Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Mr. Trump: Meet Scylla and Charybdis

This week's blog is not going to be a postmortem of November 8.  Goodness knows there have already been hundreds - if not thousands of them - written by people who are far more intelligent, far more adept than your humble scrivener.  I unhappily leave the analysis and sussing out to others. This is by no means meant to convey that I am any less anguished, mortified, or dumbstruck than the plurality which did cast votes for Secretary Clinton over Mr. Trump.  For indeed, like so many, I too have been walking about in a miasma of despair and disbelief; like so many, I wonder and worry about what Trump's trifecta will mean for the future of America and the world.  Will he obliterate Obama's legacy or will the sanity born of political necessity reach out and grab him?  Will he find the courage to push back against all the racists, bigots, anti-Semites, homophobes and Islamophobes he has given a voice and a political presence to over the past year? What will America's relations with our international friends and foes be like? Will they consider him a breath of fresh air or a useful idiot?  How in the world will he run the country while keeping au courant with his international business empire?  Does he have the slightest idea of how to deal with a deeply divided country . . . and does he even want to?

So many questions; they can easily become stultifying paralytic.

 Unlike many, it has long been my political modus operandi to turn despair and disbelief - as well as anger, angst and spiritual fatigue - into fuel for the next campaign.  Simply stated, I am already looking ahead to January 3, 2019 (750 days from today, the Wednesday when the 116th Congress will be sworn in) and January 20, 2021 (that's 1,528 days from today, when the nation's next President will be taking the oath of office). Already, I am casting about for a candidate to support and a campaign to join.  The first name that comes to mind is Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren; the second is New Jersey Senator Corey Booker . . . (I suspect there are many so-called "establishment Republicans" doing the very same thing)

I find myself pondering what's going on in the head of Donald Trump in the days since he won the election; is he, like Bill McKay (the character Robert Redford played in his 1972 film "The Candidate") wondering aloud "What do we do now?"  Has it begun to dawn on him that campaigns are one thing, serving in office another?  For the relationship between campaigning and leading is roughly analogous to the difference between planning a wedding and then being married for the long-haul.  I for one would strongly urge President Elect Trump to spend the time he might be Tweeting instead reading (or rereading for all I know) Homer's The Iliad and the Odyssey - particularly Book 12, which deals with Scylla and Charybdis (seen above in a painting by the brilliant Pre-Raphaelite artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones).    

For those in need of a quick refresher (or mini 101) in Greek mythology, Scylla and Charybdis (Σκύλλας και Χάρυβδης) were a pair of monsters who lived on opposite ends of the Strait of Messina between Italy and Sicily. Scylla was originally a sea nymph who was loved by the sea god Poseidon. Out of jealousy, Poseidon's wife Amphitrite poisoned the waters in which Scylla bathed. This turned Scylla into a six-headed beast with three rows of sharp teeth in each head. When ships passed close by her, she would strike out to grab and eat unwary sailors. Charybdis was also a sea nymph, as well as the daughter of Poseidon. Zeus transformed her into a dangerous whirlpool across the strait from Scylla. Ships sailing the strait were almost certain to be destroyed by one of the monsters. In book 12 ofHomer's Greek epic, The Odyssey, the hero Odysseus loses his ship in Charybdis, but manages to save himself by clinging to a tree overhanging the water. Later the whirlpool spits up the ship, and Odysseus drops to safety on its deck. The legend of the two monsters gave birth to the phrase "between Scylla and Charybdis," meaning a situation in which one has to choose between two equally unattractive options.  In modern parlance, we say either "caught between a rock and a hard place," or, as the Israelis would have it "Caught between the hammer and the anvil" (בין הפטיש לסדן).

It is, to say the least, an unenviable place to be . . . whether you are a hero of myth or the incoming President of the United States.

And this is precisely where Donald Trump is going to be finding himself.  During the campaign, Trump, like every politician from the beginning of time, made promises galore as to what he was going to do once he got himself elected.  Among these promises were:

  1. Appointing a federal prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton with an eye to putting her (and perhaps her husband to boot) in jail;
  2. Canceling America's participation in the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris Climate agreement as well as repealing Obamacare. (He has already backtracked a bit on all three; 
  3. Replacing the vast majority of America's generals and then giving the new military leaders one month to come up with a strategy for defeating ISIS;
  4. Reversing many of the gains made by the LGBTQ community;
  5. Approving the Keystone Pipeline; scrapping proposed regulations for tighter methane controls on domestic drillers; shrinking the role of the Environmental Protection Agency to a mostly advisory one and pulling back the Clean Power Plan (Obama’s proposed plan to push utilities toward lower carbon emissions).

And here is where our old friends Scylla and Charybdis come into play.  For if as President, Donald Trump does these things, he is going to raise a firestorm of ill-will not only with progressives and millennials; but he is going to run the risk of alienating a lot of Republicans in Congress who have to face voters on a regular basis. This is Scylla.  But if he goes back on any of these promises - like indicting and trying Bill and Hillary Clinton - he runs the risk of alienating his most adoring, robotic supporters.  This is Charybdis.  It is a treacherous path, which will take more than plugging one's ears with beeswax so as not to hear the Sirens' song or lashing oneself to the mast in order to avoid drowning. 

Welcome to the world of professional politics Mr. Trump. It's nothing like a campaign; believe me. What you're about to enter is a world that all but consumed Odysseus . . . and he was only a mythological character, not the former host of a TV reality show.

Don’t worry if you can’t remember precisely how many days there are until the next election; your fellow Republicans will certainly remind you. . . as will your new acquaintances Scylla and Charybdis.

Copyright© 2016 Kurt F. Stone