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Tom Riley’s scorcher of a response (“Hail Caesar?” June 11) to my letter of June 8 was near-perfect: playfully pedantic, with that whiff of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that so many of us can appreciate. It took me to task for high crimes in secondary source use, yes, but stung me most sharply in the place that really hurts: punctuation. To be without an ellipsis when any God-fearing citizen would expect to see one? Degrading and disgraceful.

Not to cavil too much about such thoroughgoing, tweezer-quality work, I would nonetheless offer a constructive suggestion for improvement. First and foremost, in a response it’s always a good idea to address the actual topic under consideration.

The fact that Mr. Riley chose to ignore the major — and urgent — points I made about Trump’s use of lies and distortion to destroy confidence in many of our nation’s institutions tends to make his points about Julius Caesar, Octavian, and the Burr-Hamilton duel look just a wee bit like fatuous distraction. Nothing on the scale of the distractions that Trump has attempted, of course (“Obama wiretapped me in Trump Tower!”). Writ large or small, this sort of thing is never going to qualify as a valuable addition to public discourse.

That said, I am now going to take a deep breath and jump into the weeds of Mr. Riley’s somewhat swampy argument, but I am doing so purely to set the record, along with some of his shakier assertions, straight. If you are a casual reader, for God’s sake stop right here. Get on with your day. Do something constructive. Go for a walk or read a book. I am clearly labeling this as “Tempest in a Trump Tower Taco Bowl.”

Mr. Riley must certainly have noted the original source of Hamilton’s quote, part of a lengthy missive to George Washington titled, “Objections and Answers Regarding the Administration of the Government.” It was intended to answer objections made by Democratic Republicans, such as Jefferson, to a more powerful federal government. The quote in question is part of Objection #14 (Don’t you just love being down here in the weeds?), dealing with the possible return of monarchy to the United States. Hamilton explains why monarchy is not the real danger, but a demagogue emphatically is.

Scintillating so far? Oboy.

In using Hamilton’s quote, I was in no way trying to portray him as some sort of crystal-gazer, nor was I implying that the description he offered was a perfect fit for Trump. I was and am saying that the description is uncannily apt, and the danger that Hamilton described is what we are currently experiencing in our country.

I am also saying this is not a casual issue, but one that threatens our nation quite literally. I am also saying that to trivialize that fact with marginally relevant distractions is a definite disservice to us all, however erudite the distraction might presume itself to be.

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Can Trump be described as “…having the advantage of military habits”? Possibly. As Mr. Riley points out, he did attend military school. He has surrounded himself with an unusual number of generals in his administration, actually seeking a waiver to allow General Mattis to serve as Secretary of Defense after only three years out of the military, rather than the seven years required statutorily.

To go further, Trump is quite “military” in his focus on making money. He has no friends outside of his family, does not drink alcohol, and has no hobbies other than golf and sexual predation.

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Mr. Riley asks whether I concede that Trump is “possessed of considerable talent.” Absolutely. No one achieves his station in life without having substantial talent. But then, Charles Ponzi and Bernie Madoff exhibited considerable talent also. A talent for deceit and manipulation.

It will remain unclear why Mr. Riley cannot make the connection between Julius Caesar and Trump as despotic characters. Less in their lives before achieving ultimate power in their respective countries — though the adulation Trump experiences as a god of business is not dissimilar to what Caesar experienced as a conquering military commander—but more in their impatience with the workings of the republics they came to rule, and their naturally autocratic temperaments.

The choice to remain willfully blind to Trump’s dangerous character flaws, flaws that could at any moment plunge the nation and the world into a calamity no one wants to think about, remains a mystery. Is it testimony to Trump’s manipulative abilities? Perhaps a product of those abilities harnessed to the upheavals of globalization and automation? However we account for it, there is no doubt that history will not be kind to him, nor to those who chose blindness at a moment when we most needed clear-sighted citizens.

Paul Moser

Napa

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