The Greeks and Their Tragedies

After viewing the recent impeachment hearings and President Trump’s reaction, I’m going to throw out two words (and then run for cover): Greek Tragedy. Does anyone else feel like that’s really what we’re watching?

The ancient Greeks loved their theater, particularly their tragedies. The plays that have survived the ages have inspired a genre with its own long Wikipedia entry (

But my purpose is not to analyze ancient theater, but to use a more contemporary context. My curiosity led me to a definition in the Collins English Dictionary: ” (in ancient Greek theatre) a play in which the protagonist, usually a person of importance and outstanding personal qualities, falls to disaster through the combination of a personal failing and circumstances with which he or she cannot deal .” (

Does that describe any past events in American history? Yes, certainly we’ve had our share of leaders who would fit this definition. Regarding “circumstances with which he or she cannot deal,” Jimmy Carter had the Iranian hostage crisis, which made him look helpless and contributed to his reelection defeat. Lyndon Johnson inherited a war in Vietnam which he allowed to spiral out of control and doomed all chances for a second term. After World War I, Woodrow Wilson had a vision for world of peace through the League of Nations, except he couldn’t convince his own country to go along. That’s not the way you’d want to be remembered by history.

As to personal failings, the administrations of Ulysses Grant and Warren Harding were beset by corruption. Apparently they were poor judges of character because they were let down by people in their administrations. Of course, probably the best example of flawed personal character is the paranoia of Richard Nixon, which brought an early end to his presidency. If you’re too young to remember Nixon, his desire for reelection led to illegal espionage and a bungled burglary at the Watergate building in Washington, D.C. The aftermath led to his resignation (“The cover-up is always worse than the crime”). offers an excellent summary (

So where are we today? I hope I’m around twenty years from now to put the current events in context, to see where the real tragedies lie. The problem is right now I’m almost afraid to watch.

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