The ancient folktale about a shepherd boy who defeats a ferocious, gigantic warrior has become one of the most widely known story types in the world. Not only was it incorporated into the Bible and imbued with religious significance, but it’s also filtered its way into the lore of other cultures, appearing in the guise of Jack and the Beanstalk, The Brave Little Tailor, and other tales.
The motif has become so deeply ingrained into the collective psyche that we’re constantly on the lookout for real-time parallels – and indeed we’ve even come to expect them.
Which might be why so many people were stunned and shocked by the 2016 presidential election. Donald Trump totally blindsided them. But he really shouldn’t have.
His fans no doubt would like to cast him in the role of David. But he qualified as an underdog only on two counts: he was behind in the polls, and he had no qualifications or experience relevant to the position. But in every other way, he was about as Goliath as they get.
One of the richest men in the world, he has spent his entire life having people pamper him and cater to him. He is the embodiment of schoolyard bullying, of anti-intellectualism, of all that is vile, nasty, corrupt, hateful and cruel.
And he has powerful allies, including the American media – which trumped up and trumpeted phony “scandals” about his opponent while burying dozens of very real scandals about him. Even the director of the FBI violated the agency’s own directives to interfere in the election on his behalf. Under the circumstances, it would have been a miracle if Hillary Clinton had won. And miracles are in very short supply – that’s what makes them miracles.
Here’s an uncomfortable fact that they neglect to teach you in Sunday school: Goliath usually wins. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be particularly remarkable for a shepherd boy to bring him down. Before that fateful encounter, the obnoxious brute already had dispatched a number of worthy opponents. David typifies the hope that there is always hope if we act courageously in the face of evil, no matter how overwhelming the evil; and that sometimes one defeat of Goliath makes up for all the times he’s won.
Another important truth to remember is one so succinctly articulated by Tony Kushner in Angels In America: “The world only spins forward.” Civilization will keep advancing no matter how many obstacles Goliath throws in its path. Sometimes it will take two steps forward and one step back – or sometimes even (as we’ve just seen) vice versa. But overall, it keeps progressing.
African-Americans struggled for centuries against the Goliath of racism (which still isn’t dead but at least has been crippled). They faced bondage, lynchings, beatings, torture, discrimination and oppression before civil rights advances and even the election of a black president.
Gays have faced a similar Goliath, and have received comparable treatment. But eventually they were represented with respect in the media and by the law, and some have become openly gay elected officials. Today, they even can get married. What makes that miracle even more miraculous is that the change was delivered by a Supreme Court dominated by right-wingers. (It’s worth noting that the oppression of both groups, like many other social injustices, was fervently endorsed by Christian zealots — who now are beside themselves with ecstasy over Trump’s win.)
The world only spins forward.
During that same week in November when America officially embraced fascism, the world lost visionary singer/songwriter/poet Leonard Cohen, whose distant relatives were murdered back when Europe officially embraced fascism. That weekend, Saturday Night Live faced a dilemma: was it appropriate to open the week’s episode with the customary light-heartedness after such a heavy double dose of sadness?
The solution was simple, elegant and powerful. Kate McKinnon, who had been portraying Hillary Clinton in the program’s satirical skits, sat at the piano and accompanied herself singing Cohen’s somber anthem “Hallelujah” – which coincidentally opens with a reference to that fabled shepherd king of Israel who once toppled a giant. At the song’s conclusion, McKinnon turned to the camera tearfully and said, “I’m not giving up. And neither should you.”
No, you shouldn’t. The world only spins forward. Fascism has been defeated once, and will be defeated again.
Goliath usually wins. But he can’t go on winning forever.