Trump as Archetype: The Golem Has Run Amok

Trump as Archetype: The Golem Has Run Amok November 1, 2016

By Shalom Goldman.


A year ago, as U.S citizens of both political parties were developing a fascination with Donald Trump, no pundits came forth with a mythic or religious way to understand Trump’s appeal or his ability to strongly repel those not attracted to him.  As I teach college courses on the intersection of religion and politics, I was hoping that someone quicker and wiser than I am would come forward to situate the Donald in the world of archetypes, and remove him—if only briefly—from the world of stereotypes.

I very much wanted to share my colleagues’ insights about the presumptive Republican candidate with my undergraduates, but found no wisdom on the topic in the rank of the academic study of religion and myth. While I waited for a messiah of punditry to speak (or publish), I found myself reaching for stories from scripture or mythology, but found no perfect fit. (Little did I know that within a few months some Evangelical pastors would find affirming things to say about Trump’s biblical role models: King David and Samson were often mentioned, though I heard little mention of Bathsheba or Delilah.)

Veteran NY Times writer George Vecsey came through with a compelling image when he wrote in the late summer of 2015: “Make no mistake about it, the Republicans have made this an easier world for Donald Trump to spread his foolishness. For over six years they have run a campaign of ignorance and malice and, yes, prejudice about the twice-elected President. McConnell and Boehner and Graham have questioned Obama’s motives, his actions, and, with their silence, even his birthplace in Hawaii. I think it is because they cannot handle having a moral and educated man of African and American descent, as the smartest man in their room. Their behavior has created a monster. Donald Trump is their Golem.”

One of our Canadian cousins echoed his sentiments. In September 2015, Neil Macdonald, Senior correspondent for the Canadian Broadcasting News, offered CBC News readers what I consider the most apt archetype for Trump—the Golem.

According to Merriam-Webster, the dictionary definition of “golem” is:

  • an artificial human being in Hebrew folklore endowed with life
  • something or someone resembling a golem: as a: automaton b:  blockhead

Associated in Jewish folklore with the the city of Prague, the Golem was a creature created to protect the Jewish community from harm. The Golem was created, or rather, animated from a large lump of clay that lay inert in the rabbi’s attic study. The rabbi wrote the divine secret name of God on the Golem’s forehead; then the creature sprang to life. To stop the Golem from running amok the rabbi had to catch and subdue the creature and erase the magic name from its forehead. But as the Golem grew more powerful, his creator, the wonder-working rabbi of the city, could no longer control him. The Golem ran amok, harming the very people he was created to protect, along with anyone else who got in his way.

As Neil Macdonald so perceptively noted: “Like the Golem of Chelm, the animated clay creature in Jewish folklore that grew uncontrollable and threatened the entire universe, Trump seems to gather power with every TV appearance and every crackpot speech. And like the Golem, he now threatens to crush his creator if any attempt is made to remove the magic, animating letters from his forehead. In the Golem’s case, it was a holy name; in Trump’s, it’s a white baseball cap proclaiming ‘Make America Great Again.’”

Soon after that CBC article, a few U.S. journalists, primarily those veterans of an era of journalism in which the cultural references were richer and more varied than they are today, started using the “Trump as Golem” meme.

Over the past year “Trump as Golem” has finally caught on.

Last month The Huffington Post’s Jeffrey Young excoriated the Republican leadership for allowing Trump to win the nomination. “You have,” he told a long list of Republican notables, “lost control of the golem you created.”

And last week, just before the election, Trump as Golem and his “make America Great Again” baseball cap have surfaced in the unlikeliest of places—Berlin’s Jewish Museum. In an exhibit dedicated to the history of the Golem in art and mythology, the museum chose to include a Trump cap in the exhibit. The cap, with the rest of exhibit, will be at the museum for a few weeks into the first 100 days of the next Washington administration.


Shalom Goldman is professor of religion at Middlebury College. He has authored numerous books, including Zeal for Zion: Christians, Jews, and the Promised Land and God’s Sacred Tongue: Hebrew and the American Imagination. His most recent book, Jewish-Christian Difference and Modern Jewish Identity, has recently been featured in the Patheos Book Club.





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38 responses to “Trump as Archetype: The Golem Has Run Amok”

  1. Thanks for giving us a textbook example of an ad hominem argument. If Trump did nothing else during his presidency than appoint conservative Supreme Court justices, it would be worth having him as president because those appointments are for a lifetime, not just four years. But he would do much more than that working with a Republican majority Congress.

  2. “He has boasted about sexual assaults, and is accused of several,” is an ad-hom argument, and is entirely correct, and is entirely relevant.

    His record is our best evidence for what he would do if he won.

    His record also determines what voting for him actually means.

  3. How can you say Trump’s record is the best evidence of what he would do if he won? He has not been a career politician. So he has no record of appointing (or supporting) Supreme Court nominees nor working with Congress. So all that one can go on is his platform, and I agree with him on that. I also like the fact that he has not been a career politician.

  4. Administration is administration, regardless of whether it lies in the corporate sector or the public. And Trump’s record on administration is frighteningly poor – multiple bankruptcies, companies run into the ground, out and out fraudulant dealings with the public and business partners.
    I can well understand a bias against career politicians. All else being equal, I’d probably go for the non-politician myself. But all else is NOT equal – Trump is someone we want far away from any real power.

  5. Kevin, you have never run a multi-billion dollar corporation, have you? I haven’t either, but I believe what Trump says that in a corp. this size, you have ventures that don’t work out, bankruptcies, etc. But I think one can call him a successful businessman because owns over 500 business entities and he is a billionaire.

    If he is elected president, you need to realize that it won’t be a one man show. The checks and balances in government prevent a dictator from taking over. He will need to work through Congress to get legislation passed. As I said in my original post, for me it would be worth having Trump as president if all he did was to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices. But he would do much more than
    that working with a Republican majority Congress.

  6. Much of what Trump has stirred up has been present in this country for years or even centuries. What he has done is to pull it out into the light and make it visible like a sore or boil on the body politic of the nation. What we need to do now is grit our teeth and lance the thing, drain it, clean it out, and then let healing begin. It won’t be easy but now that it’s out in the open it is possible to do rather than theorize about a sickness we didn’t understand. Thanks to Trump and his bottom-scraping, we can see the problem and may have a chance to fix it.
    Maybe. It will be all too easy to sweep all this “under the rug” and pretend it didn’t happen the way it did. That will be the easy way, and all it will do is make the sickness worse. Do we as a nation have the nerve to deal with this or will we go back to pretending it doesn’t exist? Only time will tell.

  7. Well, full disclosure, I want more liberal justices on the Supreme Court, as they seem to be more interested in opening up the rights of individuals, while the conservatives seem more interested in restricting rights.
    And yes, I agree Trump could be no dictator. But the Presidency is powerful in itself, and I fear what Trump could do.
    Also, I DON’T believe what Trump says about business. Not that I think he’s a liar – he seems to be as honest as the average politician, even if his policies do change depending on who he’s talking to at the time. But I do think he’s a very poor businessman, because I can’t help but compare him to Kerry Packer, Rupert Murdoch, Bill Gates and all the dozens and hundreds of bussinessmen who, rather than overextending themselves in their ventures, keep enough back to cover themselves in the case of failure. Trump lacks either their business acumen or their reasonable caution. Or both.

  8. Every President gains more power to dictate as congress looks the other way. It will eventually lead to a full fledged dictatorship if some thing is not done.

  9. I thought you were a conservative who was against Trump, and I was trying to make the case for why conservatives should vote for Trump even though he is not the ideal conservative candidate. But since you want liberal justices on the Supreme Court, then you should vote for Hillary. Why even bring up Trump’s business background? To me, it comes down to policy, not personal ethics nor who is a better leader. Hillary is no more morally pure than Trump, and in my opinion, not a better leader. So out of two imperfect candidates, I choose the conservative one for 4 years of conservative legislation and a lifetime of a conservative Supreme Court justice decisions.

  10. I’m not a conservative doctrinaire like Ted Cruz. Out of the two candidates on the ballot, Trump is the more conservative. So that is why I will vote for him.

  11. My position is a little more complex than that. Socially, I am very much what is now called “liberal” – though in my youth it was considered a more conservative position, that of “leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone”. What I can’t stand is the hypocritical idiots of the right who rail against “big government” while demanding government intervention in what adults do in the privacy of their bedrooms and personal lives. (Not, by any means, you.)
    Economically, though, I prefer the conservative position. If you’re going to do something, to get my support, tell me how you’re going to pay for it, and show me the research that tells us all that it will do what we want it to do.
    You’re right that we have two flawed candidates. But I think Clinton will do a good job, but not exceptional, and Trump will do a terrible job.

  12. Really? and her record of obfuscation and lies doesn’t show us what she would do if she wins…Oh, wait a sec, how would we know? She would just hide, burn or destroy the record all the while playing “pay for play” with the Presidency. The word hypocrite comes to mind – I mean ‘ol Bill actually raped women, used his power over a stupid intern to have sex with her. Of course, it depends on the definition of “is” according to Bill. But of course to lefties none of this is relevant. Trump might have sinned (and has apologized) but Hillary is simply corrupt.

  13. You don’t know your statistics. Trump has run over 500 businesses with under 10 bankruptcies most of which were in Atlantic City which is corrupt and which has had more bankruptcies related to gambling hotels than just Trump businesses. Most of its hotels/gambling joints have bankrupted because it can no longer be supported because of the Indian tribes who have opened competition. People no longer have to drive to Atlantic City to imbibe. However his other multiple businesses thrive, employ thousands of people of all races, pay them well and love working for him including women. Besides the word bankrupt is nothing more than a accounting/tax term when a business closes. ANOTHER TERM FOR BANKRUPTCY IS REORGANIZATION. ALL LEGAL AND ALL DEFINED BY THE TAX CODE. REMEMBER General Motors? REMEMBER OBAMA BAILING THEM OUT WITH OUR TAX DOLLARS? Guess what? GM would have declared bankruptcy and then reorganized. But FREE tax money is free money. BTW could it be that GM went bankrupt because of NAFTA – you know all those jobs and companies like Ford and Carrier who are moving to Mexico? PS the answer is YES

  14. Trump as per Forbes Magazine is worth $3.7 Billion dollars and it lists all of his businesses and their individual values. Just came out. And your full disclosure reveals your bias to the Truth. “Opening Rights” except for the victims they create by not sticking to the US Constitution which protects all of us. They attack First Amendment rights with their every vote. We are turning into a fascist state. BTW, it was Republicans who pass the civil rights laws – Democrats voted against them all. Look it up.

  15. No he doesn’t. Trump employs thousands of people, pays them a living wage and has CPA’s file his taxes. Now you might disagree with tax law passed by both Democrats and Republicans but he did not break any law. And thank God he was able to use that carry forward loss because it kept him going and led to his successful businesses that have raised the value (on which he pays property taxes, state taxes and city taxes) of the properties that he bought and renovated, created new jobs (and new taxes paid by those employees). His businesses and their value are listed in a recent FORBES magazine along with 400 others. But think on this, the Clintons are not listed even tho they own 4 mansions and have considerable wealth. Could that be because they run all the money they extort from foreign countries through their “charitable” foundation. You know, the one that doesn’t pay a single dime in taxes. You know the one that paid out a paltry 7% to charity. You know the one HRC lied to all and told us it paid out 90%. A total lie. I saw the foundation return.

  16. “Passed” is the correct term, not pass. It was indeed the Republican party that passed the glorious civil rights laws and improvement s in the 1960s – the days of the Dixiecrats. The problem being that at that time the Republicans were the liberals and the Democrats were the conservatives – learn your history.
    And no, I’m sorry, opening the rights of others creates NO victims. The only people who feel victimised are the bigots and racists who hate equality and America. And that’s the real truth.

  17. Well let’s start with Obamacare. I know this personally. Did you know that the insurance companies raised premiums, co-pays and deductibles on everyone except if you had a government healthcare policy or a policy through a corporation based on Obamacare. This year a family member’s policy will go to $700 a month (300% raise since Obamacare took root) with a deductible raised to $7150 a year. It was $2000. in 2009. Are you aware and understand what Juvenile Diabetes is? That it is an autoimmune disease with no cure? That inventions to aide this disease have eased the pain of multiple daily insulin needles and blood sugar pricks (up to 10 each a day). That these electronic inventions have brought 1950’s technology into the 21st century? So, guess what, Obamacare aka .gov policies do not cover any GMS (glucose monitoring systems-1 prick every 3 days in stead of 30 for 3 days) and pods and pumps (once again 1 prick every 3 days in stead of 30 needles for 3 days)? I know this because I know of JD’s who made the mistake of getting a .gov plan. I know the suffering that Obamacare has rendered financially for all JD’s. Grow up, you are so naive.

  18. And you clearly don’t know what you’re talking about.
    Companies go into Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in order to realign and reorganize. And yes, that can happen to any company, and while it IS an indication that whoever is in charge is stupid and needs to be fired, It is by no means an indication that the company is not on solid ground. If it makes something useful and can reorganize it’s assets, chances are good it will come back out of Chapter 11 and continue trading – and until then, it is protected from stock runs and also prevented from doing anything that will further degrade the value of it’s stock. If it fails to effectively reorganize, as in fact a bit over fifty percent do, it’s liquidated and the value remaining is divided among it’s creditors.
    However, Chapter 11 is NOT available to individuals. PERSONAL bankruptcy is the state of being unable to pay your personally assured creditors and having less than sufficient assets to cover the shortfall in any reasonable period. And that IS a situation of disrepute and failure. A bankrupt person has certain limitations laced upon them for the duration of their bankruptcy, including being unable to be on the board of companies. Those restrictions disappear once the person discharges their bankruptcy (i.e. pays off a court-mandated percentage of their original debt, which may or may not be required to be done within a certain timeframe).
    Trump hasn’t just bankrupted companies (and btw, NONE of those companies escaped liquidation), but has been PERSONALLY bankrupt. And that shows a failure to administrate.

  19. If naivete is to care about other people and try and help them, call me naive, please.
    I’m not sure why you’re even bringing up Obamacare, given no one else here has even mentioned it.

  20. If the best you can do is “Her husband did something wrong!” I think I can pretty easily discard the idea that Hillary is corrupt as a derangement.

  21. Nope, Trump is just the opposite. Kevin, I see that you are replying to most of the replies to Goldman’s article. Is this your Patheos site or do you just like to denounce Trump? Are you a Hillary supporter who believes she has no faults?

  22. Eff, no. Hillary Clinton has MANY faults, she’s almost certainly a bit fast on the trigger when it comes to using military force, she has an unfortunate aversion to telling the public what’s really going on (even when it would be in her best interests to do so), some of the land deals in her past are admittedly shady…there’s a lot not to like, and I don’t blame anyone for not liking her, though I do take umbrage at some of the outright lies that have been spread about her.
    But all that said, she’s a far better choice than that fool in bad hairpiece.
    Honestly, there isn’t a single issue Trump hasn’t backtracked on, sometimes repeatedly. He has NO actual policies, unless you count “building a wall”, which is an insane idea, and “being a racist.” Which he is.
    Attacking Trump is shooting fish in a barrel – it’s not even fun anymore. This narcissistic moron has fooled a bunch of people into thinking he has answers, when all he has is an ego the size of Manhattan.

  23. So, Kevin, I missed an “ed” to make a past tense. So what my editor was asleep. I know all about how the South did not vote for civil rights but they were indeed Democrats and it was indeed liberal or otherwise Republicans who supported civil rights liberal. But sanctuary cities do indeed create victims. It just happened again in Philadelphia. Now it may be that you don’t understand what this policy is in practice. Convicted criminal felons who are illegal immigrants (you know, have jumped the line of immigrants doing the process of citizenship legally) are released and not handed over to ICE for deportation. These felons with multiple criminal histories are released and then go on to commit more crimes including murder and rape. The police in Philadelphia because of the stupid act of the mayor could not call ICE and that individual then raped a 5 year old girl. So too murders in Texas and Kate S. in San Francisco. They are the victims and so too are the multiple offenses these illegals have committed on others. Obamacare has made victims of many with lifelong diseases like Juvenile Diabetes. Obamacare will not pay for pumps, pods and glucose monitors, all computerized advances to JD and its autoimmune origins. Obamacare by fiat has sent JD care back to the 1950’s. (more victims) Let’s talk about the vast amount of victims created by economic policies sending jobs to Mexico and China. You do realize that companies go there because wages are so cheap. So what policies here have created the incentive for our companies to go to a foreign country and throw tens of thousands out of work here? Victims again. And Black Lives Matter – oh please! Obama’s silence and Beer Summit at the beginning of his presidency has created multiple police victims and destruction of property. Our rights are enumerated in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution and created by our Father in Heaven not some group of flawed legislators. BTW, very poor history on your part Democrats were never “conservative”. As my friend has said many times, she was a Casey Democrat (the father not the son) but had to leave the Democrat Party because it became the party of socialism and rejected a whole group of innocence for political sake. So your statement of “opening the rights of others creates NO victims” is a total non sequitur. I never said that I wanted to take anyones rights away but the Democratic Party certainly does create victims by its policies. They are everywhere. I am not a racist and I am not a bigot, in fact I am a mutt of 3 culturally diverse immigrants. But I am a Roman Catholic who will fight for my religious freedom and I will not leave my beliefs at the door like so many Democrat RC’s in Congress today.

  24. Fine. Your beliefs are your own, and more power to you for them – I honestly do not care what you believe…until or unless you shove it in my face. When that happens, I get to push back.and I most certainly will.
    First, our rights are ours by the power of our taking them. We have the rights enumerated in the Constitution because men and women fought and struggled and died for them – no gods were involved, and none were needed, just as none are needed now.
    Second, you are clearly utterly ignorant of what a right is. You claim that they make victims, but when challenged, all you can point to are government policies that you don’t like. Even if every word you’ve written is 100% true, none of it matters to the question at hand, so it’s nothing but garbage.
    And finally, the point of Black Lives Matter is to make people aware of and reduce the high rate of police on Black violence in the United States that exists at this time. If you oppose that, then despite your protestations, you are indeed a bigot and a racist.

  25. Hillary played pay for play with her position at State and hide her emails in order to hide her activities. And it is her hypocrisy that is so contemptible. It is her lying that is so indefensible.

  26. Non sequiturs again, Kevin. The policies as mentioned above are all Democratic ones. I am not ignorant of what a right is – I was actually taught Government in high school and university. Perhaps you have never learned that rights come with responsibilities i.e. not lying to the people, not using lies of omission to hide the truth. Our rights are not created by congress or the Supreme Court. They are inalienable rights as declared in our founding documents. They are inseparable from our being. They are inherent in our being. But there are a whole lot of beings to which rights are denied. Laws were created to define those rights and Presidents of the United States should not pick and choose which laws he doesn’t enforce. That is what the Congress is for – changing the law. And government agencies are not law makers. There are a whole lot of black Christians who are waking up to the slaughter of their unborn children and the industry who murders them. Why do black communities use their perceived persecution to riot and destroy the very businesses that raise up their communities? to destroy their very communities? And when a president that they voted for is mum???…he becomes responsible for the deaths and destruction created by his silence.

  27. Yet, no evidence that any of that actually occurred has emerged. She probably was less than secure in her choice of email server, but that isn’t all that big a deal.

  28. No non sequiturs present. “inalienable” is a nice sentiment that means nothing – since any or all of the rights in the Constitution and Declaration , save perhaps only the pursuit of happiness, can easily be removed and thus “alienated”. Unless we strive for and protect our rights, they will disappear.
    Okay, so you know what a right is. You still haven’t shown how any of them can possibly create victims, and your examples remain policies, not rights, regardless of who’s policies they are.
    Why do black communities riot? Because they are treated by our society as second class citizens, discriminated against and defecated upon by our institutions and our police. And Obama, the President of ALL Americans, is silent because there is nothing he can do or say that will make the situation any better.

  29. Evidence and links to Bill’s payments are all over the news and in published books. But of course the MSM is replete with lies of omission in order to protect her. The approval of the Russian controlling interest in our only uranium mine is case in point. She approved the deal and Bill one month later was in Russia collecting a $500,000. pay off. The Clinton record in Haiti is despicable. From an exclusive telephone company given to her brother to gold contracts that rip off the government and people of Haiti to promised housing and enterprise zones never built, the list is raw. The latest – the Clinton Foundation paid for the daughter’s wedding. That one doesn’t surprise me one wit because small businesses run (a legal loophole) personal expenses like mortgages through their businesses but it is a huge no-no for a so called charitable foundation to do it. The list is long-@20 deals revealed to date. Google them. She broke the law, she was protected by Obama and Loretta Lynch. What the heck do you think that meet on the plane tarmac was all about? Their families? Please? It’s all an enormously big deal. The FBI can present evidence all it wants; it’s the Justice Department that decides to prosecute. Poor stupid Hillary had to be protected because she was supposed to be the President, the first women president (faux weeping by me for her, awwww!). Did we ever skirt that disaster broad, that disaster family or what! No new selling of the Lincoln bedroom for political favors. (and Yep that is exactly what the Clintons did when Bill was president.

  30. Kevin, Kevin, Kevin – where did I say that rights create victims? Are you asking and answering your own questions. I never said that at all. I said Democrat policies, like Sanctuary cities and Obamacare and abortion on demand were creating victims and gave you a list of such. And, please, don’t point out Roe vs Wade — slavery in this country was once legal too. And, please, one speech to the black communities about the rioting by the famously Black president would have stopped it. Just ask Philadelphia’s black ex – mayor, Nutter (BTW, he was educated by Jesuits). When the black children of mostly middle class Philadelphians routinely went on wilding events in Phila. he stepped up. Those wilding riots had 30 to 40 so teens rush a store like a city neighborhood pharmacy or department store, pocket aka steal as much as possible and then rush out of the store and flee en masse down the streets intimidating pedestrians and traffic. Mayor Nutter went systematically to the black churches on Sundays and asked the parents if they knew what their children were doing. Guess what? the wilding events soon stopped. Obama remained silent. He remained silent because he believes the bologna that you just typed. I am not saying that there aren’t needs in that community but the evidence of black middle class american is all over the city of Philadelphia.

  31. I will quote you directly: ” “Opening Rights” except for the victims they create by not sticking to the US Constitution”. You still have not shown any such victims. (Come to that, how could Obamacare create victims? You may have had to change providers or policies, but where are the victims in letting millions of people get health insurance they could never have gotten before?)
    Okay, now explain Watts, or the Rodney King riots. And please, also, explain why you attempted to conflate the all-but entirely violence free rallies conducted by BLM with violent rioting.

  32. And if actual evidence of this existed, where are the prosecutions? Don’t give me garbage about the Justice Department – pretty much everything you’ve stated could be prosecuted by any state prosecutor in an affected state. Violation of the terms of a charitable institution would have involved the SEC or the IRS, both of which have their own prosecutors.
    I have no problem believing the Clintons have had some shady dealings. Maybe they did break the law. But if even half the things they’ve been accused of were true she’d be in jail. It all smells like a world-class smear job to me.

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