Pluto’s Helmet

Since the installation of a man who wants to be a 1989 version of emperor, I’ve thought quite a bit about Greek and Roman mythology. Given their rampant violence, misogyny, and injustice, these stories are fading fast from our common culture even though violence, misogyny, and injustice are not. When I learned a few of the stories in high school, autocracy was something that happened in olden times or else in bad countries. I wondered how these freakish, depraved gods could inspire awe when people had to have considered them jerks. But with the odious corporality of Donald Trump, America has been given a refresher course in unchecked and unrestrainable force—the basis of all mythology.

I am now willing to consider the malevolence of Trump and his cronies as mythic. This is not to give any individual actor (least of all the toddler-in-chief) classical stature as antagonist; they are contemptibly and irredeemably shills. Whereas Nixon’s conspirators got the Shakespeare treatment during Watergate, Trump’s flunkies cannot break the cartoon barrier. The obsequiously manic Guiliani getting wound up by Laura Ingraham is like Slim Pickens riding the Strangelove bomb. Barr alternates between Droopy Dog catatonia and—because of those glasses—Blue Meanie Chief. The entire cabinet you imagine as Minions ready to spring from inside Melania’s red trees.

They are mythic, though, in their collective subjugation to the promise of tyranny while being cognizant of their conveyor-belt replaceability. It’s the darkness that keeps intensifying with this rotating assemblage of rogues that places us all in the terra incognita of myth. Our current dilemma has locked the nation in a tense grip because we don’t know what is going to be done with all the darkness. We are hamstrung by a faulty Constitution that we are powerless to fix and more immediately by a faction of Americans whose votes count more than the votes of the majority.

I thought even more about the dark upon overhearing a young woman on the subway telling her friend that they both would benefit when the planet Pluto stopped being retrograde on October 3. If you’re a reader of the New York Times, you know that astrology has filled the vacuum of organized religion in our country, especially among millennials. Psychotherapists now must be prepared to understand their clients’ fear of Mercury retrograde in addition to that of not having their parents’ unconditional love.

When I heard this about Pluto, however, I thought not of the small, distant planet but of the Roman god of the underworld. He’d been called Hades (brother to Zeus and Poseidon) by the Greeks, and the thing I remembered was the Helmet of Invisibility that Hades/Pluto was given by the Cyclopes to help in the blood-lusty battles he and brothers were always getting into. This helmet not only concealed his visibility; it also concealed his true nature, making it easier for him to deceive. Within his helmet, all that could be seen was a dark shadow—the Robert Motherwell version of Darth Vader.

Astronomers named the planet after the god because of this shadow aspect. Astrologers believe the planet rules over the shadow side of everything and everyone. When Pluto is retrograde, they say, things get murky and dark; when it moves forward again, issues of corruption and buried stories are likely to surface as we confront the darkest parts of ourselves and others.

It’s not hard to guess what was topping the news when Pluto went retrograde a little over five months ago on April 24. The month was saturated with the many failures of the Mueller Report. But two items stand out that week: First, Trump refused to allow former White House Counsel Don McGahn to testify to Congress to answer further questions about his interviews with Robert Mueller’s team. (Still waiting on that one.) “Congress shouldn’t be looking anymore,” said the President. “This is all. It’s done.” Second, Joe Biden announced his presidential candidacy on April 25.

The Greeks are always interesting in regard to democracy because they had everything in place except the “good of the people” part—like a Scrabble set without the vowels. They rarely dwelt on the subtleties of human nature (too female); it was the testosterone of sudden, unprovoked violence and enormous reach, less the brute force of power than the brazenness behind that force. It was the deification of that man.

Another odd thing about the Greeks is the glaring lack of a firewall between humans, gods, and all kinds of other creatures we meet in their literature. Separating fantasy from reality was not a priority; everything got mixed in the same pot for effect—which happens to be the way Donald Trump thinks about his presidency and profitmaking as well as fabrication and reality.

On October 3, the planet Pluto continued on where it left off on April 23, back when all we wanted to know was the truth, the whole story that would connect the dots to solve the riddle under Darth Vader’s helmet. You could think of it as a car that gets stuck between gears, and when the obstruction disappears, the car shockingly lurches forward. Are we going further into the dark, or are we finally driving away from it? §