John Bolton: The man from the underground

Only by resorting to the realms of film, fiction, and myth we can try to fathom John Bolton’s fiendish cruelty.

John Bolton AP
You just have to see the toxic terror in the face, voice, and deranged ideas of this man to believe it, writes Dabashi [AP]

John Bolton is a sick man … He is a spiteful man. He is an unattractive man. I believe John Bolton’s liver is diseased. However, he knows nothing at all about his disease and does not know for certain what ails him.

Yes, you guessed correctly, I am reworking Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s opening lines in his masterpiece, Notes from the Underground (1864). Ever since I heard that John Bolton, yet another warmonger, had been appointed to a position of power in the White House – the most dangerous house on planet Earth – I have been aghast at the thought, and bewildered at how to digest this latest apocalyptic news. The only apt, soothing words I could find are these sentiments from Notes from the Underground. I have no clue if this “Russian Probe” thing extends to Russian literature or not and if we are allowed to rely on such literary gems to try to fathom our predicament.

So, yes, I do believe John Bolton’s liver is bad, and he wishes to let it get even worse! 

It is impossible to understand the venomous bile boiling in the twisted mind and tormented soul of a person like John Bolton, or Steve Bannon, or Sebastian Gorka, without resorting to film, fiction, poetry, metaphysics, myth or particularly cartoon characters. 

The toxic terror of John Bolton 

You just have to experience the toxic terror in the face, voice, and deranged ideas of this man to believe it. In any other sane and civilised society, John Bolton would be arrested, tried for crimes against humanity for his role in the Iraq war, placed in a straightjacket and put away in an asylum. But not in the US. In the US, he is appointed to the highest offices of trust, advising the lunatic charlatan that Americans have elected as their president.

This degree of arrogance, combined with incurable ignorance, underlined by a harebrained conviction in one’s take on the world, simply defies reason. One must resort to cartoons or fictional characters to even come close. For nowhere else in the world, nowhere in history, do we come across creatures like John Bolton – so astonishingly ignorant, so oblivious to this ignorance, and yet so bewilderingly assured of their fanatical convictions. He knows nothing about nothing, cares to know nothing about anything, and yet speaks his ignorance with alarming conviction. As such, he is possessed of uniquely American brand of stupidity that requires analogies to works of fiction to fully comprehend.

In the same way that Osama Bin Laden and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi are the cartoonish sketches of Muslim world conquerors, John Bolton, Steve Bannon, and Michael Flynn are the ridiculous gestations of medieval crusaders and subsequent conquistadors.


I know nothing of John Bolton’s childhood or teenage years. But I am absolutely certain Joffrey Baratheon from the popular TV series, Games of Thrones, is a close approximation of the sick disposition of this creature. Do you remember that treacherous charlatan, Walder Frey, at the infamous Red Wedding? That was John Bolton in his dotage. And of course, Bolton has a namesake on the fictional continent of Westeros: that sick bastard, Ramsay Bolton. John Bolton is Ramsey Bolton who has been brought back to life by Melisandre to wreak havoc on the world.

I find myself racing from film to literature to cartoons to try to understand this John Bolton character. The real pathology of John Bolton, I now believe, is actually captured by two cartoon characters. He sees himself as Yosemite Sam, the aggressive gunslinging cowboy with a hair-trigger temper and intense hatred of Iranians and other Muslims. But in reality, he is the clueless Elmer J Fudd, always out to hunt Muslim Bugs but ending up hurting himself and those dumber than he. 

We have, ladies and gentlemen, exited the realm of reality and entered an animated simulation of our humanity, led by Donald Trump, who is today the crowning achievement of American (indeed “Western”) liberal democracy.

In search of new metaphors 

John (Ramsay) Bolton is usually described as a “hawk”. What a calamitous comparison! That beautiful, gentle, graceful bird minding his own solitary business in the skies, wasted as a metaphor for an ugly ogre!

Bolton and his ilk are neither hawks nor doves. Let those precious birds be and look for alternative metaphors for these noxious gases American democracy keeps emitting into our endangered environment and the very air we breathe. 

Let me shift gears and try to think historically. People like John Bolton are neo-Crusaders, militant warriors in the cause of Christian imperialism that they think is their “manifest destiny” to advance. Their love for Israel is straight out of their Christian Zionist hatred of the Jews and Muslims alike – a deeply rooted Christian anti-Semitism that remains entirely medieval in its dark and diabolic zealotry.

In their Christian zealotry, they are identical or worse than those Islamist cannibals of ISIL (also known as ISIS). The sick fanaticism that animates John Bolton, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Nikki Haley, etc etc, is not to be confused by Christianity at large. The liberation theology that has emerged from Latin America with such towering theologians and philosophers as Gustavo Gutierrez and Enrique Dussel is the perfect example that exposes the pathological evangelical Zionism rooted in the United States. In this frame, John Bolton and Steve Bannon are modelled on Guy of Lusignan, as cast by Sir Ridley Scott in his film, Kingdom of Heaven (2005). 

Cartoonish criminals, East and West 

The cartoonish character and criminal lunacy of people like John Bolton are to be understood as a particularly American ailment, which, along with their boss Donald Trump are symptoms of a deadly virus now endangering the planet Earth. This deadly virus is not accidental to liberal democracy. It is definitive and foundational to it.

American democracy began with the slaughter of the Native Americans, continued with the prolonged history of African slavery, was enriched on the broken backs of successive migrant labour and is now exposing all its related pathologies for the whole world to see by electing a racist warmonger who hates just about anything he fails to understand.

What John Bolton represents is a fanatical fusion of militarism and thinly secularised Christianity animating each other. The history of Christianity is, of course, not alien to this dangerous liaison and, both during the crusades and subsequently, in the course of the conquest of “the New World”, the world has seen many John Boltons and Steve Bannons. Islam has of course not been immune to such dangerous delusions. In the same way that Osama Bin Laden and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi are the cartoonish sketches of Muslim world conquerors, John Bolton, Steve Bannon, and Michael Flynn are the ridiculous gestations of medieval crusaders and subsequent conquistadors.

Menacing tinderboxes like John Bolton, Steve Bannon, Osama Bin Laden, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi are triumphalist Christian and Muslim lunatics at each other’s throats – with the fate of the entire planet at the mercy of their dangerous delusions. The fact that we must resort to the realms of film, literature and fanatically dark episodes in human history to try to grasp the scope their fiendish cruelty marks the precise twilight zone where “Western democracy” is bidding farewell to an entire history of philosophical fantasies.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.