Recall the cautionary tale from Greek mythology about Icarus and Daedalus. After being imprisoned on Crete by King Minos, Daedalus fashioned two pairs of wings out of wax and feathers so that he and his son, Icarus, could escape the island. Before the flight to freedom, Daedalus warned Icarus against both complacency (flying too close to the sea) or hubris (flying too close to the sun). Like so many stories from mythology, the apocryphal tale of Icarus offers essential lessons of practical value. With the first-ever president to twice face impeachment, we see a sublime realization of the consequences of unbridled arrogance. And this second impeachment is likely only the beginning of what may be the most monumental political downfall in American history.
The relevance of the Icarus tale for Donald Trump, the entire Trump family, is they should never have left their comfortable, albeit highly unethical and often criminal life in their small, insulated world. However, Donald Trump’s lifelong desire to be taken seriously by the truly rich eventually led to an accidental presidency. Donald finally got what he always wanted, real power, prestige, and privilege. A small-time hustler was now on a vast stage. His perpetual desire to play with the adults has brought the kind of scrutiny his unethical life somehow managed to avoid for decades. However, a lifetime of lying, cheating, and stealing to perpetuate a myth of success has finally come to a head. He has flown too close to the sun, and the wax is melting.
Had Donald Trump not lied his way to the White House, he could have continued his pretense to more significant importance than he merits. However, by actually becoming important, he has also become a target. Trump’s ultimate downfall brings to mind another story from ancient Greece. Popularized by the Roman philosopher Cicero, Damocles’ sword is a parable about the inherent perils that often accompany powerful positions. According to the story, Damocles was an obsequious courtier to the king, Dionysius II, with an annoying habit of talking about how great it is to be the king. To teach a lesson, Dionysius held a banquet in Damocles’ honor. The king afforded a golden throne, the best food, servants, and other comforts to the guest of honor. However, suspended above Damocles’ head by a single strand of horsehair was a razor-sharp sword. With the sword hanging over his head, Damocles could not enjoy the comforts of the honor Dionysius had bestowed. Trump would have been served well to remember this story if he ever heard it in the first place. It might have tempered his behavior. Today just one more manifestation of that sword, a second impeachment, is coming down hard.
When the sun sets today in Washington, Donald John Trump will be the only President in US history to have been impeached twice. While his GOP enablers have protected him so far, the writing is on the wall. Donald Trump is a useful idiot of the GOP, a means to an end. Once Trump’s utility has been fully exhausted, the true depths of disdain felt by most members of the GOP will be revealed. This truth is only now, slowly, coming to light.
Interestingly, as momentous as it is to be impeached twice, this may be among the least painful of all the emerging repercussions of Donald Trump’s life defined by profound obfuscation. He has lost access to virtually every social media platform in existence. People are refusing to accept the highest civilian honor in our country, the Presidential Medal of Freedom because it has the Trump stink on it. He is under investigation in multiple states and municipalities and will soon lose the legal protection his office has provided until now. And the thing to keep in mind is that most of Trump’s misdeeds predate his presidential term. None of this is new. But by flying too close to the sun, he has painted a target on his back legally speaking, and a great many prosecutors and legislators are now taking aim. Had he remained in Manhattan, the conman from Queens, much of the attention he will be subject to in coming months, would likely have been avoided.
If we could forget Donald Trump’s presidency, he would simply be remembered as a businessman who failed at most of his endeavors despite the amazing head start he inherited from his father. He would remain a man who lies about his net worth being greater than it is when he wants to boost his ego or secure a loan from questionable sources, but smaller than it is when he wants to avoid taxes. His greatest shame would be as a man who filed multiple bankruptcies and failed at such business ventures as Trump Airlines, Trump Magazine, Trump Mortgage, Trump University, Trump Steaks, and Trump Vodka, just to name a few. But these failures impacted only those with direct business ties to Trump. Now the stakes are so much higher.
As president, Trump’s failures are failures for all of us. The gravitas of the United States has taken a terrible blow since 2016. Our closest allies question the reliability of the United States as never before. For the first time in history, the US Capitol was invaded as part of a Trump-inspired insurrection. And in his greatest failure, under Trump’s leadership, the US response to the COVID-19 pandemic is unique among wealthy nations in the scope and scale of our inability to follow basic medical advice. As a result, more Americans are dying every day than on September 11, 2001.
As I type these words, some GOP members of Congress argue that impeachment is the wrong course of action. What we need, they argue, is to heal as a nation. I agree. Much healing is in order. But healing sometimes requires that a malignant tumor be excised. The Trump Presidency will indeed be over in one week, with or without impeachment. But the presidency is unique in many ways. Great lifelong prestige is carried forward by past officeholders. Presidents maintain tremendous political influence. According to the Former Presidents Act, former presidents receive a lifetime pension, transition funding, staff and office, medical insurance, and Secret Service protection. Unfortunately, by seeking to fly too close to the sun to stroke his tender ego, Trump has brought us all to the verge of disaster. To allow Trump’s behavior to go unchallenged is perfectly maladaptive to the healing we need as a nation.