Lowering Away for Moby-Donald

By Jim Tonkowich Published on August 31, 2022

“Hast seen the White Whale?” yells Captain Ahab as his ship nears the Samuel Enderby in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.

Yes, replies the one-armed captain, they saw the White Whale and his whalebone ivory arm is a constant reminder. “No more for me;” he tells Ahab, “‘I’ve lowered for him once, and that has satisfied me. There would be great glory in killing him, I know that; and there is a ship-load of precious sperm [oil] in him, but, hark ye, he’s best left alone; don’t you think so, captain’ — glancing at his ivory leg.”

“He is,” replied Ahab, “But he will be hunted, for all that. What is best left alone, that accursed thing is not always what least allures. He’s all magnet!”

As it was with Moby-Dick, so it is with Moby-Donald. He too is all magnetic.

Later the Pequod meets the Rachel. They lowered for the White Whale and now sail searching for a lost boat crew including the captain’s son. Then, the Delight’s captain says yes by pointing to a shattered whale boat with five dead.

Hearing Ahab lament forty years at sea “what a forty years’ fool — fool — old fool, has Ahab been,” his first mate encourages him in his doubts. Give up the pursuit of Moby-Dick. Sail for home, for wife, for child, he pleads.

Ahab can’t. His desire to destroy the White Whale has overcome “my own proper, natural heart.” On then to Ahab’s death, the loss of the ship, and the deaths of the entire crew save the one.

He’s All Magnetic

Rereading Moby-Dick, I couldn’t help but draw an analogy between Ahab’s obsession with Moby-Dick and the obsession many have with Donald Trump. Case in point: Wyoming’s soon-to-be-ex-Representative Liz Cheney.

As Ahab served his crew well, Mrs. Cheney has served the people of Wyoming well. Ahab’s good leadership filled the Pequod’s hold with a wealth of whale oil. Cheney’s votes strengthened the energy and mining sectors our state economy depends on. She worked to protect private property, the lives of the unborn, and the Second Amendment.

As she put it in 2020, she lined up with Donald Trump “something like 97 percent of the time.”

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But by the 2022 Republican primary, as Cowboy State Daily’s Bill Sniffin wrote, “Cheney’s nonstop criticism of Trump made her a one trick pony and Wyoming voters both did not like the trick nor did they enjoy seeing it played over and over again.”

The result of her obsession, as Sniffin puts it, “[Harriet] Hageman slaughtered Cheney by an astonishing number. The vote was 113,025 for Hageman compared to just 49,316 for Cheney. It was a blow-out of gigantic proportions.”

Her loss, I suspect, cost Cheney a bright political future. While she talks about running for president, “a blow-out of gigantic proportions” is a lot to overcome.

Of course, Cheney’s not alone. I know commentators who, during the Trump administration, were regulars in The New York Times, The Atlantic, and on talking-head shows — conservatives who reliably bashed Moby-Donald while denying the good done by his administration. I’ve noticed that, having been useful in the election of Joe Biden, their services are no longer required.

Do We Need to Destroy the Country to Save It?

I’m not a Trump fan. The presidential elections of 2016 and 2020 were nightmares in part because of Donald Trump who continues to swim in the vast ocean of American politics. While Moby-Dick swam minding his own business until attacked, Moby-Donald invites attacks. And there seems no end to the number of people trying to harpoon him.

Are they making the country better by doing so? Are they healing what needs to be healed? Encouraging the good that needs to be encouraged? Are they defending “the noble business of politics” in the noblest possible way? Was undermining the re-election of Donald Trump worth the enormous damage being done by the Biden Administration? Do we need to destroy the country to save it?

I don’t think so.

Adult male sperm whales live about 70 years. Moby-Dick, we’re told, was already old. Ahab could have sailed home. Moby-Dick was doomed without him.

Donald Trump is 76, nearing the average U.S. life expectancy of 76.99 years. He too shall pass.

But, someone will gasp, Trump is destroying this nation in ways never seen before! Even as he plays golf. 

The Glorious Hope of E Pluribus Unum

But, alas, just as Captain Ahab believed the preposterous idea that all his troubles would be solved by destroying Moby-Dick, too many otherwise-thoughtful people seem to believe the equally preposterous idea that all our troubles will be solved by destroying Moby-Donald.

The wreckage of promising political careers; the wreckage of public confidence in our institutions: the Justice Department, the FBI, Congress, and the media; and the perhaps unrepairable wreckage of the glorious hope of e pluribus unum testify otherwise.


James Tonkowich, D.Min., a senior contributor to The Stream, is a freelance writer, speaker and commentator on spirituality, religion and public life. He is the author of The Liberty Threat: The Attack on Religious Freedom in America Today and Pears, Grapes, and Dates: A Good Life After Mid-Life. Jim serves as Director of Distance Learning at Wyoming Catholic College and is host of the college’s weekly podcast, “The After Dinner Scholar.”

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