Capt. Ahab Trump and His White Whale

“Call me Ishmael.”

We have read about Donald Trump before, figuratively speaking. Over 160 years ago.


But as the last whelmings intermixingly poured themselves over the sunken head of the Indian at the mainmast, leaving a few inches of the erect spar yet visible, together with long streaming yards of the flag, which calmly undulated, with ironical coincidings, over the destroying billows they almost touched;- at that instant, a red arm and a hammer hovered backwardly uplifted in the open air, in the act of nailing the flag faster and yet faster to the subsiding spar. A sky-hawk that tauntingly had followed the main-truck downwards from its natural home among the stars, pecking at the flag, and incommoding “Tashtego there; this bird now chanced to intercept its broad fluttering wing between the hammer and the wood; and simultaneously feeling that etherial thrill, the submerged savage beneath, in his death-gasp, kept his hammer frozen there; and so the bird of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and his imperial beak thrust upwards, and his whole captive form folded in the flag of Ahab, went down with his ship, which, like Satan, would not sink to hell till she had dragged a living part of heaven along with her, and helmeted herself with it.

Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.”

 – Moby Dick, Chapter 135 – The Chase – Third Day

When Herman Melville penned the story of Captain Ahab and his obsessive, monomaniacal pursuit of the White Whale, he was speaking of people like Donald Trump, a man obsessed with a vision of securing the very prey that has eluded him – a reason for a bigger ego.

The parallels between Trump and Ahab are striking. Both are on a selfish quest – to subdue something bigger than either of them. Ahab wants “revenge” on an animal that has bested him in the past. Trump wishes to gain a position of power that he has tried for in the past.

Both men wear scars from previous encounters with their “white whales.” Ahab literally has a leg missing having given the whale a little something for his gullet. Trump bears scars of a wounded ego.

Both command “campaigns” that have crews which are struggling to fathom the captain’s neglect for others involved. Ahab’s crew includes those who are intensely loyal, some who are ambivalent, and some who only want the job. Same with Trump. In fact, one could call his campaign headquarters “The Pequod,” sailing aimlessly through foreign waters.

Possibly the strongest correlation is the prize that both seek. Ahab’s fanatical pursuit of Moby Dick is a quest for his own validation. All else in his life and the lives of his crew are secondary to him. He has forced the whale to become a part of him and the whale took part of Ahab (and ate it).

But what is Trump’s “Moby Dick”? It’s an arrogant, egotistical image of himself that he sees in the reflection of a megalomaniacal mirror that can only be satisfied with obtaining the top job in the free world. Except in Trump’s case, his “white whale” grows in size daily and thus becomes more powerful and harder to subdue.

That’s because he feeds it constantly with words and actions and gestures and exaggerations. Just like Ahab, who broods in thought at finding the whale and then passionately calls his crew to follow at all costs, Trump incites supporters at rallies promising them what he can never give them.

It’s selfish and self-serving.

The last few chapters of Moby Dick involve “The Chase” for the whale, who in turn seems to really be chasing Ahab. Three days this chase occurs until….

And in the last days of Trump’s chase for the White House (episodically segmented by three debates) we see the excitable, yet incendiary, rhetoric of Ahab, excuse me, Trump ramped to a higher octave.

  • “Grab them by the p***sy.”
  • “Bad Hombres.”
  • “Nasty Woman.”
  • “You’re the puppet.”
  • “Miss Piggie.”
  • Or any time he talks about a woman’s appearance.

Trump’s total disregard for the truth in matters has his clouded candidacy, and his willingness to destroy the “Pequod” that is the Republican Party is dictatorial and crazed. Innocent people will go down with him as the last pass of the whale on November 8th sinks the ship of his candidacy.

And we will all wait for the real story from some Ishmael who was along for the entire voyage.

But unlike the book Moby Dick, that story will not come as a surprise.

It will be retelling of a story many of us have been reading all along.