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A Living Nightmare

Comparing Donald Trump with Plato’s tyrannical man

Eli Katz
April 08, 2016
Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Bethpage, New York, April 6, 2016. Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images
Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Bethpage, New York, April 6, 2016. Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

In Plato’s Republicthe tyrannical man is ruled by an unruly desire, an eros, that pulls him toward gruesome, shameless acts, like sleeping with one’s mother and murder. In a proto-Freudian move, Socrates explains that everyone has such desires, since they occasionally emerge in our nightly dreams when our rational faculty is not on guard; only the tyrannical man allows these desires to surface while awake. “Under the tyranny of erotic love,” Socrates explains, the tyrant “has permanently become while awake what he used to become occasionally while asleep.”

Hence, the tyrant is a living nightmare. So too is Donald Trump, a showman-cum-politician, who, in broad daylight, expresses and panders to the dark, xenophobic concerns of a populace that heretofore did not have such a robust, public platform through which to express what many believe are politically incorrect views, to say the least. In essence, Trump The Tyrant—a rhetorical monster enabled by a free society bent on the lucrative politics of being heard—has given his supporters a powerful and scary voice via a clear desire to divide, conquer, and make American great again.

The parallels between Plato’s tyrant and Donald Trump, inasmuch as their dream-like desires manifest in their daily active lives, forges deeper still. As the tyrant is a man of “feasts, revels, parties, courtesans,” Trump is a man of casinos, reality TV, and for whom sex is a personal Vietnam.

In a quest to quench his rampant eros ,the tyrant is said to use up his parent’s funds and then begins stealing from strangers around him in order to continue financing his profligate lifestyle. Trump himself has filed for bankruptcies four times within the past 25 years.

Socrates explains that the tyrant, “with his desire getting no kind of satisfaction…shows that he is most in need of the most things and poor in truth.” Politifact, a website that fact-checks statements made by politicians, awarded Trump’s aggregated claims the PolitiFact 2015 Lie of the Year. In fact, the website asserts that 76 percent of them are mostly falsefalse or pants on fire.

“Love itself” drives the tyrant, writes Plato, a love which lives “like a tyrant within him in all anarchy and lawlessness.” As the tyrant’s eros seems to have no direction, or ethics, similarly, Trump flip flops on his commitments on everything from abortion and immigration to Iraq and Israel.

In fact, Plato’s explanation of the rise of tyrants may indeed be the one hardest to digest for Americans. The tyrant, the most unjust and unhappy of men who lives in fear of being killed by his people, is raised in the democratic regime, making him the product of democracy. In theory, a democratic society allows for everyone to pursue his or her own ambitions, and treats all preferences of eros equally, enabling desires to compete in a free marketplace.

Selection, therefore, is the result not of wisdom but of the collision of preferences uninformed by wisdom. Plato contends that this situation is harmful and leads easily to injustice. Without proper guidance in where to direct eros, the tyrant goes mad.

Eli Katz is an undergraduate studying Philosophy at the University of Chicago.