I’ve been obsessed with the idea of sending Donald Trump to hell for a long time. It is not about something figurative, a way of saying. I fervently wish that he inhabit a literal hell, that tactile and palpable place where those who caused serious harm to their fellow men suffer, yes, send him to that perpetual place that religions have represented for millennia through scenes of sulfur and frightening screams of pain.
The more Trump abused his power in this world and the more he avoided any consequences for his crimes, the more my obsession grew to evoke, even in an imaginary way, an alternate reality in which he paid for his sins.
It was natural that in seeking ways to visualize the treatment this vile man might deserve, he turned to the work of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), the Italian poet whose Divine Comedy painstakingly plasma with his third rime a detailed overview of the afterlife in three volumes – Hell, Purgatory Y Paradiso – they have been rightly considered among the greatest literary achievements of mankind.
There was nothing abstract about the Hell that this medieval author composed. Dante made a highly personal journey to the afterlife to meet men and women, both from his time and from times past, whom he rewarded for their virtue or eternally punished for their offenses. Although his ascent through purgatory fires and paradisiacal wonders, guided by Beatrice, the woman with whom he had fallen in love in his childhood, has a special charm, it was the Florentine writer’s descent into the saturated circles of Hell that has most fascinated to readers throughout the centuries. We are moved by the stories that doomed souls tell, and filled with dread to understand that their remorse comes too late to save them from the merciless torments devised by Dante.
Witnessing the hellish reality that Trump has imposed on the United States and on the planet, I couldn’t help but wonder where Dante would have placed this satanic president in the supernatural order that he claimed awaited humans after death. And it didn’t take me long to realize something hauntingly obvious: Trump accumulates such a diversity of transgressions that it is possible to fit him into almost every category and song that Dante invented for sinners of his own age.
Who better, then, to divine the fate that awaits Trump than that Italian author and his lyrical and prophetic voice?
Dante Alighieri has words for Donald Trump from the other side of death
My name, sir, is Dante Alighieri. Among the countless dead that inhabit these shores of the beyond, I have been chosen to address you because an expert in the afterlife was needed to describe what awaits your soul when it passes, as all souls must pass, to this land of shadows. It was natural, then, that they chose me to imagine his fate, once he was among us.
After accepting this task and when I had tired of recording the incessant registry of his misdeeds, I felt the temptation to make my job easier and simply reiterate for you the circles of Hell that I had already described with my third rime. It was a matter of leading him through my cascade of verses, step by step, into the depths of darkness that I jealously designed for others.
Weren’t you the selfish incarnation of so many sins that I have portrayed in my Comedy? Lust and adultery, yes! Gluttony, yes; greed and avarice, oh yeah; anger and fury, no doubt; violence and fraud, usury and disloyalty, yes again! You are even guilty of heresy, you who do not believe in God and yet take advantage of the Bible that you never read to deceive the Christians of your country.
Did you not practice all these iniquities, slave to heartless appetites? Doesn’t he deserve to suffer the punishments I envisioned? To be whipped by unbreathable winds, to drown in storms of putrefaction, to suffocate under bubbling waters of belligerence, to be immersed in tides of blood seething with rage, to cross a fiery plain thirsty, to be impregnated with the excrement of flattery and seduction? Isn’t it fair that the nocturnal demons of corruption tear it apart, that that throat and tongue of his that destroyed so many citizens be mutilated, that it swell with diseases like other traffickers and impostors? Wouldn’t it make sense for me to leave him trapped in ice and fire, chewed incessantly by the jaws of eternity, the future that I evoked in my own century for those who betrayed their friends and their homeland?
I finally rejected such a comfortable solution. After all, I was selected not to repeat myself, but because it was trusted from above that I would be creative enough to find an appropriate lesson for you – something, said the authorities in charge of this less wild and fierce place, more educational, even therapeutic. This is how times have changed since I composed that poem of mine!
My mission, it seems, was not to insert you, sir, into the rings of a vengeful and terrifying hell previously conceived by me, but to seek inspiration from the companions who populate this universe beyond the grave. And indeed, there were your victims, those who yearn to heal, whose pain you never shared, and who are now preparing to confront it. They have been waiting, patiently, in a long line, from the moment they arrived. I have you here, by my side, counting the days until it is your turn to die as well and you can face it, one by one, through all eternity.
They have earned that sad right thanks to what you did to them. Here they are: that father who died of a pandemic whose effects you worsened; a child killed with a weapon that you did not prohibit; a worker drowned by toxic fumes that your government did not limit; protesters assassinated by white supremacists inflamed by Trumpian rhetoric; a black man who expired thanks to the police violence that you refuse to condemn; a migrant who succumbed to the desert heat on the other side of the wall that his champions wanted to build with money stolen from his fellow citizens.
One case and another and another, could go on naming so many unjustified deaths, undue deaths, avoidable deaths, specters animated by the tenacious determination that justice is done. Forgotten and despised by the gale of history, with the only consolation that one day they will be able to demand an accountability from you. They will, of course, have to arm themselves with patience, since according to my plan, each of their victims must be offered how much time they need to relate their earthly trajectory, their last moments. You will be forced, sir, to listen to their stories over and over again until you finally learn to make that pain your own, until the tragedies of these people slowly lodge in the bowels of your mind.
His first reaction will undoubtedly be to reassure himself, ensuring that this new emergency will magically disappear, the same kind of fantasy that he displayed in the face of the pandemic, proclaiming that it would be dispatched without problems, miraculously. Then he will try to fall back on his old supreme scammer tricks. You will believe that, just as you have bribed and lied to escape scandals and bankruptcies, in the same way you can also get rid of this settling of accounts. There you will throw to the wind a string of macho bravado, warning that you are invincible and invulnerable, presenting yourself as a Savior or Superman, boasting of having invented a vaccine against judicial sentences, a remedy for the terrors of Hell.
And when those tricks do not work and you open your eyes, sir, and you are still here among us, then you are going to tear your clothes, announcing that you have repented, believing that you can slip away from this confinement, these endless rooms. But that exasperated ploy won’t do him any good here, in the transparent abode of death. And when he realizes that this encounter with his immediate victims is only the beginning of the process, he will try to hasten the matter, because the longer it takes to unload the men, women and children whom he sentenced to early mortality, the longer. there will be so that new victims appear, those who are going to perish in the future due to their negligence and malignancy, thanks to the brutality and hatred that you unleashed with your militias and your ruthless policemen, all the inhabitants of the earth who are going to become extinct when the revenge of a violated planet is manifested in heat waves, hurricanes and droughts, famines and floods, legions of the dead that will add to the endless list of those already affected with every minute that slides.
That is the moral abyss into which my imagination will plunge him now that I am no longer the man who lived a bitter exile from his beloved Florence. The centuries that I spent on the other side of death have evidently softened me, made me more charitable. Beatriz, the love of my life, would have admired my transformation, which opens the eventuality that a man like you may receive the semblance of an absolution, provided, by the way, that his repentance is truly sincere.
Even so, the worm of a doubt consumes me. This strategy of redemption, I am told, has been tried before. The mists of time are full of men who, as in his case, thought they were gods and who, after their death, were carried howling into rooms overflowing with the lives that they broke. And these criminals – Mussolini, Mao, Pinochet, Napoleon, Franco, Andrew Jackson, Saddam Hussein, Stalin, Idi Amin (oh, the list is endless!) Never managed to leave the twisted mirror of their own penitential rooms.
They remain there, stagnant, irremediable. That’s what some demons are whispering in my ear, telling me that Dante Alighieri’s redemptive prophecy will never come true for someone like Donald Trump. Perhaps, echoing those other cursed criminals, he will also reject all responsibility. Maybe he’s just as incorrigible and flawed and stubbornly blind as the scoundrels of old. Perhaps there is an evil in you and in the universe that can never be finished. Perhaps when the pain is infinite, it is impossible to erase it.
I fear, then, that it may be cruel to promise an uplifting denouement to those who hope for justice in the afterlife. Why, I wonder, encourage the dead if it is only to thwart their illusions?
And yet what else can I do but complete the task that I have been given? Of all the poets, I was chosen in the wake of Divine Comedy that allowed me to descend to Hell and climb the Mount of Purgatory and witness how the sun and the stars of Paradise looked like. I was drawn from the fields of the dead to arrange these words for you as a warning or a plea or a tempestuous accusation, a mission that I accepted and which I cannot now renounce.
It only remains for me to conclude these words of mine by responding to the only objection with which I could legitimately contest what I prophesy about your destiny after death. I imagine you are going to yell at me– but Dante AlighieriI hear his voice you have painted a future, Dante, in which I will have to spend an eternity doing penance. And I’m going to answer: Yes, Donald Trump, in fact it will take forever, but that is what awaits you, that is what, badly or badly, all of us have before us, an infinite patient time.
Ariel Dorfman is the author of Death and the maiden. His most recent books are the novel Allegro and the essay, Chile: Rebel Youth. He lives with his wife Angelica in Chile and in Durham, North Carolina, where he is Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Literature at Duke University.