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Philosophy in the Contemporary World

Volume 25, Issue 1, Spring 2019

David Koukal
Pages 49-60

The Fatally Flawed Leadership of Donald J. Trump
A Platonic Analysis

Over the past two years, several political commentators have drawn on Plato’s Republic to shed light on our last presidential election. Many of these authors emphasize the features of democracy that make it especially susceptible to demagoguery, which heralds the arrival of tyranny, and then go on to relate this to Donald Trump’s political ascension. The problem with these analyses is that they tend to unquestioningly adopt Plato’s pessimistic view of democracy. While Plato’s criticisms do have the virtue of making us aware of democracy’s weaknesses, we would argue that our present political circumstances did not issue from these flaws. This makes these criticisms irrelevant. Other commentators come closer to the mark when they talk about Plato’s passages addressing the person of the tyrant in Book IX, but what is lacking in these accounts is a context that more fully explains why the tyrant is what he is, in Platonic terms. In this essay we argue that other parts of the Republic, particularly Book IV, can tell us much more about Trump and his presidency. This part of the dialogue deals with Plato’s conception of human nature, which he presents in his discussion of the soul or psyche [ψυχή]. An examination of these passages will grant us insight into the Trump’s actions and utterances and show that the president is not only intellectually but also temperamentally unqualified for his office, which should give citizens good cause for worry.

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