Point of View Columns

The Myth of Sisyphus Revisited

As we continue to process the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States we can consult Greek mythology for some perspective and perhaps some answers. Specifically, we can look at the Myth of Sisyphus and the eternal punishment that was visited upon him for his pride and various transgressions against the gods. When we examine the Myth of Sisyphus we see ourselves – black Americans, we see ourselves – progressive Americans, and we see ourselves – people who are appalled at the reality of a Trump presidency that is no longer an unthinkable possibility.

By way of perspective, in Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a mortal who alternatively aided and enraged various Greek gods. Upon his death he was sentenced to pushing an outrageously heavy rock up a very steep hill, only to see the rock roll back down the hill at the end of every day – for eternity. Consequently, the Myth of Sisyphus as the allegorical expression of humans engaged in struggle and effort and to reach the precipice of success, only to have to repeat that struggle and effort again…..and again.

With the election of Donald Trump as President, black Americans, progressive Americans and many others, are about to watch the outrageously heavy rock of progress against racism, sexism, homophobia, soulless lack of compassion for the poor and defenseless, roll back down the hill – perhaps to where we were in the 1960’s, or the 1950’s or the 1800’s. For we see in Trump’s campaign rhetoric and his initial presidential appointments, more than a whiff of the meanness, and more resonance of the dog whistle that translated “Making America Great Again” to “Making America White Again”.

But when the legions of appalled Americans begin to ask “Why?” and “How?” we can begin by looking at the person that we see in the morning when we brush our teeth. Collectively we have grown complacent about the enormous progress that has been made over the past 150 years. It was only 151 years ago that black Americans were emancipated from race-based slavery. It has not been 100 years that women have had the right to vote. Gender equality is a child in its infancy, and the first strides to eliminating homophobia are also baby steps compared to the vile, virulent and violent assaults on those who are “other” by reason whom they choose to love.

Because of the wonders of very real progress, collectively we have come to believe that these changes have become woven into the American fabric, somehow replacing the savage threads of racism, sexism, homophobia and voluntary ignorance. And with that belief has come complacency, unwarranted comfort and willful ignorance of the forces that have been arrayed against that progress, forces that have been working 24-7 to bring about a special day – a day that turned out to be November 8, 2016.

And if we say that we didn’t see it coming it is because we didn’t bother to look or didn’t believe what we saw. The forces of regression and repression hid in plain view and we truly have no excuse. The Klan never disappeared. The Tea Party was never only about opposition to the first black President of the United States. The agenda of the Freedom Caucus in the Congress was clear and obvious to all who bothered to pay attention. But many of us were distracted or complacent in the false comfort of thinking that there was no way that the Civil Rights Act or Roe v. Wade or the Environmental Protection Agency or Marriage Equality could ever become nullities.

Now we know that we are entering an era of protracted struggle. In this column the past election was described as the “Gettysburg of the Culture Wars”. Unlike in 1863, the South won, philosophically and literally – when the Attorney General of the United States –under whose jurisdiction lies the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice – is someone named Jefferson Beauregard Sessions from Alabama, named after a slave owner and a defender of slavery respectively, we know that we are in for tough times.

Of course, too many of us have either forgotten or never known protracted struggle for rights and justice in this country. We have entire generations for whom marches, boycotts and demonstrations are just quaint black and white photographs of another time. But it is time for protracted struggle – – again. And just like Sisyphus we find ourselves having to push the boulder of justice and liberty and freedom back up the hill of interposition and nullification. And should we grow weary we should remember the opening lyrics to “God Will Take Care of You” –

Be not dismayed whatever betide
God will take care of you……….

But, of course, we must remember that God takes care of those who endeavor to take care of themselves. And in these days and times, taking care means protracted struggle against the forces that are now arrayed against the rights, freedoms, liberties and expectations of life that we hold dear.

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