Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Trump Opens Pandora’s Box With Campaign Tactics

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, October 3 / 16

Zack Gross

The expression Pandora’s Box is not known to everyone. I tested it out on a colleague who is part of the large community of newcomers that have recently come to Canada (he arrived five years ago from Nepal) and he’d never heard of it. I then checked with a young adult student who looked intrigued but confused by the expression. “Pandora’s Box – is it a brand name?” she asked.  

Pandora was one of the Greek chief god Zeus’ lovely new daughters, fashioned by his “maker of all things”, Hephaestus. In a legend that would fit a Coronation Street script, Zeus created Pandora to give a lesser god company after Zeus had chained that lesser god’s brother to a rock. Clear as mud?

Anyway, Zeus had a not-so-nice purpose in mind beyond giving a colleague a wife. He gave Pandora and Epimetheus, her new husband, a box as a gift. Well, actually, it was a jar but by the 16th century the word had been mistranslated from the Greek to the Latin and became a box!  Carrying on, Zeus wrote on the gift card “Do Not Open!”

Curiosity being what it is and ancient myths (and some modern ones) always being happy to blame the woman, Pandora opened the box. Zeus was counting on this. Out flew hate, disease, conflict and every other possible burden humankind could imagine. To that point in time, in a Garden of Eden-like setting, these terrible things hadn’t existed in the world.  

To say that Donald Trump’s entry onto the political stage is a version of the opening of Pandora’s Box probably isn’t fair. After all, our world has experienced all of these ills for as long as history has been written. Whether you believe in Pandora’s Box or the Garden of Eden or neither, only these sorts of myths or biblical writings contain accounts of an ideal world.  

Where Mr. Trump can be linked to Pandora is that, more than any other successful national US politician, he has made it “politically correct” to not be “politically correct
.” He has sought to legitimize disrespect and insensitivity and to ride its wave of anger to electoral victory. He has taken the complexity of modern life and replaced it with simple thinking (or not thinking).  

Another meaning that is proffered for the expression “Pandora’s Box” is that one can undertake a certain direction and encounter unintended consequences. You might do something silly at work and end up getting fired. You’ve really opened up Pandora’s Box then!

A third meaning is that you should “be careful what you wish for”!  Remember the story of the Magic Genie and the Lamp and the Three Wishes. . .?  Mr. Trump wants America to “be great again” and he wants to (he might say) “Speak Truth to Power.” He is for the gun lobby and wants to build a wall. Be careful what you wish for, Mr. Trump. You may get even greater troubles than America faces now – increased civil strife, further economic dislocation, greater international isolation and more.  

The final scene in the legend of Pandora’s Box is that she rushed to close the box after most of the tribulations had escaped. What she found was just one still at the lid, which lingered, seemed to smile and then flew off like the others into the world. What had been left in the box and was the last to leave was “hope
.” 

Some interpretations of this, of course, include that no matter how bad things get, there is always hope. It is comforting to know that things might get better, that we can overcome most obstacles, and that we deserve better and might achieve it!  Some interpretations lean more on the idea that hope was another one of the bad things that Zeus included in the box, the idea being that hope will tease us and lead us astray and that things won’t get better in part because we hope they will rather than taking action.  

In this year’s CBC Massey Lecture in Winnipeg, which I had the privilege of attending last week, political scientist Jennifer Welsh talked about hope. She said that she supported the Remain campaign during the Brexit vote. She and people like her expected (hoped) that it would be alright, that things would go their way.

Of course, the Brexit vote is very much linked to the Trump campaign – the Leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) Nigel Farage, who championed Brexit, has spoken at Trump rallies. The vote in Britain went the way of Leaving the European Union. Hoping otherwise didn’t work. Thinking that the likes of Mr. Trump just cannot win in a rational world and all will be well might also be an exercise in hope.

We’re going to need more!


Zack Gross is a former Executive Director of Brandon’s The Marquis Project, which educates Manitobans on global issues and supports development projects in East Africa..
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