The Tale of a Trump

Jonathan Swift’s, Tale of a Tub, is an apparent attack on religious practises that vary from his own High Anglicanism.  But as he makes clear quite early in the book, religion merely provides the allegory, for  where the real power is held – in political structures and practises. Or as he picturesquely puts it, it is the empty tub thrown to distract a whale that might otherwise sink the whole ship.



A Tub for the Whale  James Gilray  1806


In section ix, a Digression concerning Madness, a chapter where the real object of his tale is more explicit than most, Swift links the gift of, ‘being  well deceived,’ as a characteristic of both the insane and the successful politician. He recommends that influential patriots should set up a commission to inspect Bedlam, an infamous mental hospital, with a view to selecting inmates to fill the various offices of state..

He justifies this by the following argument.

For the Brain, in its natural Position and State of Serenity, disposeth its Owner to pass his Life in the Common Forms, without any Thoughts of subduing Multitudes to his own Power, his Reasons or his Visions…….. But when a Man’s Fancy gets a stride on his  Reason, when Imagination is at Cuffs with the Senses, and common Understanding, as well as common Sense is Kickt out of Doors; the first Proselyte he makes, is Himself, and when that is once compass’d , the Difficulty is not so great in bringing over others;  A strong Delusion always operating from without, as vigorously as from within.

Jonathan Swift A Tale of a Tub 1710

Now dear reader, lest you be in any doubt, that the target of Swift’s tale is new American President, Donald Trump, I urge you to look carefully at the following illustration taken from the said book.



Observe the mad man  at the forefront of the picture.  Note the peculiar nature of the hands, and the delicacy of the ears.

The Æolists, windbag clergy, described in the Tale, have long been understood to represent the Scottish reformer John Knox and his followers.  Swift tells us that the reason  they wore their hair short, with their ears on show, was because these provide a guide to the size of the male protuberance.

Now it would be natural to jump to the conclusion that Swift, in his depiction of Trump, is once again showing his bias against those of Scottish ancestry, or is  displaying  blatant anti-Americanism. It was after all an American whom he alleged, in his A Modest Proposal,’  to have recommended a young healthy child, as a delicious meal.

This is to miss the point.  Swift does not argue that there is anything wrong with the practises he is describing. In the latter case, quite the reverse.

In fact it is quite clear from the following quote, that Swift is actually using his skills as a master propagandist, in support of Trump.  Who, but a genius, could put so clearly the case for alternative facts.

And so the Question is only this; Whether things that have Place in the Imagination, may not as properly be said to Exist, as those that are seated in the Memory; which may be justly held in the affirmative, and very much to the Advantage of the former, since this is acknowledged to be the Womb of Things, and the other allowed to be no more than the Grave.

Jonathan Swift A Tale of a Tub 1710