Four Years Ago Yesterday, I wrote this…

Published November 6, 2020

The prostitution of the prolife Christian movement to this visible-from-space fraud and its near-complete willingness to sacrifice every shred of its credibility to defending every filthy thing this man says and does is the greatest catastrophe to afflict the prolife movement since Roe. Indeed, it is greater since Roe was an attack from outside while this entire disaster is totally self-inflicted. The prolife Christian movement, both in its leadership and among the rank-and-file, has almost completely discredited itself and made clear that its *primary* mission is no longer defending the unborn, but defending every Right Wing culture of death priority (and indeed every vile thing) this man says and does.

Nothing has changed since I wrote that except the increasing gravity and corruption of MAGA Christianity in pursuit of its monomaniac goal of raw, nihilist power. It seized the Nine Rings of Power Trump offered and now they are slaves to his will. Whatever noble purpose they thought they once had is gone. Their sole Non-Negotiable is not the Unborn and still less the gospel, but simply the glory of Donald Trump, and all his works, and all his pomps, and all his empty promises.

One consequence of that is that the Cult, like the Nazgul, cannot see by plain daylight, but can only see in shadows and its perception of normal human things is tinted with darkness and a perverse will to see only evil.

In this contest, the reality has not been (as the deranged enemy of the Holy Father, Abp Vigano says) a “war between the Children of Darkness and the Children of Light”, but a struggle between Normals who understand they are electing a mortal, sinful, but decent and competent human being with flaws vs. a deranged theopolitical cult who believe they are anointing a messianic savior against whom are arrayed the incarnate powers of Hell.

Because the Cult is blinded by this apocalyptic theopolitical ideology and steeped in pride, it cannot permit itself to recognize the humanity of its enemies. It is a Bronze Age Cult that calls for jihad and herem–because it sees its foes not as human, but as demons. So this MAGA Catholic hungers for the triumph of his god-king in order that the boots and firing squads can set to work purging those he hates:

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And Steve Bannon goes on the air, just like an ISIS Imam, to literally demand the beheading of Dr. Anthony Fauci and the FBI Director. The enemies list for the Cult is long and detailed for it is a Cult of Spite and Hate, perfumed with a false piety that sees its hate as the Justice of God against devils. Any admission of the humanity of those it seeks to destroy gets in the way of that project.

But for Normals, stories like this are like water in the desert, even if you may have your disagreements with Biden (as I, in fact, do):

One Sunday morning a few weeks after the interview, before the issue had even gone to press, my son, almost 7, awoke with a headache. His eyes began to close. It got worse quickly, and within an hour he was airlifted to a children’s hospital. My wife, Sarah, rode with him in the helicopter, and our other son and I drove 90 on the highway.

There was a brain surgery he almost didn’t survive. Then another. Doctors said words to us, and we tried to make sense of them.

Leukemia…aggressive…there was a hemorrhage…craniotomy…we just don’t know…

Sometime during the fever dream of that first week, an email came through: a PDF of the Biden interview, ready for the printer—these get sent around to the staff automatically. I read it, twice.

“We’ve always taken care of each other.”

Late at night, lying awake on the pull-out hospital bed, I sent a note to Hunter. I thanked him and his dad—their candor that day in Maryland, and the things they said, were replaying in my head. It was helping, and I just wanted him to know. I was trying to mute the terrifying words we were hearing in the hospital by amplifying their stories of getting back up again and again and again.

The next day I was sitting alone in my son’s room on the ICU—Sarah had gone for soup. His head was wrapped in gauze, his eyes swollen shut. Machines beeped softly around him, and he lay perfectly still under the hospital sheets.

Our boy.

Just then, my phone rang: a weird number. I answered. It was the sitting vice president of the United States.

“Ryan, it’s Joe Biden. Dammit I’m so sorry. What happened?”

I told him, as best I could, functioning as I was on little food or sleep. He spoke in detail of the brain aneurysm he had suffered in 1988, how it felt, what the doctors had done for him, and whether there were any similarities here. He offered to put me in touch with experts in the fields of cancer and brain injury. He was searching, asking questions, trying to be of use.

“I’m s’damn sorry, Ryan.”

The next day, he called again, this time with the name of someone he thought might be helpful.

A couple of months later, I got another call: The vice president was going to be in New York, and wanted to know whether it would be convenient for my wife and me to see him. Our son had been transferred to Memorial Sloan-Kettering for treatment, and one or both of us was with him day and night. But the nurses said they would look after him for an hour while we went across town to see Joe Biden.

We found ourselves in a small room off a ballroom at a hotel where he had just given a speech. There was no one in there, really—a couple of Secret Service agents, his scheduling person, a few others. He saw us, strode over, and the first thing he did was just hug us. Both of us at once, his long arms around us, tight, three people standing there as one for a good minute.

Our arms loosened, we stood back. His suit jacket was a little rumpled.

We waited for him to talk first. His eyes were wet, and he said, “How’s your boy?” Joe Biden was crying for us, because he knew how it was when the pain feels like it will never end.

There were no cameras. There was no one filming. He wasn’t running for anything. He was just doing what you do, as a human, even when no one’s watching.

The deepest tragedy of MAGA Christianity is that a story like this is reflexively greeted by the Cult, not with gladness that Biden has human qualities, but with sneering contempt, followed by an instant impulse to bat it away, to diminish it, to inflate in any way possible the thought that Joe Biden’s humanity must be crushed and stamped out and anything–even a lie–that annihilates Joe Biden must be clung to with both hands as a drowning man seizes a rope.

C.S. Lewis describes this horrifying spiritual phenomenon, now raging like a wildfire through MAGA Christianity:

Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

Of course, the danger of looking at the abyss of MAGA malignancy is that the abyss looks into you. You can come to hate its practitioners easily (it is a constant struggle with me at any rate). And in hating it, you can come to mirror it by the strange mystery of sin–to wish their hearts blacker than they may truly be.

This, I think, is one of the central reasons Jesus commands the very difficult chore of forgiving and loving our enemies. The idea that this command makes Christians superior to others increasingly strikes me like the claim that pancreatic cancer victims are superior to lung cancer victims. The reality is that the command is given, not because Christians have some sort of claim to superiority over anybody, but because we are mean sons of bitches who find it hard to forgive other sons of bitches and Jesus is telling us “Do the forgiveness chemo or die from cancer. That’s the deal.” There’s nothing about being on chemo to brag about. But there is hope that Jesus might be able to heal me of the burning hatred and resentment I struggle with everyday as I react to these awful, broken people.

I find people like Biden a sign of hope, not because I think he will avenge me on my enemies (virtually all Trump has offered his cult for years), nor because I see in him a Savior, but because I see a garrulous mortal, a somewhat goofy senior, a man party to some shitty political acts and to some very decent political acts: in a word, a man. But a man who has suffered deeply and grown from it rather than be embittered by it. That cannot happen without grace and it consoles me that I might find that grace despite my countless sins and failures. Because I am just a sinful man too.

I don’t want a life that’s about vengeance. I can’t build a life on protest. I don’t want or expect the Millennium from a President. I fear few things more than Great Men Promising Greatness. I’ll take a mortal who says he’ll do his best and who, when people aren’t looking, does the decent thing because it’s the decent thing and goes to confession when he screws up.

That’s not nearly enough for the Greatest, Purest and Best Catholics of All Time who have long ago excommunicated me by the Authority invested in their keyboard. But it seems to be good enough for Christ.

6 Responses

  1. “The epistemic capture in the US of (mostly) poor and working class whites by conservatives, billionaires and propagandists is one of the great social engineering success stories of the last half century. This includes an informational ecosystem that’s easy to get into and hard to get out of because it simultaneously stimulates fear and anger responses, degrades one’s own ability to reason, and breeds mistrust in outside sources and political points of view. In other words: cult conditioning.” – John Scalzi

    1. “The revolution wasn’t some sort of garden party, right?”
      Right. So Trumps’ twisted mentat is now channeling, verbatim, none other than Mao Zedong? Quick, someone ask Bannon if he thinks the Bolsheviks were justified by military necessity in executing the Romanov children…

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