
Most barbarous, most degenerate! …
If that the heavens do not their visible spirits
Send quickly down to tame these vile offences,
It will come,
Humanity must perforce prey on itself,
Like monsters of the deep.
Goneril: Milk-liver’d man!
…Where’s thy drum?
France spreads his banners in our noiseless land;
With plumed helm thy slayer begins threats;
Whiles thou, a moral fool, sit’st still, and criest
‘Alack, why does he so?’
Albany: See thyself, devil!
Proper deformity seems not in the fiend
So horrid as in woman.
Their conversation continues on in this vein, with Albany calling Goneril a monster and Goneril calling Albany a wimp. Which pretty much sums up the current interchange between the GOP presidential frontrunners and the president.
In my survey class yesterday as we discussed King Lear, I asked my students whether they would side with Cordelia, Kent, and Lear, even though they are ground down by the unscrupulous Goneril, Regan, and Edmund. Naïve little idealists, they said it was more important to be principled than to win. I can imagine Goneril saying to them what she says to Albany:
Oh vain fool.
Further thought: Significantly, the Albany-Goneril exchange comes two scenes after a particularly horrific instance of state-sanctioned torture: the gouging out of Gloucester’s eyes by Goneril’s sister and brother-in-law. King Lear in general is about the anarchy that takes over a country once all moral restraint is abandoned. It begins with Lear’s narcissistic abdication of his kingly duties and Gloucester’s adultery boast. It concludes with the death of Cordelia.
The play was so dark that, after its initial production, it wasn’t performed again in its original version until the 19th century. We should all be disturbed by its continuing relevance.