Divine (and Deplorable) Children

Responding to a recent Trump tweet calling for America to "strengthen and expand" its nuclear capability, Senator Merkley (D-Oregon) concluded, "We have an incoming president with the maturity of a five-year-old, wrapped by a massive ego." While agreeing with the Merkeley's diagnosis, I would, as a good Freudian, ascribe the President-elect's immaturity to his id, not his ego. Egos develop as children grow into the awareness that they are not the center of the world; that their wishes are not omnipotent; that relationships and satisfactions must be negotiated. For most children that happens around the age of seven. Before then, they live in the insatiable world of their id, where (as my fave lyric from The Sound of Music goes), "every star and every whirling planet, every constellation in the sky, revolves around the center of the universe, that lovely thing called 'I'."

Ironically, Trump's nuclear tweet and the senator's diagnosis were made during this past holiday season, when we replayed the words of the Prophet Isaiah, "For unto us a Child is born, a Son is given...and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God...Prince of Peace." On that prophecy of a Divine Child who will grow into a messiah, a savior, an avatar, we light the Christmas Tree and Menorah candles, or, moving towards the Ganges, shoot off fireworks for Diwali.

According to Luke, Jesus was such a child, a penniless prince born in a stable, whose birth was announced by angels; whose Star guided three kings to a stable. He's the brilliant bar mitzvah student who confounds the rabbis in the Temple. And according to one of the non-canonical apocrypha, he's the toddler who shapes birds out of clay which then take off in flight. In India that Child is Krishna, beloved of the Gopi cowgirls; a naughty avatar of Vishnu who was suspected of stealing milk by his mother Devaki. Looking for evidence, she forces Krishna to open his mouth. What she finds causes her to faint: instead of traces of the stolen milk she beholds all the swimming constellations of the cosmos where his molars ought to be.

Carl Jung was the first to define the Divine Child as an archetype, hardwired into our unconscious mind which craves light at the nadir of the year. For Jung "the Divine Child represents the strongest, the most ineluctable urge in every human being, namely the urge to realize itself, an incarnation of the inability to do otherwise...revealed in the miraculous deeds of the child hero." Exploring the hero myth, Jung concludes that the Divine Child "represents our efforts to deal with the problem of growing up, aided by the illusion of an eternal fiction." Thus for Jung, the child archetype is a symbol of the developing personality.

But what if the child doesn't develop? What if Jesus continued to distinguish himself as a molder of clay birds, or Krishna as a milk thief? All that childish id controlled by an anemic ego? I discovered just such a perversion of the Divine Child archetype while collecting myths and folktales from the Mende people in Sierra Leone, West Africa. His name was Little Moses (Musa Wo). Born a prince like many heroes of African myth (Sundiata, Shango, Mwindo, etc), Little Moses begins his career as an enfant terrible, but descends to the level of a relentless and obscene monster. Born parthenogenetically from his mother's thumb (shades of Athena from Zeus's forehead), he travels with a magic turtle whose farts revivify the dead. He knows the language of animals, and is under their totemic patronage. But instead of using these divine attributes for the benefit of his subjects, Little Moses destroys the very institutions which sustain him. A list of his crimes reads like Charles Manson's police blotter: Fratricide, patricide, genocide, mutilation, mayhem, incitement to murder, fraud, and political destabilization...the list might be extended, but only in the same direction. Pornography and violence run towards exhaustion after their first exhilarating climaxes. Perhaps this is the reason Mende storytellers say that a Little Moses story can never be ended.

The mystery of Little Moses lies in the disjunction between the hopes he raises as a rebellious youth, and the appalling results of his unrestrained actions. Perhaps this is what Senator Merkley meant when he called President Trump a five year old child, suffering from what on-line blogger N. Ziehl describes as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), a "incurable and barely treatable" malady from which Trump almost certainly suffers.

The NPD sufferer will say whatever feels most comfortable or good to him at any given time. He will lie a lot. As Ziehl says, "if you're trying to reconcile or analyze his words, don't. Only address his actions...If he gets enough accolades for better behavior, he might continue to try it. But don't count on it....Entitlement is a key aspect of the disorder. He will not observe traditional boundaries of office. He states that rules don't apply to him...It's very common for non-disordered people to lower their own expectations and try to normalize NPD behavior. DO NOT DO THIS AND DO NOT ALLOW OTHERS, ESPECIALLY THE MEDIA, TO DO THIS. Pay attention to your own emotions: do you sort of enjoy his clowning? is this kind of fun and dramatic, in a sick way?"

How then do we cope with such a leader and his basket of deplorables? (don't listen to your critics Hillary, you precisely nailed Trump's whole tawdry crew). Here's what Ziehl suggests, "Focus on what you can change and how you can resist. We are all called to be leaders now, in the absence of leadership." I believe that is what Mende myth makers were suggesting by narrating this dark myth. Unfortunately Little Moses was exactly who they did get in the civil war which soon followed my own fieldwork in Sierra Leone : murderous bands of children, incited by local warlords, burning, mutilating and pillaging their natal villages. Just for the hell of it. And now we (and the world) have a President with NPD who wants to strengthen and expand our nuclear arsenal. Good luck and Good Night.