Sorcerer's Apprentice

Though clothed in the button-nosed cuteness of Mickey Mouse in the 1940 Walt Disney film Fantasia, the story of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice was a cautionary tale penned in 1797 by Goethe that warned of the consequences of misjudged and misguided power. It is a story that springs readily to mind in light of today’s toxic presidential campaign in the U.S.A.

Goethe’s poem tells of a young apprentice left to his chores as the old sorcerer leaves his workshop for the day. Once alone, however, the apprentice sees an opportunity to lessen his workload by using his limited sorcering  skills to conjure a broom to life to take up his task of carrying pails of water to fill a large cistern.

Sorcerer's Apprentice BAt first all goes well as the broom takes up his charge. But when the apprentice falls asleep dreaming of controlling the heavens and seas, he awakens to find the workshop flooded with the spill-over as the broom goes on hauling and dumping water blindly under the spell cast by the apprentice.

Panicked, the apprentice can’t find the spell to stop the broom, because all he knew was the one to get it started.

Sorcerer's Apprentice CThe 2016 presidential campaign has taken a disquieting turn into something not altogether dissimilar. There is a palpable fear upon the land, fear of a changing world and our inability to control it.

Fear is a powerful emotion, and once set free can easily careen out of control.  As such, it is among the elemental talents of any political leader to harness both a nation’s fears and its hopes, molding each into a middle ground of purpose and rational policy.

img_2454Judging by the forces set free in these last few days on the campaign trail, however, the ability of our political leaders to resolve our conflicted emotions now seems beyond their capability.  And one leader in particular has cast a dangerous spell that is amplifying the hard emotions of defiance and distrust — though judging by his former political positions, he has no firm foundation of political theory to buttress his current message beyond the expedience of the next primary election.


Today, the twin cancers of fear and righteous anger that were first diagnosed in the Islamic Revolution of 1979, then metastasized under Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, can be found under the name ISIS.  So, too, has the disease spread to our own shores, though its name has yet to be spoken.

Decisions by our leaders over the last 30+ years have erased the barriers that once regulated interests and trade, even as the lines between business and government have also been smudged. This, in turn, has led to economic dislocation by extra-national corporations who hold no allegiance beyond profit, and whose multi-million dollar lobbying efforts have engineered a series of imbalanced trade agreements as well as the financial house of cards that led to the economic collapse of 2008.

Today, the consequences of those decisions have turned a once trusting public into an angry and dangerously bereft population in search of a whipping post against which to lash out.

But rather than seeing the malign partnership of business and paid-for governments as the root of the problem — not to mention an expanding population tied to a shrinking resource base — the people have been turned against themselves, formed into bitter political camps by braying demagogues who prey on peoples’ most base prejudices and fears. Our lax public education system is also complicit in reducing the level of learning  and perspective that is the very basis of self-governance.

The one prescription, then, for any ill, be it economic dislocation or the War on Terror, is to meet force with an even greater force. Identify the opponent, then smash them to pieces without mercy. And what has been the result? A philosophy that was once confined to a small tribal area in Afghanistan has now spread throughout the world. It is like a frightening political version of Goethe’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Sorcerer's Apprentice FIn his attempt to stop the one broom from further flooding the workshop, the apprentice took an axe and splintered the offending implement. But to his horror, each separate piece quickly transformed into a new whole, until the workshop was completely awash in brooms toting more and more pails of water in blind obedience to the apprentice’s original enchantment.

Sorcerer's Apprentice DAs the apprentice is drawn into the whirlpool he has set in motion, the old sorcerer finally returns to the workshop and breaks the spell.  The waters recede, and the brooms once again become inanimate.  The poem ends with the old sorcerer admonishing his apprentice that powerful spirits should only be conjured by those who have mastered the craft fully.

I think we know who our apprentice is in today’s political workshop. Here’s hoping we can find a master sorcerer soon before the rising deluge engulfs us all.



  1. Toni, you touched on some good chords of what is taking place but not the reasons. We have this one political person mixing up the whole pot because that pot has been taking our country down over the last almost 30 years. He is doing what the Tea Party started out to do. He often does sound way to over the top, especially towards inciting what seems to be a violent push back, but that knee-jerk reaction has its roots too. You see over the last 30 years, the subtle ease of personal rights has emerged center stage. It is actually rebellion against the foundation of our country. Why do so many people from other countries want to come here? All of us who were born and raised here over the last 50 plus years know why. Freedom, prosperity and an opportunity to keep that. The political corruption of those in both Houses and the Presidents since Reagan have been ushering in this mindset to globalize our country. There is no longer Democrat or Republican because they have on both sides been siding with with each to destroy our foundation. Our country with its freedoms and prosperity cannot be duplicated anywhere else and that’s why they all want to come here. But doing away with what got us here is happening. Th It is simply moral decay that is pushing for more air time. We don’t have the jobs to supply those living here already let alone those who want to be shipped or flown in. This one political person, despite the bravado and forceful approach, is only trying to right the ship and get things straight again. You see, all of these liberal and socialists fronts are pushing rights, yet all of them stop at red lights and stop signs when driving home. If the closet is not closed during the next term of a new President, we will be the Titanic for sure.It’s hard to cover every topic here, but the Porn industry, the Muslims, the Healthcare, the Pacific Trade agreement, NAFTA,, have all and are ruining our country. I personally don’t see anyone else in the political arena willing to mix it up by confronting all of these issues. We’ve all been just enjoying the ride in this country for way to long, that’s why it seems so much a forceful push back. Our forefathers were based in God, all of this going on today isn’t. And there in lies the running community’s doping issues. Blessings, John

    1. John,

      Thank you for that long impassioned reply. And while you make many good points about the direction of the country, and about the message, you’ve got yourself tied to the wrong Messenger.

      Newt Gingrich and Dr. Ben Carson are two of the most staunchly pro-Trump supporters out there. Yet both keep saying the same thing whenever their candidate steps over another verbal boundary: “if we could just keep him on message”.

      If, if, if. But that is the definitional problem with Mr. Trump. They can’t keep him in place, nobody can. He isn’t stable in the political sense of the word. And that, in and of itself, is his disqualifying characteristic.

      So, notwithstanding that there is a message that is resonating with many voters: borders, trade, military intervention, out of control government spending, the fact that Trump can’t discipline himself to that message – like he can’t seem to discipline himself around women – is enough to make him too volatile to hold an office in which immense power is centered.

      When even his most solid supporters have no idea where he might go next, that is dangerous. Because what are the odds he will listen to people once he is in office, if he won’t listen to them while running for it?

      So even with a large reservoir of ready support, Mr. Trump can’t help getting sucked into every rhetorical sinkhole along the campaign trail, can’t deflect any small slight, has to answer each and every one, like a man trying to shoo away flies while sitting atop his own shit pile.

      Newt says, “there’s a big Donald Trump and a little Donald Trump, and the little Donald Trump is pathetic and makes no sense.”

      And Dr. Carson says, “his only opponent is Hillary Clinton. It’s not Paul Ryan or the Republican Party. If we could just get him to focus on the issues.”

      But his lament is his admission that he can’t. Newt and Ben are two of his most inside supporters, the people he actually talks to if not listens to. And if they see this guy as unable to hold himself together through a campaign, how can the country afford for the little Donald Trump to have proximity to military might, regardless of what the Big Dog may offer on the plus side?

      As Dr. Carson’s own professional oath instructs, first, do no harm. Little Donald Trump is nothing if not potentially harmful. So it doesn’t even come down to a choice FOR Hillary Clinton, it’s purely a disqualification OF Donald Trump.

      This all points back to the Republican Party for letting this sad, and predictable, situation come to pass. They had sitting in front of them an eminently beatable opponent, and yet they let it slip away by not protecting their flank.

      They had many qualified candidates, maybe too many, but any number of whom America would most likely have backed given the baggage that Mrs. Clinton carried with her into the campaign. But the Republican Party, like the country at large, got caught up in a reality show format with that endless series of primary debates. And that American Gladiator series played right into Donald Trump’s hands while masking his many faults.

      Now they are left with a dangerous demagogue with a messianic complex, harboring feelings of martyrdom who is backed by a very solid core of angry supporters who are poised to denounce any outcome that doesn’t declare their man the winner.

      “It’s not that character and Judeo-Christian values don’t matter (an admission that Trump is woefully bereft of such character traits), it’s just that right now the train is going over the cliff, “says Dr. Ben Carson in explaining why allegations of misogyny, racism, and xenophobia are all simply distractions when evaluating the candidacy of Donald J. Trump.

      It is the ultimate cynical rationalization for backing the candidacy of an unqualified nominee. It is the kind of thinking that is in line with “we had to give up some of our freedom for security”, thinking that Winston Churchill said led to the loss of both.

      It is an apocalyptic way of thinking to suggest the world is that black-and-white. Every election we hear the same thing, the candidates say “this is the most important election of our lifetime.”

      Of course it is. That’s because it’s all about them, not about us. We will be fine with a more Burkean form of conservatism. Just have confidence to wait for the right leader to make the case. Don’t go wobbly now.

      Thanks again, and good luck,


  2. Toni, I might accuse you of ultracrepidarianism. The term purportedly derived from Apelles, a famous Greek artist to a shoemaker who presumed to criticize his painting. The Latin phrase for this was initially “Sutor, ne ultra crepidam”, which was later altered to “Ne ultra crepidam judicaret.” Modern day translations of the advice in current tongues are Spanish “Zapateros a tus zapatos”, Dutch “Schoenmaker, blijf bijje leest.”, and German “Schuster, bleib bei deinen Leisten.” or English “cobbler stick to your last.” The problem with today’s environment – there entirely too many self-serving comments and some leaders want chaos. Remember Robespierre and Rasputin arose out of chaos and everyone who has studied history knows what follows – reigns of terror. While pitting one group or one woman against another is always morally repugnant, there are individuals/groups who benefit from such a schism, with fair minded candidates/groups caught in the middle. “Let she/he that is without sin cast the first stone”. Keep up the good work!!! Best, Don

    1. Love ya, Don. Your attention to history and words is a guidepost. But every citizen has sole in the game in a nation where self-rule cobbles together the laws that form it. All the best,


  3. As always, well said, Toni. I was wondering where you were going with this when I first read the title, but I have to admit that it now makes perfect sense. Too bad our candidates don’t.

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