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Reason in the Age of Trump

MADRID – In the classical Greek tragedy The Bacchae, the god Dionysus, powered by a thirst for vengeance, battles the inflexible and closed-minded King Pentheus for the soul of Thebes. Ultimately, Pentheus’s rigidity – his attempt to suppress, rather than understand or adapt to, the emotions inflamed by the passionate and unconventional Dionysus – proves to be his undoing. Dionysus emerges victorious, and Pentheus is ripped to shreds.

Today, the emotional and mercurial Donald Trump is challenging the US political establishment for America’s soul. But Trump is no god. And if he wins this battle, his country will be far worse off than Thebes, and the repercussions will be felt by the entire world.

While the likelihood of a Trump presidency seems to be declining by the day, it would be premature – and, indeed, highly risky – to dismiss it altogether. As the British vote in June to exit the European Union starkly demonstrated, citizens of democratic countries are more than capable of making choices that contradict their own rational self-interest – a trend that has lately been picking up steam.

Paradoxically, this is not altogether illogical. Amid economic struggle, national identity crises, and populist fearmongering – all amplified by social media – there is some sense in gravitating toward voices and ideas that provide comfort and an outlet for frustration.