Fox, Like Odysseus, Tries to Gouge Trump

Odysseus and Cyclops vase painting

Odysseus and Cyclops vase painting

Here’s an analogy I didn’t see coming: a columnist for Salon has compared Donald Trump to Polyphemus, the Cyclops in The Odyssey. I don’t otherwise care for the article, which sees President Obama as a corporate stooge, but the Homer comparison is interesting.

As Andrew O’Hehir sees it, Trump is getting in the way of the GOP’s attempt to brand itself as humane, even though its policy proposals are anything but. Therefore the GOP and the Koch Brothers, through Fox, attempted to use Thursday night’s candidate debate to bring down Trump while raising the profile of the more electable candidates (Bush, Rubio, Walker, Kasich). O’Hehir thinks they successfully pulled off their plan:

When seen in person, the candidates largely resemble human beings rather than cannibals or ogres, which tends to “tighten the race,” as we political insiders say… We must exempt the current GOP front-runner from this group hug, of course, since Donald Trump actually is an ogre, which is the source of his immense and alarming public appeal. We’re not talking about the lovable ogre from Shrek, either; Trump is more like Polyphemus, the Cyclops who eats several of Odysseus’ men and then passes out drunk on the floor, trapping everybody in the cave.

That brings us to the next Mission Accomplished of the GOP debate, which was to begin the process of blinding the Cyclops without enraging him too much. You can take this irresistible analogy as far as you want: In Homer’s epic, Odysseus blows his getaway at the last minute by telling Polyphemus his real name, and the Cyclops calls down a devastating third-party campaign of vengeance from his dad Poseidon, god of the sea. That’s precisely the outcome that Fox News and the Republican leadership hope to avoid, and the first stage of their plan was executed pretty well on Thursday. Kelly and Chris Wallace kept Trump on the defensive throughout the evening. In fact, it was Wallace who pushed Trump hardest on his lack of GOP convictions and credentials, even if Kelly penetrated further beneath his hard yellow hide, provoking a series of misogynistic outbursts that may even make an ogre look ugly. Meanwhile Jeb Bush stayed lashed to the mast – that’s a different episode, I know – declaring himself to be both for and against his brother’s war in Iraq, for and against amnesty for undocumented immigrants, and mystified as to why anybody would think he disliked the leering monstrosity standing to his right

And further on:

One aspect of the conventional wisdom is clearly correct: Polyphemus has dashed out the brains of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, the two most dangerous and least controllable Bush alternatives, and left them broken and whimpering. From the point of view of the big-money donors who orchestrate the Wrepublican Wrestlemania, that is mostly a good thing.

Here’s accepting O’Hehir’s invitation to take the analogy as far as possible. First of all, some reports say that Trump was blindsided by Fox’s ambush, given that the network had been pumping him up for months (to the immense benefit of its ratings). So maybe this was comparable to Polyphemus taking Odysseus’s offer of wine, which contains a sleeping potion. From Trump’s perspective, the seemingly friendly network suddenly was gouging him in the eye.

O’Hehir sees the GOP as wolves trying to pass themselves off as sheep, which would parallel Odysseus’s method of escape: he and his men escape death by hanging on to the undersides of the Cyclops’ sheep as he lets them out of the cave. O’Hehir is also right that the GOP, like Odysseus, needs to disable Polyphemus Trump rather than kill him. If Trump is killed—killed as a Republican so that he runs as a third party candidate—then the party bosses have blundered into a cave from which they can’t escape.

Whether the GOP can keep Trump from playing his trump card of a third party run—Polyphemus’s trump card is Poseiden, who messes up Odysseus’s voyage—remains to be seen. A third party run would assuredly lead to a GOP defeat, keeping them from reaching what they see as their home (the White House) for possibly another nine years. Nine years, incidentally, is exactly the number of years that Odysseus has left before he gets back to Ithaka.

In hindsight, Odysseus had no business entering into Polyphemus’s cave in the first place, just as the GOP should have steered clear of the ogres and crazies in their own party. We would all be better off with a moderate Republican party and a moderate Democratic party fighting it out for the center. The GOP thought they could fraternize with a monster, but recently that monster has been calling the shots and devouring its own.

One other thought: I like the image of Jeb Bush tied to the mast. What if the Siren call is the extreme right promising the seductive lure of off-year election wins, when mostly the base turns out. Unfortunately, this could lead to a shipwreck in a presidential year. To avoid the sirens, the rowers must stop their ears with wax, and, looking at the extreme positions that many of the candidates took Thursday night, it’s not clear that the GOP boat will be able to avoid veering from the center and into the rocks.

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