In 1729, the Anglo-Irish author Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), who was already widely known for his political polemics and satirical pamphlets and highly ironic letters to and about the literati of Georgian England, published “A Modest Proposal for preventing the Children of Poor People from being a Burden to their Parents or the Country.” Having observed how the English conquerors and (mostly absentee) landlords of Ireland had for close to five centuries been bleeding the island dry by confiscating its crops and taxing the Irish people unto starvation, Swift suggested in “A Modest Proposal” that the poor people (nearly everyone) sell their children to the rich to be used as food. Yes, the pamphlet is outrageous. (But students of English literature generally enjoy it. I know I did. It’s lots less boring than the poetry written during the reigns of the first three Georges.) It was widely discussed (an understatement) in London.
A Modest Proposal. Does Swift’s satire make us think of anything that’s going on today? A land of privileged rich people taxing and otherwise ignoring the common people? Would-be tyrants all around us in local governments? A generally do-nothing Senate? Unfair and misogynistic laws? Sky-high taxes figuratively and sometimes literally killing the poor? Families separated and children kept for months in “jails” at the southern border?
If you’ve read Gulliver’s Travels, you know that Swift was both brilliant and a misanthrope. In this novel, Lemuel Gulliver visits four islands: (1) Lilliput, a land of tiny people where Swift’s satire strikes mainly at the English political parties, religious dissenters, and high society; (2) Brobdingnag, a land of giants where Gulliver tells the king, “the bulk of your natives [are] the most pernicious race of little odious vermin”; (3) Laputa, where Swift’s satire is directed against philosophers, scientists, historians, and investors; and (4) the land of the Houyhnhnms, where most of the inhabitants are handsome horses endowed with reason and virtue, in contrast to the Yahoos, who are brutal beasts in the shape of men.
On which of these islands are we living today? From which of these islands does the current inhabitant of the White House spring? Is the president who thinks he’s a king really a fat Brogdingnagian giant? Or does the disciple of Roy Cohn consider himself to be a noble Houyhnhnm?
Swift makes the fictitious horses the best possible race: they’re handsome and virtuous. But let’s take a look at another literary horse:
…his horse hipp’d, with an old mothy saddle and stirrups of no kindred; besides, possess’d with the glanders and like a mose in the chine [a dark discharge from the nostrils], troubled with the lampas [thick, spongy skin over the horse’s teeth, making eating possible], infected with the fashions, full of windgalls, sped with spavins, ray’d with the yellows, past cure of the fives [swellings in the ears], stark spoil’d with the staggers, begnawn with the bots, [sway’d] in the back and shoulder shotten, near legg’d before, and with a half-cheek’d bit and a head-stall…to keep him from stumbling….
This is a description of Petruchio’s horse in Act III scene ii of The Taming of the Shrew, where Petruchio arrives oddly dressed for his wedding with Kate. My point? Every one of Trump’s appearances and speeches suggests that if he knew anything at all about Swift or Gulliver (which I seriously doubt), he’d think of himself as a Houyhnhnm. A perfect, virtuous, wise creature. But what do I think he really is? Guess. (Am I being too mean?) How would you describe him?
So….we have wanna-be tyrant in the White House who thinks he’s a perfect, stable genius, who makes friends with dictators like Putin, Erdogan, Mohammad bin Salman, and Kim Jong-Un but insults our long-time allies, and who will forever carry grudges against the Members of Congress who dared to impeach him. Maybe it’s time for him to just go peacefully away so the United States can begin to rebuild its democracy.
Here is my Modest Proposal. Trump’s favorite people are millionaires. I bet he knows Elon Musk, that maker of expensive cars, driller of tunnels, and builder of passenger rockets. I modestly propose that the Abuser-in-Chief and his family visit Musk. That Musk invite them to be passengers on his next fancy rocket. That Trump, Junior, Eric, Ivanka, and her husband all accept the invitation. What an honor! Surely they believe they can impress any aliens they meet in their journey into space with their perfection and their sagacity.
And so the rocket ignites. Lift-off! Where is it going? To Pluto. It takes from 11 to 12 ½ years to reach Pluto. That’s a lot of cheeseburgers to pack, of course, but we all know that fast food lasts forever. And he can take his supply of orange spray-tan along, too. Bon voyage! BTW, how far and how fast across the solar system can tweets travel? Bon voyage!
And that’s my Modest Proposal. Send ’em to Pluto. Readers, what will you Modestly Propose? I’m sure everyone who reads the posts and comments on this site would like to know what your Modest Proposals are. Share them with us.
Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic. Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations. When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the Neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.