Trump and the return to Greek antiquity

When Trump was elected, I felt as though I had entered a different world. I literally felt as though the modern world I thought I’d lived in had come to an end, and the age of the ancient Greeks had returned somehow. But it’s hard to say in what sense or why I have felt that.

So I haven’t been able to articulate it exactly, but I have shared the experience of that nebulous intuition with others over the years, and they seemed to resonate.

I just realized – I think it is because Trump enacts a style of politics that feels no need to pay tribute to humility.

Reading through the Nicomachean Ethics can be a strange experience for the modern reader since the picture of the good person that emerges from that work is considerably different from what we think of as a good person. The Nicomachean Ethics describes a good person who is far closer to Achilles than to MLK or Ghandi. That’s what ancient Greeks aspired to be like, at least many of them. Achilles can be hard to like, for a modern reader; he seems whiny, possessive, petty, spiteful, even as he was seen as a great hero by masses of people.

Sound like anyone else we know?

For me, reading about that age, and those people, has always felt compelling in one way, and deeply alien in another. Somehow, there was always this unspoken premise in my mind that the world I lived in was not like that and could not, short of some sort of apocalypse, become like that.

It was startling to me to realize how wrong I was. Apparently it was always a possibility, just out of sight. It’s a very different kind of politics. It is chaotic. Much more interesting and entertaining and enthralling to witness. But also things can go much worse, much faster. It’s hard not to feel like that’s a pretty serious downside.

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