The Book of Esther which is read at Purim is offered as a morality play about anti-Semitism , and because it is one of only a few instances of Jews triumphing over evil-doers who would annihilate them, it is presented in a festive, carnival-like atmosphere, with children wearing costumes.
But the story reads more like a Grimms’ fairytale than a morality play. What is more, with just a few name-changes, it could very well describe current events.
So on one level, the story is offered as an early instance of feminism – Queen Esther being one of the few women heroes. Except that she didn’t exactly stand up to King Ahasuerus (also known as Xerxes I) of Persia (today’s Iran). She basically took advantage of the King’s infatuation with her.
If anything the unacknowledged heroine in the piece was Vashti, who is presented as the granddaughter of King Nebuchadnezzar II (634-562 BCE), the most heralded king of ancient Babylonia (today’s Iraq). Vashti refused to obey the king’s command to appear at his debauchery wearing nothing but her crown. She didn’t just lose her crown, her estate, but her life for standing up to such humiliation.
And the reason given for Vashti’s decapitation was that if she got away with it, wives throughout the kingdom would be emboldened not to obey their husbands. “Thus shall there arise too much contempt and wrath.” On the other hand, her demise was a lesson to all, published throughout the king’s 127 provinces and in every language, “that every man should bear rule in his own house.”
Queen Esther – whose Jewish name was Hadassah – was picked out by the king for a replacement trophy wife after a beauty pageant, evoking images of the Miss America pageant.
Which brings me to Donald Trump.
Because if the story of Queen Esther resonates in modern day (anti-semitism, genocide, feminism), it is how much Donald Trump evokes King Ahasuerus, who so cavalierly issues a death decree for a perceived slight, not to mention his objectifying women, while his naïvete and ignorance are perceived as strengths to his followers who view expertise and experience as :elitism” (that is to say, a bad thing).
King Ashasuerus comes off in the Book of Esther as a complete boob, probably deranged narcissist but all-powerful tyrant, who authorizes Haman, his Grand Vizier, to issue a decree to exterminate all the Jews, paying a bounty for their kills (like terrorists today).
Haman’s argument is that the Jews are “others” who do not pay proper homage or follow the laws of the King.
“There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king’s laws: therefore it is not for the king’s profit to suffer them.” Haman says to Ahasuerus,
“If it please the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed: and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to the hands of those that have the charge of the business, to bring it into the king’s treasuries.
“And the king took his ring from his hand, and gave it unto Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the Jews’ enemy.
“And the king said unto Haman, The silver is given to thee, the people also, to do with them as it seemeth good to thee.”
Esther is not revered for paving new inroads for women’s rights, but rather, for abandoning the safety of her anonymity, having been selected as a Queen by Ashasuerus for her looks, having no clue that she was a Jew. But she essentially uses her feminine wiles on him and takes advantage of his infatuation.
Now Mordecai, who is Esther’s cousin and guardian, contrary to being a subversive “other” as Haman would describe him, actually saves the King’s life when he overhears a plot to assassinate Ashasuerus. And in true fairy-tale style, Haman is unwittingly, ironically, undone, when it is he, Haman, who is hung from the gallows instead of Mordecai. Mordecai instead becomes Ashauerus’ Grand Vizier.
But the story, in true Grimms’ Fairytale style, goes on to say that the King does not actually rescind the edict against murdering all the Jews but, rather, passes a new edict that allows the Jews to fight back.
“Anything you want,” he basically says to Esther. “Now what is thy petition? and it shall be granted thee: or what is thy request further? and it shall be done.”
And what follows is a tally that goes like this: the Jews in Shushan slew 500 men in Shushan palace and the 10 sons of Haman who are hanged on the gallows. But the other Jews of the King’s provinces “stood for their lives” and slew 5070 of their foes, and they “made it a day of feasting and gladness.”
Which brings to mind Donald Trump.
Besides the allusions to the objectifying and demeaning of women, which has become (ickily enough) an issue in the presidential campaign, another eerie parallel to King Ahasuerus is Trump’s disdain of “the others” in our society and his autocratic, narcissistic, petty, arbitrary, woefully ignorant and naïve approach to foreign policy – everything from his embrace of torture to the use of nuclear weapons, to unilaterally tearing up trade and arms treaties, to what would likely be the Trump Doctrine, as the New York Times framed it in a headline, March 26: “America Comes First, and Everybody Else Pays”
His interview with the New York Times on foreign policy is breathtaking and horrifying – especially to every foreign leader. As Roger Cohen’s stated in a New York Times op-ed, “Trump’s New World Disorder, “Donald Trump would rip up the post-1945 world order, trash an ‘obsolete’ NATO, lean toward a Japan with nukes rather than the “one-sided agreement” that leaves the United States responsible for Japanese defense, tell Saudi Arabia that it “wouldn’t be around for very long” without American protection, and generally make clear that “we cannot be the policeman of the world.”
Add to that he would rip up the Iran nuclear deal (can’t understand why Iran wasn’t compelled to buy US airplanes, not realizing that US still has sanctions in place), overturn the Paris Climate Agreement, use nuclear weapons against ISIS, expand the use of torture, rip up every trade agreement (also not understanding how trade functions (see NYTimes, March 28, “The Trade Deficit Isn’t a Scorecard, and Cutting It Won’t Make America Great Again”). That’s just on Day One of the Imperial Majesty of Trump (don’t get me started on how he would shut out journalists, prosecute, a la Nixon, an “enemies list”) and very possibly make foreign deals around what would add to the profit of the Trump Empire.
His hyperbolic statements, boil down to, ““I’m not isolationist, but I am ‘America First.’ So I like the expression… We have been disrespected, mocked, and ripped off for many, many years by people that were smarter, shrewder, tougher. We were the big bully, but we were not smartly led… The big stupid bully, and we were systematically ripped off by everybody. From China to Japan to South Korea to the Middle East… protecting Saudi Arabia and not being properly reimbursed… I mean they were making a billion dollars a day before the oil went down… The whole thing is preposterous… We will not be ripped off anymore, we’re going to be friendly with everybody, but we’re not going to be taken advantage of by anybody.”
As people who actually know what they are talking about have said, stopping oil imports (or trade) from Saudi Arabia would strengthen Iran in the region; weakening NATO would be a Christmas gift to Vladamir Putin, and suggesting that Japan and South Korea get nuclear weapons would overturn 50 years of trying to de-nuclearize the world and set off a new arms race, most probably inspire North Korea’s insane dictator Kim Jong-un to be even more aggressive than he has been (since George W Bush era) to use nuclear warheads.
Trump says he wants to “Make America Great Again!” but what does that mean exactly? Apparently, Trump is enamored with the glory days of the 1940s and 1950s: meaning he wants to go back to the 1940s, 1950s. “..we started getting, we were not pushed around, we were respected by everybody, we had just won a war, we were pretty much doing what we had to do, yeah around that period.”
But as New York Times’ David Sanger pointed out to Trump (interviewed by telephone), that was the Cold War era, when there was grave insecurity and real concern whether there would be mutually assured annihilation, when kids (like me) were drilling for a nuclear bomb by hiding under our desks.
What else was true about the 1940s and 1950s? No civil rights – not for women, Blacks or any other minority, old people, disabled people, or anyone else. The US emerged from World War II as a superpower because every other country was decimated by war. We could dictate to every other country because we were the only ones with a strong economy, and because US currency is used for the global reserve. As the New York Times so eloquently put it (and Trump even says so himself): trade, which Trump would upend with tariffs, fees and barriers, is a mechanism for the US to exert not only its foreign policy, but is a way of exporting our values around the world.
What really, really peeves Trump is that the US is no longer in a position to push around other countries. What he wants is to be able to dictate to other countries, and not even pay for it. – Essentially bully countries the way he bullies underlings. Try that with Putin or North Korea or Israel or just about any place else.
Sitting down with the Washington Post editors to discuss foreign policy, he answered a question about using a battlefield nuclear weapon to take out ISIS this way: “I don’t want to use, I don’t want to start the process of nuclear. Remember the one thing that everybody has said, I’m a counterpuncher. Rubio hit me. Bush hit me. When I said low energy, he’s a low-energy individual, he hit me first. I spent, by the way he spent 18 million dollars’ worth of negative ads on me. That’s putting [MUFFLED]…”
Prodded again to respond to whether he would use a tactical nuclear weapon against ISIS, he said, “I’ll tell you one thing, this is a very good looking group of people here. Could I just go around so I know who the hell I’m talking to?”
As a Florida Republican Congressman said, “America can survive a President Donald Trump on domestic policy because the Congress can rein him in” but in foreign policy, a president wields power more like a king.
Trump in fact, has that attitude: as Trump himself has said during the Republican debate in Detroit, when confronted with the reality that torture and killing families of terrorists, which he has advocated as his “solution” to defeating ISIS and terrorism, are illegal and “the military will refuse because they’ve been trained to turn down and refuse illegal orders. So what would you do, as commander-in-chief, if the U.S. military refused to carry out those orders?”
Trump replied, “They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me. Believe me.”
A Grimms’ fairytale and every bit as unreal and frightening.
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