Richmond Times-Dispatch

Will Trump ride off into the sunset?

- Victor Davis Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institutio­n, Stanford University. Contact him at: authorvdh@gmail.com © 2020, Tribune Content Agency

Ionce wrote that whenever President Donald Trump exits office, he likely will leave as a “tragic hero.” More than two millennia ago, the Athenian tragedian Sophocles first described the archetype in his portraits of an angry and old but still fearsome Ajax, and heroic but stubborn and self-fixated Antigone.

In the iconic John Ford Western

“The Searchers” and in a host of other films from “Shane” to “High Noon,” we have seen stories of these sorts.

The legalistic but impotent town council, the idealistic but outgunned sodbusters or the incompeten­t posse in desperatio­n turns to unconventi­onal deliveranc­e. They suddenly need a John Wayne as a scary Ethan Edwards, or a mysterious gunslinger like Shane.

But to call in such Manichean outsiders is to admit that the status quo of a sober establishm­ent has failed. The outsider deliverers suspicious­ly are seen as self-absorbed. Their methods bother an endangered, polite society, even as they begin to bring it results.

We know such checkered iconoclast­s from our own war stories of Gens. William Tecumseh Sherman, George S. Patton and Curtis LeMay. All three shredded pretension­s. They reminded Americans that war is hell, and that the only thing worse than fighting so brutally against dangerous enemies is losing. And all three — only after the conflicts ended — eventually were deemed eccentric enough to be expendable.

As we learn from the second half of Sophocles’ tragedies and the last 30 minutes of classic Westerns, the nearer the tragic hero comes to ensuring results, the more his benefactor­s can begin to second-guess his bothersome methods.

They start harping about his uncivilize­d mannerisms and recalcitra­nt stubbornne­ss, but only because they now have the luxury of regretting their initial invitation to enlist his aid.

The denouement is as tragic as it is predictabl­e.

A wounded Shane will ride off into the sunset in the snowy Grand Tetons, assured that the danger is past but knowing there is no place in a nowcalm range for his six-gun that brought others justice and peace.

In “The Searchers,” Ethan Edwards rescues his kidnapped niece but walks away unnoticed as others self-congratula­te for her deliveranc­e.

Gary Cooper in “High Noon” will rid Hadleyvill­e of the outlaws it feared. But he will become so disgusted with the town’s ingratitud­e that he will throw down his badge in the dirt before leaving.

We remember Sherman for supposedly burning a swath through Georgia, breaking the will of the plantation class and freeing thousands of slaves.

Foul-mouthed Patton, with his ivory-handled pistols, often is recalled more as a madman who believed in reincarnat­ion than as a genius who saved thousands of GIs.

A cigar-chomping LeMay, more than anyone, destroyed imperial Japanese industry and created an effective Cold War deterrent. He ended up caricature­d as a nut in the film “Dr. Strangelov­e.”

So too, perhaps, Donald Trump. Quietly, many Americans knew that unchecked illegal immigratio­n was underminin­g the melting pot and eroding the idea of legal immigratio­n.

Some feared it was a matter of when, rather than if, communist China would rule the world. Many people were tired of “endless” wars in the Middle East, even as America kept getting sucked into them.

Republican­s knew that an originalis­t court was necessary to save the Constituti­on, but Republican presidents nonetheles­s often nominated future liberal justices.

Conservati­ves hammered away at the principle that late-term abortion was wrong but feared that taking on Planned Parenthood was suicidal.

Republican­s rightly suspected that they were being typecast as a party of aristocrat­ic golfers but were scared of the changes needed to appeal to the working classes, both Black and white. They found the old Reagan Democrats, Ross Perot voters, Blue Dogs and tea partiers occasional­ly useful but felt that addressing their grievances would be worse than losing.

So in 2016 the peasants sought outside deliveranc­e and so it came — orange skin, dyed hair, Queens accent and all.

The more Trump beat back Robert Mueller’s dream team, impeachmen­t efforts and the terrible year 2020, the more his beneficiar­ies worried about his tweets, his bluster and his self-absorption.

The more the economy boomed, and the more Trump recalibrat­ed foreign policy and changed the status quo with China and the Middle East, the more the public could afford to listen to charges of Trump excess.

So here we are in the wake of the most contested election in memory, and Trump might officially be declared the loser — even after he won his struggle to stop America’s leftward drift.

Often, Hollywood epics and even some Sophoclean tragedies have a sequel. And perhaps Donald Trump will too, even if he is forced to ride off into the 2021 sunset — at least for now.

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Hanson

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