Let’s take a moment to talk about goats. As in, scapegoats, billy goats, and the G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time). It’s taken me a minute to be able to pull myself off the mat following the defeat of my San Francisco Giants at the hands of the Chicago Cubs in the National League Division Series. But with October advancing and November approaching, I’ve got no choice but to speak to an urgent issue of our times. Goats.
The Chicago Cubs (we’re talking baseball here, folks) have infamously failed to win the World Series for 108 years. Their futility is known as the Curse of the Billy Goat, based on the apocryphal tale(s) of Billy Sianis, who brought his pet goat Murphy to the ballpark. In one account, Sianis was denied entry to the stadium. In another, Sianis was asked to leave because Murphy was causing a stink and disturbing the other customers. In an absurd twist, Sianis cursed the Cubs to always lose, and somehow, at least until today, that curse has stuck.
Now, it seems, we’re full swing into the season of the Goat. The Cubs are challenging to cast away their curse. And just this past week Yom Kippur, the Jewish holiday of atonement, recalled a bizarre ritual that is the origin for our modern-day term, ‘scapegoat.’ In biblical times, on Yom Kippur, the High Priest of Israel would place the sins of the nation onto an unfortunate goat, who would then be driven off the nearest cliff to feed the fallen angel Azazel (pretty much Satan).
Of course, as you know if you’ve been following my writing, sports are not isolated events. They capture the mythos and mood of the times. Bound up in sporting event outcomes are archetypal fates of cities and their attendant powers. Sports and politics, those sensationalist entertainment events, are often linked. And in this strangest of strange years, 2016, these forces seem particularly active and at play.
So it is, that the Cubs are attempting to do away with their own role as scapegoated losers, and just happen to be the hometown team of Hillary Rodham Clinton. In the meantime, the traditional wisdom of the Yom Kippur ritual is somehow making more sense. The sacrifice of the scapegoat may seem cruel, and indeed may be cruel, but it may also be necessary for the preservation of order in the world. Such a sacrifice is something indigenous, land-based cultures, such as that of the ancient Hebrews, understood, and many continue to understand today. Regardless of post-modern relativity, there are dark forces in the world. But whereas Western culture (as informed by Christian asceticism, the false notion of purity, and the separation of flesh and spirit) seeks to eradicate these forces, a wise, connected culture actually feeds them to keep them in their proper place. Such a culture understands that these powers can’t actually be destroyed. But the demons, while unconquerable, can be tamed and managed, and thus kept from wreaking havoc in the world.
This is a very different outlook than our modern perspective, and one that has far-reaching implications. But if we can take this holistic view for a moment, we may be blessed to discover ourselves amidst one of the greatest cultural sacrifices in recent memory, as Donald Trump’s candidacy for POTUS has awakened some of the darkest, most demonic forces in American culture. Sexism. Racism. Violence. Entitlement. A conflation of entertainment and real life. And an utter disregard for both humility and telling the truth.
Assuming he does not somehow emerge from his catastrophic poll numbers to prevail, Trump is giving voice to the worst of America, and taking it down with him. And yet, for all the terror Trump has inspired, it’s also possible that he has done this country a service. He has crystalized and amplified an American worldview that is antiquated, distasteful, and by the standards of our present-day culture, downright wrong. In doing so, he’s given us a goat. A real goat, someone a great many of us can support sacrificing for the state of the whole.
In doing so, however, it’s worth remembering: Trump himself is not the devil, as much as he may appear that way to many of us. Rather, he is a resting point and willing vessel for forces that are much bigger than him – forces that have roiled our country for centuries. Scapegoats are called scapegoats precisely because they don’t really deserve the fate they receive. Scapegoats invariably represent the shadows and failings of the culture that scapegoats them. So it is that Donald Trump, while abhorrent and awful in so many ways, unfortunately cannot be seen as a bizarre and isolated specimen. To the contrary, Trump is a product of our culture. He is an expression of impulses and powers that do hold and have historically held social sway. And, if he goes down as it for the moment appears he will, he will be a scapegoat for a nation trying to lift itself from a pervasive worldview and ideology that has its roots deep within the very identity and history of America.
One pitfall it’s easy to fall into these days is a rejection of such a ritual all together. We don’t want to sacrifice the (nice, cute, little) goat. It’s not fair to the goat. And that’s before even getting into the various critiques a critical, progressive modern could levy on this archaic ritual (why did we choose goats anyway?). We’re supposed to avoid scapegoating. But on a mythic or archetypal level, that’s maybe also why Trump’s campaign has been so over the top. As a culture, we are being forced to look directly at the immensity and depth of what we are seeking to move beyond.
As October’s full moon begins to wane, the baseball and election seasons are building to climax. And it is still very possible that the Cubs will lose, and/or Trump will win. It’s worth remembering the fate of my own San Francisco Giants, who seemed on the verge of perpetuating the Cubs' misery before falling to their own curse of being historically awful at preserving leads in the 9th inning of games. I called this the Curse of Can’t Close. And it’s one the Cubs and Democrats will have to face down every day until they finally and ultimately prevail.
Until then, all eyes will be on Chicago. We will be watching the Cubs. We will be watching President Obama’s legacy. We will be watching the birthplace of none other than the Democratic nominee for President, Hillary Rodham Clinton (yes, that's right, it's Chicago).
If the Cubs make it that far, they may have to tangle with the Cleveland Indians in the World Series. With that wonderfully, appropriately inappropriate team name, the Indians represent the swing state of Ohio, and the host city of this past summer’s Republican National Convention. It will be Trump's Indians versus Hillary's Cubs. I mean, seriously folks. You can’t make this stuff up.
Can the Cubs release themselves from their past failures and identity as lovable losers? Can the magical spell of 108 years be broken, glass ceiling be shattered, the ring of darkness cast back into the fire? A lot is at stake this baseball and election season. Here’s to hoping that the Cubs, and Hillary, can close – and drive that goat off the cliff.