Greek mythology is as relevant today as ever. The story of Icarus comes to mind, a boy who lived in a cave with his father (who was imprisoned) to work tirelessly for a king. As Icarus grew older, his restlessness became almost unbearable. He begged his father to help him escape, and his father complied by making pairs of wings made of feathers and wax for both of them. Together they flew off. Despite his father’s repeated warnings to not fly too high, Icarus did not listen. His newfound freedom and his stubbornness took flight with him as he headed for the sun. The warmth and light were too much of a temptation, and as he got closer to the sun the feathers and wax began to melt. His fate met the abyss of the sea.
Like Icarus, America in its relative short history has soared to heights our founders could never have imagined. A nation and its people have accomplished greatness in many fields. And the United States has been able to do that by evolving from a country that allowed slavery at its inception to being more and more and more inclusive to all Americans, no matter the color of their skin or the god they worshipped or the person they loved. We took pride in being heuristic and celebrated achievement in science, in the arts, and in our compassion for those who were beyond our shores. This is the country many of us grew up in, and no matter who was president, we felt that man appreciated that it was these core values and principles that symbolized “who we are.”
Donald Trump, the Republican Party that falls into line behind him, and their supporters are hurtling America toward disaster. Trump, like a young and foolish Icarus, is obdurate in his beliefs. Announcing he is a nationalist who is patriotic brings back reminders of nations that allowed nationalism to be the death spiral for democracy. Attacking and dividing our government institutions and groups of people, whom he deems as his enemy, as a show of strength to a base yearning for vicarious thrills gives his followers the idea that “freedom” is to be prejudiced, uncivil, and to attach themselves to their worst angels. Is that liberation?
For Republicans in Congress who pretend that Trump’s wings of feather and wax that have carried them this far will be lasting, history and council from the wise tell them that their fate will be to crash and burn. Theirs will be the political abyss charlatans have met throughout history. For his followers, the price they will pay (and all Americans if they remain apathetic) for being blinded by shibboleths will be as high and how far they continue to allow an insuperable situation to manifest.
Ignorance is not bliss; on the contrary, it is inherent with danger. Today as our national deficit soars (due to tax relief for those who do not need it), climate change wreaks havoc in the form of superstorm hurricanes in the east and deadly fires in the west. Perhaps most dangerous is the destructive effects of inflammatory rhetoric coming out of the White House. As intended, it turns groups of people against one another, destroying the time-effective governing of legitimate compromise. It is creating a society that turns more and more to settling disputes at the narrow point of a gun rather than an outstretched shake of an open hand. Our better angels and our American ingenuity are being shoved aside by a minority who value selfish greed and sectarian benightedness.
Daedalus, Icarus’s father, did not follow his son’s fate. He flew to another island to live out his life and mourn for what might have been. America does not have that luxury, nor should it. This nation’s destiny is still in the hands of its people, all its people. Bad policy can be reversed. Respect and decency can be restored. The responsibility for every citizen to be responsible, active in their democracy, and vote has not yet melted from our grasp. There is wisdom and Daedalus’ sense of caution that resides with the majority of the United States. Free will still exists. We need only to act.