Pluto’s Return

In October 2019, an astrological event I heard about (the planet Pluto “going direct” after having been retrograde) prompted me to post “Pluto’s Helmet.” It wasn’t much of a stretch to connect the alleged influence of a planet to the malevolence of Donald Trump by means of the most deceptive god in Roman mythology.

A few weeks ago, I again thought about Pluto and Trump, because on March 19 the voted-out President announced that he would shortly be indicted by the Manhattan District Attorney, and on March 23 Pluto entered the sign of Aquarius, which it hasn’t done since the time of the American and French revolutions. For the astrology set, this once-every-248-years event was a big deal—presumably because everything that the song from Hair says about the Age of Aquarius is true.

Our brains have evolved to be pattern detectors, and mine is no exception. What a good story! What a compelling coincidence! It was astronomers who began naming planets after Roman gods, and when a new candidate for planet number nine was discovered in 1930, they chose the name Pluto because of a shadow aspect from mythology. Astrologers believe that Pluto rules over the shadow side of everything and everyone. According to their logic, Pluto in tandem with Aquarius will shake everything from the bottom up and eventually deliver a world that is much different but also much better.

Still, Pluto’s transgressions don’t get exposed without turbulence, and the same holds for Trump, whose danger lies in his vicious tenacity to domineer, to force people to accept his reality. His devices and desires arise from a shallow criminal mind, but even a stooge can evoke epoch-spanning narratives if invested with power. Although Trump currently has no legally enfranchised power thanks to majority rule, he does have social power thanks to minority rule.

This time around with Trump and Pluto, however, it’s not mythology that springs to mind but Shakespeare. True, this burger king has no conscience to be caught, but he does have a pathological relationship with power. The thing about mythology is that when a god no longer has the power to hurl lightning bolts, he gets cut from the script. Not so with Shakespeare. The point at which he becomes an ex-bolt-hurler is the moment everything starts—when payment comes due for power that was both ill-gotten and ill-used.

Since the announcement of the indictment, Trump has made monumental grievance his one and only message: I am a man more sinned against than sinning! (And you will note the Cordelia favorite keeping a quiet distance while Goneril and Regan float ever more dangerous conspiracy theories.) The big difference is that in 2019 we were struggling with the unknown of him; in 2023 we are free from him but still struggling with the unknown.

Whatever “Pluto’s Return” has to deliver over the next 20 or so years, it’s high time we Americans turned some of that Pluto on ourselves. Alex Shephard in The New Republic rightly blasted the regressiveness of the media’s nonstop Trump commentary on April 4. I dropped off CNN when either Jake Tapper or Anderson Cooper asked Andrew McCabe to comment on Trump’s courtroom expression like he was a preschool teacher explaining pictures on flashcards. What is “historic and unprecedented” is not the due process of each Trump indictment but what he as a sitting U.S. President did on January 6, 2021. Everything thereafter ought to be a procedural function of justice.

Another date that coincided with Pluto’s passage into Aquarius was March 26, the season premiere of Succession, the crème de la crème of prestige TV. I know that everyone loves the acting and the writing, but I cannot get beyond our obsessive platforming of extreme wealth—something I touched upon in “Liar’s Paradise.” Americans just won’t let go of this shared identity as “the ruled” when it comes to families holding on to undemocratic power.

Every TV drama that has achieved critical mass in the past decade is about money, power, and bloodlines: Game of Thrones, The Queen, Yellowstone, Succession. (You could say as much about The Sopranos, but The Sopranos was specifically about small money and parochial power: it was all about limitations.) With the super-rich, we study the clothes and the brands, the interiors and the landscapes. We say “Aren’t they terrible,” but we seem to have this void in our lives that only their mythology can fill.

If people binged on history and not just TV, they’d know that a large percentage of the super-rich have worked to destroy our democracy for the past 50 years. At the start of Dark Money, Jane Mayer’s bestseller about the Koch brothers and other billionaires bankrolling the radical right, she describes a secret desert meeting called by Charles Koch in 2009—a real Masters of the Evil Universe affair—to undermine any and all of President Obama’s efforts to lessen income inequality in the wake of the recession. It’s stomach-turning reading one bio after another of these pathologically greedy men, most of whom had made it their life passion to nullify income tax, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and all federal regulatory agencies.

Succession is especially troubling given the real-time revelations about the real Logan Roy, Rupert Murdoch, and Fox News’s lies about Dominion Voting Systems and the 2020 election results. It’s troubling that while we are aware that Mr. Limpit is controlling the minds of 2.2 million Americans every night, we prefer to believe in the corrosive wit of Brian Cox. We care less about “the people’s house” (i.e., the Capitol) than about how many houses particular people own. We have been complicit in the evil billionaire project of building the radical right that got Trump elected.

Pluto was often successful in mythological battles because he was given a “Helmet of Invisibility” to conceal both his visibility and his true nature, making it easier for him to deceive . . . and to win. Trump himself keeps his immorality and stupidity in full view; it’s his infiltrated party that has benefited from the shadows of the helmet. Hopefully, in this Age of Aquarius, we will finally be able to see beyond the darkness to begin repairing the massive societal damage this deception has done. §