|The Circle of the Traitors — Dante's Foot Striking Bocca Degli Abati, by William Blake
“Trump and his accomplices are the most pathetic traitors ever,” controversial Democratic fundraiser Scott Dworkin tweeted to his million followers in mid-July. “Cowards who need to be arrested immediately.”
I know you’re not supposed to think about tweets. They’re just random shots in the Twitter free-fire zone, tiny sparks flying off a burning lumberyard.
But occasionally one ember will lodge under the skin. In this case, the word “pathetic,” which I took not for its current popular meaning, “miserably inadequate; of very low standard,” but for its original sense of “arousing pity.”
Rinse off the contempt and there is indeed something pitiable about traitors. Merely feeling scorn for them is too simple, too easy, and ignores the essential tragedy of betrayal.
Start with the original traitor of Western culture, Judas Iscariot. Why did he betray Jesus? The 30 pieces of silver are what’s remembered, but that’s a smoke screen. Small payout for the magnitude of his crime. (One of the several ways Donald Trump is outstanding in the traitor field: Unlike most, he’s playing for large stakes. The average traitor gets but little. Jonathan Pollard sold his country for a $2,500-a-year Israeli salary.)
Silver aside, Judas’ betrayal was almost preordained. If the Bible is to be trusted, Jesus seems in on the plan. He announces that one of his disciples will betray him. The Gang of 12 immediately demand to know who. Jesus says the person he’ll hand this bread to is the bad guy, and gives a chunk of challah to Judas, saying, “Do quickly what you’re going to do.”
Which kinda undercuts the obloquy that Judas has been held in for 2,000 years, doesn’t it? As Joan Acocella put it in The New Yorker: “If Jesus informs you that you will betray him, and tells you to hurry up and do it, are you really responsible for your act?”
I could see an argument where the least responsible party in the current betrayal of America is Trump himself — he arrived on the political scene a long-established grifter and con man, congenital liar and serial fraud. How can he be held responsible for what followed? Can a man without convictions, devoted only to advancing himself, be said to betray anything? There’s almost an innocence to Trump, the great orange man-baby, kicking and crying, pooping and dribbling, demanding his needs be met now.
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