Beware of the ‘Trojan horse,’ particularly when it comes with piles of cash

“The Procession of the Trojan Horse into Troy,” Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1727–1804), the National Gallery, London, used under Creative Commons licensing terms

In the world of politics and international intrigue, one of the oldest stratagems is that of the “Trojan horse.” This is the use of a deception or a trick to overcome the defenses and protection of an adversary.

This applies to everything: computer safety, viruses that attack their hosts, predatory behavior from evolutionary adaptation like spiders evolved to appear like ants, and mostly politics. The warning we have today is “beware of Greeks bearing gifts.”

The saying comes from one of the great tales from the Classical Age. It refers to subterfuge used by the ancient Greeks during the Trojan War, led by the trickster warrior Odysseus, as described in the epic Greek poem the Odyssey. The wily Odysseus and his fellow Greek warriors snuck out of the wooden horse at night that had been left as a fake tribute to the Trojans, whose city they could not conquer by force after years of war.

For those not familiar with the great story in epic Greek poems written by Homer, the Iliad and its successor the Odyssey, written in the 7th or 8th century BC, the summary by the British Museum is as good as any: “The Greeks finally win the war by an ingenious piece of deception dreamed up by the hero and king of Ithaca, Odysseus—famous for his cunning. They build a huge wooden horse and leave it outside the gates of Troy, as an offering to the gods, while they pretend to give up battle and sail away. Secretly, though, they have assembled their best warriors inside. The Trojans fall for the trick, bring the horse into the city and celebrate their victory. But when night falls, the hidden Greeks creep out and open the gates to the rest of the army, which has sailed silently back to Troy.”

The deception is the horse. It is dragged in willingly by the fooled Trojans. It is the Trojans who willingly opened the gates of impregnable Troy. In being fooled, they created the tragic events that ended in Troy’s violent and horrible fall.

The danger lies in the victim accepting the false promise and false gift.

I worked in the Washington State Legislature for the House Democratic Caucus for two sessions, and left in late 2000. One legislative issue that arose during my time there was the expansion of gambling. The proverbial Trojan horse used by the so-called “gambling industry” and its cronies were gaming rooms that were part of a wider spread of this “industry” to become the blight we see today widely in most states, eating away at our communities and wrecking countless lives.

Even though I was not a power player, I knew where the enabling legislation was going, and sadly, we are in that dark space now. This happened nationally too—36 states have legalized sports gambling alone as of now.

The lesson, really, is quite simple. Wherever there are piles of cash, with almost no ability to trace its origins, there is corruption. This eventually will eat its host from all sides.

There is no virtue with corruption either. Corruption knows no boundary by party, nationality, country, or by so-called “virtue” of the people who are sucked up in opportunities to gain personally.  Corruption may be one of the great equalizers in the world.

Today, it’s always best to be aware of that proverbial Trojan horse. They come in all shapes and sizes. They are never what they appear to be. Sadly, the horse will usually be accepted with open arms and people fooled. People will cry alarms over the horse, and will be ignored and punished.