The Fraudacity of Hope: Bush’s Faith-Based Triumph
Having just revised a draft of a book about the Rapture and the Tribulation (I’ll be reminding you of it, obsessively, as the date of its publication gets closer, in about a year), I’ve had many occasions to ask myself, my wife, my daughter, and our dogs, “How can these people actually believe this idiocy?”
To which all of them, dogs included, reply, “Are you new here? It’s a religion, you ninny.”
They’re right. It is. It’s the only explanation possible and the only explanation necessary. Leaving aside the “ninny” part, the analysis “it’s a religion” means, among other things:
1. It’s a system of ultimate values, the validity of which is axiomatic.
2. Its communal identity is based on the acceptance of a series of myths, i.e., agreed-upon stories about events, perpetrated by and upon an agreed-upon group of people, set in the distant past.
3. Those events were caused and/or reacted to by a superhuman deity, the existence (and the characteristics) of which are also axiomatic.
4. The meaning of those events, back then, have placed us, today, under certain obligations. Those of us who fulfill these obligations are virtuous and will be rewarded. Those of us who don’t are sinners, and will be punished.
5. Those who disagree with our whole system are, by definition, wrong and, ipso facto, evil.
6. These tenets not only require no proof, but a demand for proof is itself inimical to the entire system, and therefore evil. Belief in the system is not a virtue; it’s a requirement.
7. This belief, unsupported by proof and indifferent to refutation, is called “faith.”
I put it to you, reader, that what we have just described is the Republican Party as it exists now, in the year of our, or their, or at least somebody’s, Lord, 2007.
Call them what you will–“the dead enders,” “the 27%,” “the Bush zombies,” etc.–what we can also call them is “the faithful.” They think Iraq is basically going well. They approve of Bush. (Some of them, in a display of faith worthy of a martyred saint, even approve of Cheney.) They think that calls to bring the troops home constitute treason, while calls to send them to be killed and maimed to preserve a nation that doesn’t want to preserve itself constitutes “supporting the troops.”
Bush is their messiah, the regular-guy, son-of-man, not-a-spoiled-rich-kid prince-of-peace-who-comes-with-a-sword. Yes, he went, on legacy entrance, to Andover, Yale, and Harvard–but at least he had the decency to fuck off and get mediocre grades. Yes, he did drugs and chased tail and burned frat pledges in the ass with red-hot clothes hangers–but he was “young and irresponsible.” Yes, in his childhood he stuck firecrackers into live frogs and took pleasure in watching them blow up–but who didn’t?
Bush combines the two myths they love the most: the prodigal son, whose very badness of character serves as the basis for his redemption; and the unappreciated, scorned, highly-principled loner, who in one story chases the moneylenders from the temple, and in another dares “take on” Saddam Hussein.
These are the people, remember, for whom every day is a battle with modernity. You say to them, “No one, from the loathsome Kristol to the despicable Rumsfeld to the detestable Wolfowitz to the mendacious Rice, has accepted any responsibility or faced any consequences for this nightmare.” They say to you, “Why should they? We blame Satan.” They define themselves by everything they don’t do and praise themselves for everything they don’t know. Meanwhile, their preachers, on Fox and talk radio and in the blogs, regularly renew the zeal of the flock by flattering them for their complacency, and then issuing hellfire denunciations of the amusingly naïve, the stupidly misled, or the actively evil, all of whom are “liberals.”
And so on and so on–and all of it as hermetically sealed from external influence as a submarine or a space station.
This, then, is Bush’s final triumph: to have proclaimed his favorite philosopher to be Jesus Christ, to have commandeered a political party with professions of born-again faith, and to have tied the fate of that party to the most literal, xenophobic, reactionary, and supremely ignorant of American religious movements, only to have wrecked the party and retained the religion.
As Sidney Blumenthal, among others, has noted, the Bush administration evolved from one that promoted a faith-based initiative to one that was a faith-based initiative. Now even the initiative as gone blooey and all that’s left is the faith, which is indistinguishable from wishful thinking. Faith in Petraeus. Faith in “the surge.” Faith in how bad liberals are. Faith in Bush as “a good Christian man.” Faith that Bush is somehow the heir of the departed Saint Reagan. Faith in Bush’s ability to look someone–Putin, Sarkozy, whoever–in the eye and intuitively (i.e., magically) know “his soul.”
This religious or pseudo-religious simplicity (or, rather, simplemindedness) is surely one of the things that has appealed to Bush from the start of his political career. Of course, it is impossible to believe that anything about Bush’s “faith” is remotely sincere. (It goes without saying that he hardly ever attends church–a fact which one Christian apologist for Bush called “refreshing” since, of course, Clinton went to church.) From his mockery of a woman on Death Row to his deception of the entire country in taking it to war, with Christians like this, who needs heathens?
But you can see its attraction. Salvation by faith: Accept J.C., go to Heaven. Period. Good works? Tithing? Loving thy neighbor? Firing thy criminal underlings? Crossing at the green and not in between? Optional.
What could be more suited to Bush’s narrow outlook, simmering insecurities, and intellectual laziness? What could require less effort, less moral self-scrutiny, less honesty, less accountability to others, and still put him in good standing with the decent, God-fearing imbeciles of the Texas (“We are a Christian nation”) G.O.P.?
When 9-11 came, this plain-spoken, “spiritual” certainty suited the national mood of trauma and anger–because when you’re angry, everything is black and white. “If you aren’t with us, you’re against us.” “They hate us for our freedom.” “…there is an Axis of Evil.”
Four years, three-thousand-plus American deaths in Iraq, tens of billions of dollars, and a million lies later, with every Cabinet office compromised by hacks, government agencies as polluted by pro-party bias as anything ever dreamt of by Stalin, and a roster of corrupt Congressmen and Senators that grows and grows like Pinocchio’s nose, this is who remains in the stands cheering for W: the faithful, the ones for whom he has never changed because he has always been and always will be, like Jesus, a fantasy figure.
This is who Coulter, O’Reilly, Limbaugh, and Hannity are stuck with, too, as their role has degraded from “pundit” to “personality” to “preacher.” Their shtik has deteriorated to self-parody; they rant nonsense from the pulpit, huffing and puffing in moral indignation in an increasingly desperate effort to remind the least brain-dead of their audience whom to hate.
The Democratic electorate, after seven years of lies by the right and feeble collusion and enabling by the media and the Democratic Congress, wants only to hear their candidates say something identifiably true. Yes, it’s come to that. “Vision” and “leadership” are fine, but first we have to wake up from two terms of hypnosis, fear, and endless (and ongoing) propaganda.
Whereas on the right, all they want is for their candidates to say something everyone hopes is true, or wants to be true, or already believes to be true because it should be true. It doesn’t matter whether it is true or not, because the faithful are not in the market for evidence, info, or facts. They’re watching Fox, listening to Rush (or James Dobson), and waiting–achingly–for the Rapture. And they’re doing it, not only because it’s easy and comforting and makes them feel victimized, offended, and wronged (which makes them feel good), but because it’s virtuous. They do it because, like eating Quaker Oats used to be, it’s the right thing to do.
How does that equip them to deal with reality? It doesn’t. How does it lead to a decent politics that might generate results in their own interest? It doesn’t. How does it make them anything but dupes, pawns, and suckers? It doesn’t. What kind of a Republican Party is that?
It’s a religion, you ninny.