The Story of Our Mad King Will Live on Well Past the Election

The Story of Our Mad King Will Live on Well Past the Election

Donald Trump is now an intrinsic part of the narrative of America.

Donald Trump will never really go away, even if he is resoundingly defeated on Tuesday. Not on November 4, not on January 20, not when he dies, not in a hundred years. He may well be what future generations remember most about our era. Not because of what he accomplished, but because the story of a mad king is an immortal tale.

The phenomenon is rare, which is why it is so captivating. The Roman emperor Caligula appointed his horse a consul of Rome. He made it illegal for anyone to look at him in the street, was an enthusiastic sadist, and seems to have genuinely believed that he was a deity. King George III of England, whose madness would be made into a Hollywood movie, supposedly tried to shake hands with a tree, thinking it was the King of Prussia, although this story was almost surely apocryphal. America has been relatively immune to this sort of leader, although Richard Nixon had some moments in his final, besieged years—ordering military operations he never intended to carry out, musing openly about using the Army to hold on to power, and pouring out vitriol on tape.

The mad king also makes for great literature. Game of Thrones begins a few years after the death of one such figure and introduces its share of irrational leaders along the way. William Shakespeare’s King Lear is the story of a monarch who responds well to flattery and is taken advantage of by his own daughters.