I belong to a Great Books Club in Florida. Our current assignment is reading Tartuffe by Moliere, a play written in 1669. I haven’t attended the meeting yet but have finished reading the play. I have decided it’s the perfect play to read for “our times.” Why? Because the similarities between Trump and Tartuffe are quite simply undeniable.
In short, Tartuffe is a play about a fraudster who pretends to be religious and pious but is a charlatan and a crook—basically a totally unscrupulous scoundrel. He has hoodwinked a wealthy estate owner named Orgon who has taken him into his home. Tartuffe has totally brainwashed Orgon and his mother into thinking he is a saintly man who only cares about goodness and prayer. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The play was controversial when it was first published because many saw it as an attack on the Catholic Church—a church that claimed to be humble and pious but one that many saw as ostentatious and covetous.
So, the first theme of the book is hypocrisy. One can’t help but think about the height of hypocrisy of Trump courting evangelicals—a man who I can’t imagine anyone describing as virtuous and pious. And then one must add in the gaudy ostentatious, glitzy tasteless excess prevalent in so many of his properties. You know—that whole golden commode decorating scheme.
The second theme of the play is gullibility. Other members of Orgon’s family cannot believe that Orgon and his mother have been taken in by the charlatan Tartuffe. So, there are quite a few speeches about how you can tell whether a person is truly who and what they say they are.
I think about the people I see at Trump’s rallies and wonder how they can possibly believe the nonsense he utters. “If they are coming after me, they’re coming after you.” “I will build a wall and Mexico will pay for it,” and on and on. And then, of course, there is Trump’s promised revenge tour—whatever happened to concepts of forgiveness and turning the other cheek?
A third theme in the play is a quest for logic and reason. Orgon’s family members point out the inconsistencies in Tartuffe’s words and deeds. Again, their pleas to listen to reason fall on deaf ears. Once again, I wonder why Trump’s supporters don’t see the disconnect between many of Trump’s policies and their own plights. Tax breaks for the uber wealthy. Reductions in social programs. Defense of White supremacists.
A final theme is an appeal for humility. The concept of a truly pious person being a humble servant. I don’t think I need to wax too philosophical here to speak about these two words–Trump and humility. Poles apart is not far enough. I’m not even certain different universes does the trick.
I won’t tell you how the play ends because, if you have not done so already, I hope that you will read it. It’s quite short but it’s a pure delight, brilliantly written, quite witty and insightful about human nature.
What has given me pause, is that so many of these traits—hypocrisy, gullibility, lack of logic and reason and humility—were concepts grappled with way back when and still, here we are. It makes you wonder, as Peter, Paul and Mary once asked, “When will we ever learn?”
In closing, here’s one of my favorite stanzas from the play: “Be cautious in bestowing admiration and cultivate a sober moderation. Don’t humor fraud, but also don’t asperse true piety; the latter fault is worse.”
Maria Grant was principal-in-charge of the Federal human capital practice of an international consulting firm. While on the Eastern Shore, she focuses on writing, reading, kayaking, piano, gardening, and nature.