ON Aug 21, 2017, millions of people in the United State will experience a total solar eclipse. The timing of this astronomical event is such that the moon’s shadow will completely obscure the light of the sun for several minutes in the middle of the day. The skies will suddenly darken and stars will be visible and for several minutes a good portion of the North American continent will be denied the light of the sun.
Donald Trump was born during an eclipse, and some of the same planetary constellations that occurred on that date are supposed to be reactivated next week. It is the confluence of the two events, a presidency full of fire and fury and an astrological occurrence that is rare and ominous, that has many darkly predicting that the eclipse will be a harbinger of destruction.
Prominent among the soothsayers are astrologers who claim to have constructed detailed astrological charts based on Trump’s exact date and time of birth along with America’s own birth chart. While many of these same astrologers were incorrect in their predictions regarding Trump’s actual victory, they cling on to hope. The eclipse, they are now saying, could augur destruction and tumult for a military leader, pointing out that the president of the US, being the commander-in-chief, is technically a military leader. And, to give plenty of room for their prediction to come true, they are also predicting that the astrological effects of the eclipse are likely to be felt over two years after the actual event.
Some wild theories have emerged about the approaching total solar eclipse that will be visible to many in the United States.
Unlike astrologers, religious groups and conspiracy theorists aren’t banking on having that kind of time. Many evangelical Christian groups in the US are already saying that the eclipse is a sign of the impending apocalypse or Judgement Day. A Christian prophecy website called Unsealed has said that the eclipse will mark the beginning of a seven-year period called Tribulation, during which 75 per cent of the world’s population will be eliminated. The website, which takes care to assert that it is not an end-of-the-world prediction site, correlates various Bible verses to produce prophecies.
The Exodus from Egypt that is mentioned in the Bible, the site says, presents a microcosm of a worldwide exodus that will commence with this solar eclipse. The dead centre of the eclipse is in the southern part of Illinois, an area that was once known as ‘Little Egypt’.
Then there is the fact that the first place that the eclipse will be visible is the town of Salem in the state of Oregon. Salem, of course, is the shortened version of ‘Jerusalem’ a place that is supposed to play a significant role in the last days before the Day of Judgement.
Another Christian website insists that the beginning of the end of the world was 1947, the year the state of Israel was created. Since 70 years have passed from that date, and that period is the duration of a Biblical ‘generation’, the time for the end is upon us now.
These believers in end-times and apocalyptic predictions are not just ordinary Americans, the readers of tabloids and prophecy sites. Steve Bannon, one of Donald Trump’s most controversial advisers, has long held the belief that the current age is an apocalyptic one and that the end of the world is near and destruction imminent. It is not known whether Bannon believes that the solar eclipse will bring on the end or whether it will take place at some later date.
Astrologers and others in the business of producing ominous prophecies around unusual events are experts in taking vague truths and then extrapolating other events from them. There is just enough truth in them to make people pause, and some of the people who pause, particularly those given to superstition, are likely to believe them. In the case of predicting some sort of destruction to be visited on the Trump presidency, there are many takers. The weeks leading up to the eclipse have presented the possibility of nuclear war, racial discord and economic upheaval. With America, the world’s lone superpower, in such turmoil, it is perhaps no surprise that a total eclipse in America is an occasion for many to forecast the eclipsing of America as a world power, the beginning of a descent, the start of something bad.
The eclipse will not be visible in Pakistan. Given all the sad predictions associated with it, it is perhaps just as well. In recent weeks, a prime minister has resigned and people have taken to the streets. The tumult of these happenings is hopefully all that Pakistan and Pakistanis will have to bear of the astrological instability caused by the eclipse.
Ominous times come with few guarantees, of course, and this moment involved the odd confluence of astrology and foreign policy. If there is regime change in the US, the rest of the world’s financial markets and foreign aid coffers are likely to see immediate and ongoing impact. If, as the astrological forecast portends, some literal destruction initiated by the US does occur, then the consequences will have to be borne by Pakistan as well. An attack on North Korea, initiated by a beleaguered president eager for a distraction from his political woes, will have a tremendous impact on Southeast Asia. With China taken up with the fallout, Pakistan will be left without the buddy it has got so used to relying on.
An American eclipse is thus a matter that concerns everyone, near and far, willing and unwilling. It should, however, be somewhat comforting for Pakistanis to watch from a distance, to consider the possibilities and laugh at the inanities. For once, predictions of the end of days, of annihilation and destruction, do not involve the near and close, but the very, very far away. It will be the middle of the night in Pakistan when the eclipse happens in America; the skies will already be dark, with nothing to fear and nothing to see.
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2017