Plutarch and the Parallel Lives of Donald Trump

tags: presidential history, impeachment, Donald Trump, Plutarch

Mr. Morrow is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.


Harry S. Truman kept a set of Plutarch’s writings at hand in the White House. He said that in Plutarch’s “Parallel Lives,” he could find everything worth knowing about leaders—how they behave, what makes them tick.

In the “Lives,” Plutarch (A.D. 47-120) would compare a famous Greek to a famous Roman—setting Alexander the Great, for example, next to Julius Caesar, or Demosthenes beside Cicero. It was moral portraiture; Plutarch had a genius for details. He believed that a trivial detail can reveal a man more profoundly than a great event. Cicero, for example, became alert to an unexpected subtlety of Julius Caesar’s character after noticing, one day in the Senate, the way he adjusted his forelock with one finger.

Suppose Plutarch undertook to write one of his “Parallel Lives” on the subject of Donald Trump. If Plutarch were to study the biographies of the previous American presidents, to which of them would he compare the 45th?

Like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mr. Trump is an illusionist. Like FDR, Mr. Trump has boundless confidence in himself. Like FDR, Mr. Trump has been known to lie. Unlike Roosevelt, Mr. Trump is a businessman. (FDR failed in his minor efforts at business investment during the 1920s.) Roosevelt undertook to make America great again by mobilizing the federal government against the “economic royalists” in a great depression; Mr. Trump wants to accomplish the same goal by demobilizing the regulators and resisting the cultural autocracy of the left.

Mr. Trump is best understood as a businessman and a performer. If you analyze him at the intersection of those two identities, you begin to understand him. As an actor on the world stage, his favorite role is a version of Stanley Kowalski.

Read entire article at Wall Street Journal

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