The ‘Antic Disposition’ of the Trump Administration: Part 1

The current media cycle (the week following the inauguration of President Donald Trump) is saturated with questions of truth and fact in Presidential communication. Two of note include media representation of the crowds at Trump’s inauguration, and Trump’s claim (echoed by his press secretary) that Trump lost the popular vote due to voter fraud. The term “alternative facts,” coined by Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway in an interview with NBC news, has now become a catch-all term for Trump and his staff’s many alleged fabrications and/or attempts to avoid the truth. The Associated Press just reported that sales of George Orwell’s 1984 have ‘soared’ since Conway’s interview.

The dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster tweeted a story about Conway and added the comment, “A fact is a piece of information presented as having objective reality.” It is certain that “alternative facts” are pieces of information, which makes the debate about which information — the Trump Administration’s, or the Media’s — constitutes objective reality.

Some facts are not debated, and these are Trump’s actions, whether they be calling meetings to renegotiate NAFTA, or with union leaders, signing executive orders, and others. CNN commentator Van Jones captured the situation well:

It could be the case that this is the most genius thing that Trump has ever done. Because we are talking about this, and and maybe he’s glad we’re talking about this. Because all of the wonderful things he has done today are actually awful things from my point of view.

This distinction between speech and act is reminiscent of the ‘antic disposition’ — the feigned madness — of Elizabethan theatre, epitomized in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In the play, Hamlet feigns madness in order to distract those around him from his plans for revenge. Hamlet fails to act; he only deliberates — that is the classic “problem” of the play. Trump’s seemingly bizarre choices of facts to be contested or debated with the mainstream media betray a sense of the “antic disposition” made famous by Shakespeare.

Consider the passage in Hamlet in which the term “antic disposition” first appears:

As I perchance hereafter shall think meet
To put an antic disposition on,

Or such ambiguous giving out, to note
That you know aught of me.

Hamlet feigns madness in order to obscure his plans (or his deliberations of plans) to others. Trump, one could say, picks on marginal details in his battles with the media in order to ensure that his intended actions remain obscure until they are implemented. By the time a key action can be challenged in the media, it is already a fait accompli.

To be continued in Part II