I have listened to Great Courses for years, on CD, in my car. Everything from Decartes to Religions of the Axial Age. I buy them on sale and listen while driving to and fro. Now, when I need those most to occupy my mind during the pandemic lock down, they are only on DVD, competing with my over-abundance of videos and apps on streaming platforms. Great Courses recently had a clearance sale and I bought Myth in Human History, narrated by Professor G. L. Voth. I gave up BBC detective series to watch him take me through Creation myths, Heroes, Gods and Floods. However, the unit that was most relevant, was the lectures on the Trickster.
I have been struggling to understand the popularity, indeed devotion, of people to Donald Trump. I understood the cult of celebrity, goals of white supremacy, empty promises of draining the swamp and reducing government intervention, (except when it came to controlling women’s choices). But, it still didn’t account for his popularity despite unmasking much of his fraud. The bigger question was how could someone who did, and continues to do, this much damage, break this many rules, violate so many sacred taboos be venerated by so many people. How could so many people tell their children about this guy when he does all the things they are trying to teach their children not to do?
Only when Professor Voth introduced the mythology around the Trickster that I understood. For centuries, humankind has venerated and passed on stories about the trickster. The Trickster is usually a trouble maker, wants to be in the middle of things, and motivated by a huge appetite for food and sex. He enjoys winning or getting something valuable, especially if he can get it by trickery rather than working for it. The Trickster becomes a hero precisely because he “stands outside laws and rules that bind other people.” He is especially appealing to those that value individualism and extreme libertarianism.
They called Richard Nixon Tricky Dick. A similar character, who like most mythical tricksters, was undone by his own schemes, but he was not in the same league as our 45th president. I can only hope that Trump too has a reckoning.