There's a drama of Shakespearean proportions unfolding in the United States. It has ambitious children. Scheming politicians. A paranoid king. The knives are out in the Capitol Hill rotunda. But, there's a twist: It's not about President Donald Trump.
It's not about his machinations. Or the power plays around him.
The fractious US leader is swept along with events as much as his divided nation, says Dr Zac Rogers of the Jeff Bleich Centre for the US Alliance in Digital, Technology, Security and Governance.
As the White House farce ramps up to a new level with the looming impeachment process, the question is posed: Will all this end up being a tragedy?
Is Trump King Lear? Richard the Third? Macbeth? Or an American Caesar?
"Trump crosses the line," the Flinders University political scientist says. "He has an enormous number of flaws. All of that is true. You can acknowledge all of the critiques of Donald Trump, but you've got to look a bit deeper about what's happening in America.
"It's not about him. Even though he might think it is".
COMEDY OF ERRORS
The Washington Power Play has all the plot elements. Corruption. Intrigue. Spies. Betrayal. Civil unrest. There are conflicted characters. Moral questions. A mad king.
There are even ghosts: Mr Trump has called his invisible accuser a "known partisan". With the next breath, he insists "I don't know the identity of the whistleblower".
The unfolding plot sounds strangely familiar.
It's hard not to see such a tempestuous scenario turn into tragedy.
But these scandals are just the surface of a many-layered plot, Rogers argues.
Things are not always what they seem.
"So when people talk about Trump as a threat to American institutions, worry about the rule of law, and worry about the separation of powers, the real issue is much deeper," Rogers says.
"Beyond those formal types of institutions, informal trust must exist within society for them to function properly. That trust has been badly eroded. And the political processes generating that erosion haven't been part of the normal politics of a democratic society."
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
Rogers does not believe impeachment before the US Congress and Senate will be the end of Trump.
"The Democrats effectively now need 20 Senate Republicans to vote against the President to remove him. That just does not seem likely," he says.
Worse, it inflames the same deep rift in US society that swept him into the role in 2016.
Impeachment is a political process.
Trump is a democratically elected President.
And Rogers says Trump's supporter base harbours a deep resentment against what they see as the political games of an out-of-touch establishment.
That's a narrative Trump has perfected.
"The failings of some parts of the American system are now undeniable," Rogers says.
"The fundamental promise of the American Republic is that people can move up and move around, that people can provide for their families and hopefully leave them in better circumstances. And many people have found that none of that's true now anymore."
The impeachment of Trump has nothing to do with that fundamental crisis. So it risks being seen as little more than yet another example of grubby politics, he says.
And how do you tarnish someone that tarnished already?
"Trump has a knack of being able to spin that stuff to his own advantage. I think impeachment is a hugely risky move by the Democrats and something of a last resort."
MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
Rogers says we shouldn't let the drama now being played out in Washington distract us from the bigger picture: the state of America's institutions.
The key to their success, he says, is trust.
"It's the capacity for people to trust one another, and to trust the conventions that govern them and that the people use to interact with one another," Dr Rogers says.
That's the underlying institution of the "social contract". And it has been fundamentally eroded.
"The Trump phenomenon is a symptom of those erosions. We're talking about 30 years of neoliberal market fundamentalism," Dr Rogers says. "For the average person who might have once thought of themselves as aspiration middle class, that hope has fundamentally fallen away."
The raw numbers are sobering.
Since the 1980s, the top 10 per cent of wage earners in the United States doubled their earnings. The peak 1 per cent tripled it. The elite .001 per cent multiplied their wealth as much as seven times over.
In contrast, the bottom 50 per cent of the population has seen incomes stagnate, even falling.
"This extraordinary asymmetry in wealth has only accelerated further since 2008. This is the fabric of society we're talking about. Those conventions of trust between citizens and the government — the very fabric of the social contract — have been pulled apart."
It's a rift that has been overseen, and actively promoted, by the very government institutions founded to protect the masses.
So Mr Trump's supporters see him as a wrecking ball. A way to disrupt the entrenched interests in Washington. As revenge.
ET TU, BRUTE?
The heart of this Shakespearean drama, Rogers says, is Trump's role. The story isn't about him, though he is the lead actor.
"Is he a reformer as some people think he is? Some people certainly think he is not. Is he genuinely motivated to penetrate and overthrow the class of 'permanent winners' who have entrenched themselves in the seats of power?"
It doesn't matter.
What matters is what his supporters believe him to be.
Trump, the ultimate expression of self-interest, is being promoted as a threat to a self-interested establishment.
"A class of 'permanent winners' has emerged in the United States over the past 30 years," Rogers says. "Their power over agendas, their power to direct investment and the flow of capital has created a sort of private governance."
That is what broader US society finds itself up against.
"It's that disconnect of the Senate and Congress from the lives of everyday people, from the lives of individuals and families and communities around America, that disconnect is the essence of what the American Republic has suffered."
And that discontent, Rogers notes, is crystallising around Trump's banner of nationalism — the promise that the future does not belong to the globalists, it belongs to patriots.
"This is as much I think, a broadside aimed at places like Silicon Valley," Dr Rogers says.
The movement of money. Immigration. The scheming of lobbyists. The power of corporate giants.
Some of Trump's backers, Rogers says, believe nationalism is the most effective tool available. "Nationalism, for all dangers and all the incredible destructiveness that comes with it, is the big blunt tool against this entrenched globalist class."
And Shakespeare's fates have given Mr Trump that tool, he suggests.
"I can agree with all the criticisms of Trump — he has a million and one flaws. But if you look at the need to reform a system that's broken, then there is scope to suggest that a Trump-like figure was inevitable. Perhaps necessary," Rogers says.
POLITICAL FARCE, A PEOPLE'S TRAGEDY
Will the impeachment of Trump lead to tragedy?
Will he be ousted from power?
Will the United States implode into civil war, as the President implies?
"I think it's more likely that he turns it to his advantage," Rogers says. "His supporters have already factored everything in. Trump is playing the ultimate victim. They expect the establishment will throw everything — including the kitchen sink — at Trump. And impeachment is the kitchen sink."
And, as impeachment is a political — not democratic — process, very little will change.
"There's only so much currency the Democrats and his political opponents can gain from doing this. Ultimately, I see impeachment as having minimal impact on Trump's base. In fact, I see very little impact on whatever cohort of voters is starting to consider who they might vote for in 2020."
In essence, the US Democrats are playing to Mr Trump's script, he says. "I see it as being something Trump moves on from, and it becomes a narrative of 'look what else I can survive'."
But Trump is himself struggling.
He is not winning as much as promised. People are sick of not winning.
So, the future of the United States probably lies in the hands of the next president.
"What the next president, whoever that might be, on whatever side, takes from this cataclysm in American politics is the real question," Dr Rogers says. "Whatever comes next is a fascinating and open question. And it's a dangerous question."
TAMING OF THE SHREW
"American politics is much more based on informal conventions than people often realise," Rogers says. "The American system is famous for its formal conventions of separation of powers and the three branches of government and so forth. But really, its founding documents deal with much more subtle aspects of the American Republic."
The US Constitution was written to establish a democratic system intended to operate as a perpetual machine.
"But they knew it would require a little bit of a nudge now and then to keep it operating," Dr Rogers says. "And that's really what the office of the presidency is supposed to be about."
The United States is grappling with itself, he says.
And that is precisely what democratic systems were intended to do.
"For all the ugliness, all the disruption, and all the farce we see going on — this could actually be an open, Democratic-Republican system trying to grapple with itself," Dr Rogers says. "It's trying to reject entrenched interests, which is precisely what the founders of the US Constitution wanted to guard against."
Such a system embraces drama.
It also contains it, within a constitutional script.
"We might be watching the US system just wriggling its way out of a terrible spot. And that's going to be ugly. There's going to be a lot of broken eggshells, and a lot of stakeholders disenfranchised. But that might just be the natural workings of an open system.
"There's scope to be optimistic about what's happening, I think."
"Politics is a full-body contact sport," Rogers says. "It always has been. And we shouldn't shirk that if we believe in the forbearance of an open democratic system."
And that's what makes the White House drama so Shakespearean.
The great bard saw the threat of — and need for — conflict. But he was especially worried about the rise of tyrants on the back of social and political upheaval.
And democracy is the only form of government that provides a systemic safety valve when such dissent threatens to boil over.
"Too many people lurch towards favouring something autocratic and authoritarian because of the veneer of it," Rogers says. "On the face of it, it can look neat and efficient. But underneath, all systems of government are shambolic."
And history shows us, the more authoritarian a system, the more shambolic it becomes.
"American life looks shambolic now — it is shambolic. The same goes for the UK and many other democracies around the world. But it's good that shambles is out in the open."
Democracy, he says, is a marketplace of ideas.
It's where the price of those ideas is haggled out.
And the United States is made up of whole cohorts of competing ideas.
"And that's — whether you like it or not — that's just a fundamental fact of American life. And those voices behind Trump are not only financially and economically marginalised, but they feel themselves being marginalised politically and culturally.
"A lot of this backlash is just spring-back from that. And a marketplace of ideas should be a contact sport to prevent it from becoming an open conflict."
Which is why Dr Rogers says he's inclined to look at the bright side of the unfolding White House tale.
"This could all end up returning politics to the people," he adds.