Yesterday the Electoral College did what we knew it was going to do. Come January 20th, Donald Trump will indeed be President of the United States.
There were those people who fervently hoped that the so-called Hamilton Electors would do what the founders intended and protect America from a man unworthy of the office- a man who is a danger to the very foundations of democracy.
But they did not do it. And in our hearts, we knew they wouldn’t. But we had hoped.
Which brings us to Pandora’s box.
In the Greek myth, Zeus creates Pandora- the first mortal woman-in order to punish Prometheus for giving man fire (so, yes, the Greeks were misogynistic in their origin myths as well). Pandora, beauty and temptation incarnate, marries Prometheus’s half-brother Epimetheus, bringing with her an ornately decorated box (or more accurately jar) as a wedding gift with the instructions never to open it. Unbeknownst to Pandora and Epimetheus, Zeus had filled the box with all the ills of the world. Overcome by curiosity, Pandora opens the box- allowing sickness, death, jealousy, strife, hatred, famine, turmoil etc. to fly out. Struggling, she closes the box, leaving only one thing remaining within it- hope.
Most people read this as a happy ending of sorts- even in the darkest moment, hope remains.
But the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche read it differently. He pointed to the fact that Zeus filled the box with evil and thus, hope was not an antidote to the poison within the box, but rather another form of toxin. For Nietzche, hope was one of the evils Zeus had placed in the box. “In reality,” he argued “it is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs the torments of Man.”
Nietzsche, whose work the Nazis would later use selectively to justify their nationalism, saw hope as the illusion that tricked man into allowing himself to be tormented again and again.
Liberals should take this as a warning. Hoping that the electoral college would save us was part of the torment. Hoping that Congressional Republicans will put country before party is similarly dangerous.
We must have no illusions. If we are going to fight, it must be with clear and open eyes. We must not allow Zeus’ final torment to blind us to the bleakness of our situation.
If we are to fight, and we must fight, we can not afford to be distracted by hope.