I had an aha moment the other day when New York Times columnist Frank Bruni cited Great Expectations in a column about Donald Trump’s obsession with Hillary Clinton. Thinking of the president as Miss Havisham explains a lot about his recent behavior.
Bruni contends that Trump has become a virtual stalker:
At this point I think it’s fair to say that Donald Trump has gone beyond taunting and demonizing Hillary Clinton to a realm of outright obsession.
He’s stalking her.
He can’t stop tweeting about her. Can’t stop muttering about her. On Monday he addressed tens of thousands of boy scouts at their Jamboree, and who should pop up in his disjointed thoughts and disheveled words? Clinton. He dinged her, yet again, for having ignored voters in Michigan, which he won.
The Jamboree, mind you, was in West Virginia.
Now for the explanation, which cues up the Dickens reference:
He’s more or less back to chanting “lock her up,” as if it’s early November all over again. He has frozen the calendar there so that he can perpetually savor the exhilaration of the campaign and permanently evade the drudgery of governing and the ignominy of his failure at it so far.
Can you see where this is going?
Nov. 8 is his Groundhog Day, on endless repeat, in a way that pleases and pacifies him. That movie has a co-star, Clinton. If he dwells in it, he dwells with her. He can no more retire her than Miss Havisham, in Great Expectations, could put away her wedding dress. Clinton brings Trump back to the moment before the rose lost its blush and the heartache set in.
Miss Havisham, of course, never recovers from being jilted at the altar. When the day that was supposed to be the happiest of her life becomes a nightmare, she tries to stop time, freezing the moment just before it all went wrong. Pip witnesses the horror show:
Whether I should have made out this object so soon if there had been no fine lady sitting at it, I cannot say. In an arm-chair, with an elbow resting on the table and her head leaning on that hand, sat the strangest lady I have ever seen, or shall ever see.
She was dressed in rich materials,—satins, and lace, and silks,—all of white. Her shoes were white. And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, and she had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair was white. Some bright jewels sparkled on her neck and on her hands, and some other jewels lay sparkling on the table. Dresses, less splendid than the dress she wore, and half-packed trunks, were scattered about. She had not quite finished dressing, for she had but one shoe on,—the other was on the table near her hand,—her veil was but half arranged, her watch and chain were not put on, and some lace for her bosom lay with those trinkets, and with her handkerchief, and gloves, and some flowers, and a Prayer-Book all confusedly heaped about the looking-glass.
It was not in the first few moments that I saw all these things, though I saw more of them in the first moments than might be supposed. But I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre and was faded and yellow. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes. I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose had shrunk to skin and bone. Once, I had been taken to see some ghastly waxwork at the Fair, representing I know not what impossible personage lying in state. Once, I had been taken to one of our old marsh churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress that had been dug out of a vault under the church pavement. Now, waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me. I should have cried out, if I could.
Nov. 8 was the day that was to wipe away all Trump’s insecurities, all the doubts that haunt him. At no moment did he ever feel happier. And then the heartache began.
The difference between Trump and Havisham, of course, is that Trump actually got what he thought he wanted. That aside, both find a way to make others pay for their disappointment. Miss Havisham poisons the mind of the beautiful Estelle so that, when she is a woman, she will break hearts as Miss Havisham’s heart was broken.
For his part, Trump forces his own surrogates to vent his fury, whether it’s Sean Spicer lying about inauguration day crowd sizes, Kris Kobach speculating that voter fraud caused him to lose the popular vote, or various senators continuing the jihad against Clinton. All are dragged into Trump’s mire like Estelle is drawn into Miss Havisham’s.
The GOP might take a lesson from Pip, who learns that Miss Havisham is not the benefactor he thought she was. In other words, don’t pin your future on Donald Trump but find your own way in the world, as Susan Collins, Lisa Murkoski, and John McCain have started doing. If this is to be a successful Bildungsroman or growth story for Republicans, they will cut the ties of dependence and becomes responsible grown-ups.
The country awaits.