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Victor Davis Hanson: Trump as tragic hero out of Greek Myth

Victor Davis Hanson: Trump as tragic hero out of Greek Myth

“Yeah, as long as we understand the word ‘hero’.”

Victor Davis Hanson has given a fascinating interview to Isaac Chotiner of The New Yorker.

The interview is well worth reading for the thesis that Hanson, a classics professor and military historian, offers about Trump.

Do you feel that in some ways he is a hero out of Greek myth?

Yeah, as long as we understand the word “hero.” Americans don’t know what that word means. They think it means you live happily ever after or you are selfless. Whether it is Achilles or Sophocles’s Ajax or Antigone, they can act out of insecurity, they can act out of impatience—they can act out of all sorts of motives that are less than what we say in America are heroic. But the point that they are making is, I see a skill that I have. I see a problem. I want to solve that problem, and I want to solve that problem so much that the ensuing reaction to that solution may not necessarily be good for me. And they accept that.

. . . . It reminds me of Trump saying that people will get sick of winning. It seems like you are saying we have gotten sick of it, and that is the tragedy of Trump.

I think so.  I tried to use as many examples as I could of the classic Western. . . .  They all are the same—the community doesn’t have the skills or doesn’t have the willpower or doesn’t want to stoop to the corrective method to solve the existential problem, whether it is cattle barons or banditos. So they bring in an outsider, and immediately they start to be uneasy because he is uncouth—his skills, his attitude—and then he solves the problem, and they declare to him, whether it is Gary Cooper in “High Noon” or Alan Ladd in “Shane,” “I think it’s better you leave. We don’t need you anymore. We feel dirty that we ever had to call you in.” I think that is what is awaiting Trump.

The article is interesting because of Hanson’s thoughts. But it’s also interesting because of the subtext, which is a cat-and-mouse game the interviewer seems to be playing with Hanson. In the latter game, I’m not sure who wins. But I am pretty sure the answer to that depends upon the political point of view of whom is reading the interview.

When I read the article, Chotiner’s lead-in descriptions of Hanson leapt out at me as being an attempt to debunk the opinions of the man he is set to interview (supposedly respectfully). Chotiner can’t do away with Hanson’s obvious academic achievements and honors, but he distorts Hanson’s record outside of academia in a way that I believe is meant to discredit Hanson in the reader’s mind before the reader even reads any of Hanson’s words in the interview.

One small example:

A longtime contributor to the National Review, [Hanson] has a history of hostility to undocumented Mexican and Central American immigrants, who he claims are undermining American culture, and to African-Americans who speak about the persistence of racism . . . .

Speaking of “hostility,” that seems to be a hostile description of Hanson’s work that’s unfair to Hanson and manages to label him as a bigot at the outset. That Hanson’s responses to the interview are so thoughtful and interesting merely makes it even more important that Chotiner set it up in the readers’ minds in a way that the reader knows that he or she is not supposed to pay serious attention to the actual thoughts of this bigoted person.

Chotiner also frames his questions in a way that makes his own bias known, although rather subtly to any reader previously unfamiliar with Hanson’s previous work. Hanson may be more erudite than Chotiner—he’s certainly far more well-versed in the classics—but Chotiner seems better at the spin and propaganda.

Read the whole thing.

[Neo is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at the new neo.]


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The New Yorker died of TDS a couple years ago.

would disagree with the interviewees opinion that americans don’t know what a hero is–that’s bullspit–have known and interacted with ” heros ” my entire life–the ” greatest generation ” have raised/taught/and mentored me my entire life–they, as a group, are selfless, humble, ordinary americans that, fortunately, knew that ” winning ” was the only outcome possible in the last world war–in peacetime, they, as a group, insisted on doing what’s right, what’s necessary in the moment–if life-long fidelity to doing what’s right, what’s best is unknown or unfamiliar to you, then you haven’t been paying attention in the classroom of this life–regards the spin of the interview would only say that have not read the new yorker in decades

    healthguyfsu in reply to texansamurai. | February 23, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    I think you are actually making his point. An American hero is not necessarily an Odysseus or Achilles and that takes nothing away from American heroes.

I have been a fan of Hanson’s for many years and have heard him speak many times of the farm he lives on in CA. He tells how the illegals have taken over the area and have zero respect for anything. They have dumped truckloads of trash and garbage in his yard and completely dominate and public services. Anyone who has ever lived in an area that is going through a transition knows what it’s like to see your old way of life destroyed before your eyes. Imagine having lived in a very nice well-kept neighborhood and then slowly the “New” residents have no use for the beautiful lawns that once graced the streets and now have multiple abandoned cars and trucks instead. Trash everywhere and crime and intimidation as neighbors. That’s not a bias, that’s reality!

    alaskabob in reply to inspectorudy. | February 23, 2019 at 2:53 pm

    Need to add that within the Hanson Family are Hispanics… fully integrated into American culture. Hanson pushes the need for assimilation into the culture which our “modern” progs detest as they fragment and erode social infrastructure.

I’m not getting tired of Trump. I like him more ever day. Is this just wishful thinking on your part, Neo?

    New Neo in reply to snopercod. | February 23, 2019 at 4:53 pm


    Perhaps you are confusing Chotiner’s words with mine. Everything that’s bolded in the quotes is from Chotiner, interviewing Hanson. It is clear from my post that I am not approving of Chotiner.

    Nor am I tired of winning. Certainly not everything that Trump has done as president is a win, but a great deal of it is a win and for that I am pleased and not the least bit tired.

      snopercod in reply to New Neo. | February 23, 2019 at 5:19 pm

      I’m sad because I used to read your blog every morning. You really have a gift for writing. But then you went all #NeverTrump on us and, even after he was elected, you kept on with a series of “I told you so” posts. I guess I still haven’t forgiven you yet for being so wrong.

        healthguyfsu in reply to snopercod. | February 23, 2019 at 7:04 pm

        People are allowed to admit when they were wrong. The future is often unpredictable.

          snopercod in reply to healthguyfsu. | February 23, 2019 at 7:35 pm

          To the best of my knowledge, Neo has never admitted that she was wrong about Trump. But then I don’t read her blog any more so I might have missed it…

        New Neo in reply to snopercod. | February 23, 2019 at 7:59 pm


        Well, thanks for the compliment on my writing.

        But I think your memory is playing tricks on you for some of the rest of your description of my perspective on my blog during the two years of Trump’s presidency. I certainly was very critical of Trump during the primary and campaign season, but I also made it crystal clear I was not NeverTrump and that I hoped, if in fact he were elected, that he would prove my grave doubts to be wrong.

        And if you actually look at what I wrote about him after the election, I don’t think I ever wrote anything like “I told you so.” For example, this post of mine, written a week after Trump was elected, expresses my attitude at the time. It contains nothing even remotely like “I told you so.” And this was written a couple of days after the election, and is quite optimistic. Since Trump became president I’ve certainly criticized him at times, but for the most part I’ve been pleasantly surprised and say so quite often, including the fact that I am happy to have not had my worst fears realized.

Color me unimpressed. Even for the New Yorker, that was primitive. The interviewer is a thug, and Hanson seems to be slipping.

I’ve never had any great confidence that VDH understands DJT or, more importantly, Trumpism. But at least he’s thinking about it and not just wallowing in his own bigotries, and nowadays that has to count as a major accomplishment. But rubbish like “I think it was demonstrable that Obama was born in the United States” is just weird. Now, if anyone could actually demonstrate it, I’d have to revise that. But no demonstration has emerged, just sophistry which I don’t for a second think that VDH actually believes.

Agree snopercod. I’m really starting to like the cut of this guys jib!

No…thank you, Neo. I will read Hansen directly, or your summaries. I like my sensible opinion undiluted with conservative-hating inanity and pathetic virtue signaling.

    snopercod in reply to Leslie Eastman. | February 23, 2019 at 5:14 pm

    Here’s the link: I like this part:

    Clint Eastwood’s Inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan cannot serve as the official face of the San Francisco police department. But Dirty Harry alone has the skills and ruthlessness to ensure that the mass murderer Scorpio will never harm the innocent again. So, in the finale, he taunts and then shoots the psychopathic Scorpio, ending both their careers, and walks off — after throwing his inspector’s badge into the water.

      snopercod in reply to snopercod. | February 23, 2019 at 5:23 pm

      Oh, and I like this part, too:

      The best and the brightest résumés of the Bush and Obama administrations had doubled the national debt — twice. Three prior presidents had helped to empower North Korea, now with nuclear-tipped missiles pointing at the West Coast. Supposedly refined and sophisticated diplomats of the last quarter century, who would never utter the name “Rocket Man” or stoop to call Kim Jong-un “short and fat,” nonetheless had gone through the “agreed framework,” “six-party talks,” and “strategic patience,” in which three administrations gave Pyongyang quite massive aid to behave and either not to proliferate or at least to denuclearize. And it was all a failure, and a deadly one at that.

      Edward in reply to snopercod. | February 23, 2019 at 8:13 pm

      I’m sort of surprised that he didn’t use Tom Horn as an example.

Do about very basic net search on Chotiner and it mite take 30 seconds to determine he is ultra pro bds Jew . But obviously if not he would not be writing for NYer.

    As the BDS “movement” is basically an antisemitic movement, it always causes me to wonder why there are self-hating Jews. But it is beyond any doubt that they do exist, in some numbers and often in the US.

Yeah… you realize tragic hero is in the sense of, he is doomed to a horrific end, spat out by a resentful and vengeful world, one that will be whispered to children as a cautionary tale for centuries down the line? That sense.

I don’t think that kind of prediction takes some special kind of courage.

If Trump is to be compared to a hero, I am reminded of Commissioner Gordon at the end of The Dark Knight as Batman escapes into the night: “he may not be the hero we want or deserve, but he’s the hero we need.”

I do not agree with VDH in the hero being dismissed when done part. I cannot see the Trump base disposing of Trump any more than we got tired of Reagan. Half the country HATED Reagan with a passion and the GOP couldn’t wait to undercut almost everything. Reagan’s mental degradation prevented him from fighting back or doing speeches, etc. The politicos are going to do their level best to undo all they can after 2024. But the electorate that voted for Trump.. they know … and will appreciate him after he is done and moves back to NYC. Trump’s 8 years are a pivot point and nothing will be the same as it used to be ( just as Reagan’s time was a small but important pivot) Trump’s election has bought the nation time and clarity. A change-agent. A one-off character that will not be emulated with ease…. even if one of his kids ran.

    jakee308 in reply to RobM. | February 23, 2019 at 6:42 pm

    The reason why a permanent wall is so important and why they are fighting it tooth and nail.

    If he builds the wall he will live forever in history. If not he will also live forever in history but in infamy.

    snopercod in reply to RobM. | February 23, 2019 at 7:37 pm

    Well, Winston Churchill was dismissed when he won WWII for the brits.

Another example of a hero unceremoniously dumped once his task was done might be Churchill.

Like Reagan, and probably Trump, he was of course fondly remembered by those who were always in his camp. But the point is that most of the townspeople/voters always looked at him as an uncouth outsider they’d only reluctantly employed. Once the war was won, it was time to bring on that nice Mr. Atlee.

Trump is very close to a hero out of Greek tragedy. He shares many of the traits of those heroes. First, he is reluctant to undertake the necessary task. He does it because he believes that he must. Second, he is loathed, hated and reviled by the very people who need his ability. Even those who initially welcome him, become disenchanted with him, when the going gets tough. Third, he sacrifices a comfortable lifestyle, which he seems to enjoy, to undertake the task needed. Fourth, even if he is successful, those that he served will drive him off. He will never get to enjoy a hero’s salute. The best that he is likely to realize is a return to relative public anonymity. Though it is more likely that he will end up losing that which is most important to him.

The worst part of the Trump saga, is that it might already be too late to save this country.

    snopercod in reply to Mac45. | February 23, 2019 at 7:39 pm

    I think Trump is secure in the knowledge that he a day job after his tenure as President. He won’t just slink away in exile like Winston Churchill, he’ll build more skyscrapers and golf courses.

    tom_swift in reply to Mac45. | February 23, 2019 at 8:56 pm

    The best that he is likely to realize is a return to relative public anonymity.

    Huh? Donald J. Trump?

    Mister Low-Profile he is not, never has been, and, I predict, never will be.

    He wouldn’t have it any other way.

Isaac Chotiner doesn’t even rate to hold VDH’s academic jock strap, let alone sit in judgment.

The ONLY thing tragic about the Trump presidency is the grotesque corruption it finally exposed (the science is settled) in our elected officals, BOTH our poltical parties, our bureaucrats, our law enforcment agencies, our spy agencies, our news media, our entertainment media and our schools.

The sinking of our nation to the gutter it is in was finalized by Odumbo/Jarrett, and enabled by the likes of GOPe rates like boehner, ryan and mcconnell.

Trump is the modern George Washington. We are the Minutemen.

Best election in United States history.

Well, this has been fun.