There are many ways a Donald J. Trump Presidency could go fatally wrong. To learn just one, it’s necessary only to watch the 1964 classic, Becket.
This story of a 12th-century struggle between an English king and archbishop may seem irrelevant to the upcoming Trump Presidency.
In fact, it has a dangerous lesson to teach.
Becket (Richard Burton), a brilliant Saxon noble, is the favorite friend of England’s King Henry II (Peter O’Toole). They hunt, fight and bed women together. Henry even appoints him as Chancellor, the highest law enforcement officer in the country.
Where Becket is cold and calculating, Henry is impulsive, often explosive. Henry admires and resents Becket’s keen intelligence, knowing that Becket is better-suited for kingship than himself.
Meanwhile, the power of the Catholic Church is rising. Henry needs a highly-placed ally against its power. When the Archbishop of Canterbury dies, Henry appoints Becket in his place.
Suddenly the entirely secular Becket undergoes a religious conversion–and an unexpected change in allegiance. He insists that priests accused of criminal offenses be tried only in the church’s own courts–thus making them immune from Henry’s secular ones.
For Henry, this isn’t simply a conflict between church and state. It’s an unforgivable betrayal of friendship. And it means all-out war.
He falsely charges Becket with embezzlement during his time as Chancellor.
Becket flees to France, where he’s given asylum by King Louis VII (John Gielgud).
From there, Becket proceeds to Rome, where he meets with the Pope.
He begs the Pope to let him renounce his position as Archbishop and retire to a monastery as an ordinary priest.
But the Pope refuses: Becket must return to England and defend the Church against civil interference in its affairs.
Becket asks Louis to arrange a meeting with Henry on the shores of Normandy to hopefully negotiate a reconciliation.
Henry grudgingly lifts all charges against Becket and allows him to return to England.
But the feud isn’t over–for Henry.
While Becket focuses on his duties as Archbishop of Canterbury, Henry drinks and broods over his lost friendship with Becket.
His barons fuel this hatred by pointing out that the returned Archbishop has become a hero to the vanquished Saxons. They resent their Norman conquerors, and see Becket as the only man brave enough to stand up against them.
Finally, in a drunken rage, Henry blurts out: “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”
At that, four of his barons ride to Canterbury Cathedral and hack Becket to death with their swords.
When he learns the news, Henry is shocked. He has lost more than a former friend.
His reign–his soul–are now in mortal peril.
His words have caused the murder of the highest religious official in England.
His kingdom could be torn apart in civil war between Becket-loving Saxons and the Normans who conquered them in 1066.
Even worse, Henry could be excommunicated by the Pope and damned to eternal hellfire for this most unthinkable of crimes.
So Henry seeks redemption in the only way he can: He does penance by allowing himself to be publicly whipped by Saxon monks. And he proclaims Thomas Becket a saint.
Like Henry II, Donald Trump is infamous for his quick temper.
According to the The New York Times, during the 2016 Presidential campaign, Trump aimed nearly 4,000 tweets at 281 different targets.
His Twitter assaults have often dominated entire news cycles for days on end.
As President-elect, he has continued these assaults–the most recent one occurring on November 18.
On that evening, Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended a Broadway performance of the hit musical “Hamilton.”
After the curtain call, the actor Brandon Victor Dixon–who plays Aaron Burr–respectfully addressed Pence:
“We are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our friends, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”
Dixon–who is black–is rightly alarmed.
Trump has received the open and enthusiastic support of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups. Since his election, white thugs have assaulted blacks and other non-whites across the country.
Trump’s reaction to Dixon’s plea came in two Twitter rants:
“Our wonderful future V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing. This should not happen!”
And: “The Theater must always be a safe and special place. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!”
What happens if some of Trump’s 5.9 million Twitter followers decide–like Henry’s barons–to “rid” him of “this meddlesome actor”? Or the whole “meddlesome cast” of “Hamilton”?
And if not Dixon, then whoever next arouses the ire of this most easily-offended egomaniac?
Because he won’t stop.
When the victims of his weaponized tweets appear in hospitals or morgues, will Congress dare to hold him accountable through impeachment?
And, if so, will a Trump Presidency suddenly become a Pence one?
It’s only a matter of time before the explosion occurs.