Trump’s Behavior, Elucidated by 10 Fictional Characters

Narcissus gazing lovingly at himself, ignoring the rest of the world. Can Narcissus help us understand President Trump's behavior?

This is happening. At the end of this week, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. The transition is taking place with maximum chaos, exacerbated by a cavalcade of reactionaries, incompetents and comic book villains nominated for Cabinet positions. It’s all a little difficult to wrap one’s mind around, so I wanted to help out with some examples of conduct that comfortably establish significant behavioral problems in fiction, but which don’t seem to be bothering anyone in any official position to do anything as they play out in real life.

I’ve left out figures like Nero and Caligula on the grounds that they’re not fictional characters. (Although, check out Cintra Wilson’s brilliant satire Caligula For President—it’s from the end of the W era, but just as relevant and devastating today!) And I was going to talk about the Queen of the Night from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, but I’ve already used her to sneer at David Koch, and it feels tacky to double dip.

1) Narcissus

Narcissus mooning over his own reflection.
Narcissus mooning over his own reflection.

Have you seen the list about me? He did a great job, I have all the best lists, everyone says so. ZERO lists about other people are worth reading. Who else would the list be about, only I am the subject of lists. That guy who wrote the list gets me bigly. American HERO!

2) The Evil Queen in Snow White

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”
Needy, insecure, vain, deluded, jealous, callous, vindictive… She has “evil” in her name.

Story continues below.

3) Doctor Bartolo

How fatherly!Maurizio Muraro as Dr. Bartolo and Isabel Leonard as his ward, Rosina at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Beth Bergman
How “fatherly”!
Maurizio Muraro as Dr. Bartolo and Isabel Leonard as
his ward, Rosina, at the Metropolitan Opera.
Photo: Beth Bergman / via

A character from Rossini’s opera Il Barbieri di Seviglia, Bartolo is a pompous doctor who acts as guardian, a kind of father figure, to young Rosina. The plot of the opera turns on Rosina’s desire to marry Count Almaviva over Bartolo’s objections. Bartolo tries to keep the young lovers apart, you see, because, despite filling a paternal role, despite the fact that she has been like a daughter to him, he secretly hopes to marry her himself. At least in the broad farce of the opera they’re not blood relations!

4) Paris

Rubens Judgement of Paris
Peter Paul Rubens, The Judgment of Paris, 1632–35
Paris is seated on the right, in front of the tree.

In Greek mythology, Paris was a Trojan who was asked to judge a contest among three goddesses—Hera, Athena and Aphrodite—to choose the most beautiful. Each of the goddesses offered a bribe to him based on her powers. Paris crowned Aphrodite, goddess of love, the winner and collected his bribe, which was Helen of Troy, née Helen of Sparta, where she already had a husband. This set off the Trojan War we’ve heard so much about. Ultimately, Helen made it back to Sparta (in most versions), but Troy lost the war to the Greeks and the city ended up in smoldering ruins.

For Trump, who, let’s remember, owns the Miss USA pageant, this is downright spooky. Beauty pageants, corruption and bribery, treating women like possessions to be judged, abducted and rescued between men, a selfish world view that results in the catastrophic end of a civilization…Do you think the new President has read his Homer? Someone call the Secret Service immediately if a big wooden horse gets delivered to the White House!

5) Veruca Salt

Julie Dawn Cole as Miss Veruca Salt, thrower of tantrums.
Julie Dawn Cole as Miss Veruca Salt, thrower of tantrums.

Whenever there’s news of the latest Twitter act-out by Trump, I involuntarily picture Veruca Salt throwing an embarrassing, entitled tantrum in Willy Wonka’s factory. She, though, was judged a “bad egg” and sent for a time-out by Oompa Loompas. How do we get some Oompa Loompas to the inauguration?

6) St. Anthony Tormented by Demons

Martin Schongauer, Saint Anthony Tormented by Demons, c. 1470–1475, engraving
Martin Schongauer, Saint Anthony Tormented by Demons, c. 1470–75, engraving / via

Let’s take this one more symbolically. If poor, beleaguered St. Anthony here represents good governance and civil society, I’m trying to think which characters might represent our new President…Not Anthony, so…hmmm, some other kind of character in this engraving, I guess…Those demons sure have funny hair and smallish hands!

Story continues below.

7) Sardanapalus

Eugène Delacroix, Death of Sardanapalus, 1827
Eugène Delacroix, Death of Sardanapalus, 1827
Sardanapalus is the one lounging calmly at the upper left.

This one is a mash-up of two classics: the petulant selfishness of “I’m taking my ball and going home,” combined with the objectifying threats of violence à la “If I can’t have you, no one can!” And that’s all wrapped up in the exotic package of the Romantic era’s Orientalist fantasies.

Inspired by Lord Byron’s play Sardanapalus, Delacroix painted a lurid scene showing the legendary ancient Assyrian king at the end. He has lost a war and his capital has fallen; certain death is imminent. Seeing the writing on the wall, and not wanting the conquering army to get all his awesome stuff, Sardanapalus built a pyre. Around it, he (forcibly) gathered his treasure, horses, slaves and concubines—those last two are groups of people—climbed on top and set everything, including himself, alight. This is not intended as a user manual for the end of the Trump regime.

8) This goddamn kid

Boy Strangling Goose
Who’s daddy’s special sadist?
Boy Strangling a Goose, 2nd century B.C.
Photo: H. Lewandowski / via

Go ahead. Tell me you can’t imagine our President lustily wringing small animals’ necks for sport. The poor goose, though. Maybe fowl strangling will replace the annual pardoning of the turkey on Thanksgiving in Trump’s White House.

9) Don Giovanni

Mozart’s rakish Pussy Grabber. He gets away with it for a very long time because he’s a star. Set in the pre-Tic Tacs era.

10) Gordon Gekko

Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone's Wall Street, 1978
Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, 1978

“The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed — for lack of a better word — is good.

Greed is right.

Greed works.

Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.

Greed, in all of its forms — greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge — has marked the upward surge of mankind.

And greed — you mark my words — will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.”
Transcript via

No, it isn’t; no, it doesn’t; no, it won’t. Asshole.

Gekko did end up in jail, so maybe this is a feel-good list after all!