Flattering Trump Is Like Wallowing in S***

Gustave Doré, Dante & Virgin look down on the flatterers


There’s no doubt in my mind where in Inferno Dante would place Anthony “the Mooch” Scaramucci, Donald Trump’s new communications director. Before I share it, here’s The Hill’s account of Scaramucci’s first press appearance. As the reporters drily put it, he “showed off some of the traits that may have won him the job”:

He frequently praised Trump, saying he loved the president, and that he was “very loyal” to him.

“I love the mission that the president has since the early days of the campaign,” Scaramucci said.

 “I grew up in the middle class, and so there’s a struggle out there. The president saw that before I did. I wish I could tell you I saw it before him, but he taught it to me.”

Scaramucci in recent months had become one of the most vocal defenders of Trump and his family. During an appearance on CNN in April, he compared the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to Alexander Hamilton.

His effusive praise for the president was on full display during the briefing, as he pledged his commitment to Trump’s “America first” agenda and defended the president’s use of Twitter.

“To me, I think it’s been very effective use of reaching the American public directly and so listen, I welcome him continuing to do that. I think it’s very, very important for him to express his identity.”

Scaramucci also praised the president on his competitive nature and athletic skills.

“He’s the most competitive person I’ve ever met, okay? I’ve seen this guy throw a dead spiral through a tire. I’ve seen him at Madison Square Garden with a top coat on, he’s standing in the key and he’s hitting foul shots and swishing them. He sinks 3-foot putts,” he said.

The former hedge fund manager also predicted the White House would score a victory in Congress on healthcare in the near future because “the president has really good karma.”

“I predict the president will get a win in healthcare. That’s my honest prediction, just because I’ve seen him in operation of the last 20 plus years. The president has really good karma, okay? And the world turns back to him,” Scaramucci said.

Dante reserves the two worst levels of hell, the eighth and the ninth, for the maliciously fraudulent. There we find the the Malebolge (“evil ditches” or “evil moats”), which according to Dorothy Sayers is “the image of the City in corruption: the progressive disintegration of every social relationship, personal and public.” (This is not a bad summation of the way Trump is undermining the public trust.). In one of the ditches on the eighth level are to be found the flatterers.

Dante must maintain a healthy distance, peering down upon them from a great height, because the stench is so great. The Scaramuccis of the world are immersed in human excrement, which has encrusted itself on everything around them. Not to mince words, they spouted shit when they were alive and now are up to their ears in it:

We were already where the narrow path
Crosses athwart the second dike, and forms
Of that a buttress for another arch.
Thence we heard people, who are making moan
In the next Bolgia, snorting with their muzzles,
And with their palms beating upon themselves.
The margins were incrusted with a mould
By exhalation from below, that sticks there,
And with the eyes and nostrils wages war.
The bottom is so deep, no place suffices
To give us sight of it, without ascending
The arch’s back, where most the crag impends.
Thither we came, and thence down in the moat
I saw a people smothered in a filth
That out of human privies seemed to flow…

Dante recognizes one of the figures, one Allessio Interminei of Lucca, who apparently was noteworthy for his incessant flatteries:

And whilst below there with mine eye I search,
I saw one with his head so foul with ordure,
It was not clear if he were clerk or layman.
He screamed to me: “Wherefore art thou so eager
To look at me more than the other foul ones?”
And I to him: “Because, if I remember,
I have already seen thee with dry hair,
And thou’rt Alessio Interminei of Lucca;
Therefore I eye thee more than all the others.”
And he thereon, belaboring his pumpkin:
“The flatteries have submerged me here below,
Wherewith my tongue was never surfeited.”

There’s one other figure described in this ditch, a prostitute who would extravagantly praise her lovers for the gifts that they gave her. Now, unable to find peace after a lifetime of linguistic perversions, she “doth scratch herself with filthy nails,/And crouches now, and now on foot is standing.”

I single out Scaramucci, whose tongue appears incapable of being surfeited with flattery, because he is a particularly blatant instance of the kind of people that Trump is surrounding himself with. I could just as easily have named Reince Priebus or Kellyanne Conway, and in an earlier post, I wrote about how Trump forced his entire cabinet to play Goneril and Regan to his Lear. The final result is that language is so undermined, so cheapened, that it’s like wallowing in shit. Only in the self-awareness that Hell inflicts–that is Hell–do they realize they are coated with it, leading to attempts to beat or scratch it off.

As always, Dante finds the perfect metaphor for the violation.

Further thought: Dante’s decision to stand far away from the flatterers as he looks down appears validated by the counsel of Eliot Cohen, former Bush Administration official, to stay away from the Trump administration. Last November Cohen warned that everyone who got pulled in would be poisoned and their good reputation sullied.

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