The price one pays for not having empathy is the impossibility of imagining how someone else thinks and feels. This is why those Republicans in North Carolina and other states object to transgendered people using the rest room they’re comfortable with. It’s because they—the Republicans—can’t imagine the possibility of a transgendered person simply using a bathroom for the obvious reason of relieving himself or herself. No, these Republicans think there has to be something sexual about it. I always wonder why prudes–which is what Republicans tend to be, especially religious ones—are so hung up on sex.
Well, for starters, they need some group to hate on, to prove their moral superiority. They can’t hate on blacks anymore—they lost that one. They can’t hate on gays anymore—lost that one, too. Who’s left? Muslims, obviously, and Mexicans, and—well, actually, if you’re a Republican, there are still a lot of groups to hate on, including blacks and gays. But if you’re on the witch hunt for a shiny, brand new sexual group to hate on—and what Republican isn’t?—there’s always transgenders.
And so we have Trump declaring war on the transgendered community by making it easier for mean states, like North Carolina, to discriminate against them. Trump’s new Attorney-General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, wasn’t in office for 24 hours before his Justice Department announced it is undoing an Obama decision to challenge bans, like the one North Carolina seeks to impose; the Tarheel State would force transgendered people to use the rest room associated with their birth gender, not their gender identity.
I’ve known lots of transgendered people and, believe me, they use the rest room for the same reason you and I do. Why do Republicans think there has to be some sinister, nasty sexual thing going on? That’s in their heads; it doesn’t correspond to reality, which, come to think about it, puts it in the realm of “alternative facts,” right up there with the Bowling Green Massacre and “Five million illegals voted in 2016” and “I saw thousands of Muslims celebrating after Sept. 11” and “Obama isn’t a U.S. citizen.” Now, those four lies are motivated simply for political reasons—to prey upon the ignorance and prejudices of a majority of Republican voters. But to appreciate the really twisted, neurotic aspect of being a Republican these days, you have to think along the following lines:
“I’m a male with normal male (i.e. heterosexual) desires. I’d love to be able to go into women’s rest rooms to peek at them and maybe do bad stuff. But if I did, I’d get arrested. So I think I’ll cut off my penis, have sex reassignment surgery, and act and dress like a woman. Then I can legally go into women’s rest rooms without fear of being arrested.”
Now, if these Republicans had empathy, they might realize on their own that imputing such motives to transgenders is insane; nobody would go to such extremes just to sneak into a rest room. If they can’t realize it naturally, they might do some research into the phenomenon of feeling like you were born into the wrong gender. There’s lots of research out there. If they’re too lazy to read studies, they might try talking to transgendered people and ask them if they really do go into bathrooms with nasty thoughts in mind. But talking to people you hate—trying to understand them—requires empathy, doesn’t it? So we’ve come full circle.
Ever since I’ve followed politics, the Republican Party has been the anti-sex party. I don’t know what it is about them; I suspect Republicans like sex as much as Democrats do (those Protestant preachers who get caught in sex scandals and those Roman Catholic clergymen who molest little girls and boys certainly seem like they enjoy sex!). Democrats tend to have a live-and-let-live philosophy. That’s the way I feel. I don’t care what you do or who you do it with as long as it’s consensual. And I couldn’t care less if a transgendered man used the men’s locker room at my gym. In fact, I’m sure they do; there are a couple “guys” who I think weren’t born that way. But, hey, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. It shouldn’t bother Republicans in the slightest. The funny thing is, we now have a Republican President whose own sexual history is truly repugnant—not only an adulterer but a serial sexual assaulter as well (and possibly, if the Russian dossier ever turns up, a devotee of prostitutes and kink*). This is the guy leading the war against law-abiding transgendered Americans? Wow. (By the way, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, who’s now in charge of defending the law, told the Weekly Standard that non-consensually grabbing a woman “by the pussy…would not amount to sexual assault.”)
*Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against prostitutes or kink. Just saying…
Here’s what we know: Republican constituents are showing up at town hall meetings across the country, warning their congressmen that if they lose their health insurance coverage, they’re gonna be mad as hell and throw them out of office.
Here’s what we don’t know: Whether these are the same people who, a few years ago, showed up at town meetings demanding that Obamacare be repealed.
There are several possibilities. One: We know from polls that lots of Republicans don’t comprehend that “Obamacare” is the same thing as the “Affordable Care Act.” In fact, it looks like about one out of every three Americans suffers from this delusional “alternative fact.” That’s about 30%. Now, that’s about the same percentage that would vote for a Republican if they ran, say, Peewee Herman. Frankly, it’s hard for me to believe that any Democrat doesn’t understand that Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act are the same thing, and I bet you feel that way, too. Dems are smart! So we’re really looking at one-third of the country that’s solidly tea party-evangelical-Republican being completely wrong about something so important and so simple.
But that makes sense. These Republicans have hated on Obama and everything he stood for. They were vindictive, and wanted to hurt him (and his wife). So “Obamacare,” which bore the tyrant’s name, must be a good thing to get rid of. Right?
But there’s a second possibility that’s far more troubling, and that concerns the intelligence level of these people. Perhaps they never figured out that the insurance program they signed up for would disappear with the repeal of Obamacare. I mean, you’d think that’s obvious: after all, you can’t have the water turned off at your house and still expect H2O to flow when you open the faucet. But then, you—my readers—are intelligent enough to realize such simple mechanics of cause and effect. If you like “A” and you destroy “A,” you can no longer have “A.” This is why I have a theory that many, many people who voted for Trump don’t have the sense God gave grasshoppers.
I called the anti-Obamacare Republicans “vindictive” for a reason: the word means “revengeful in spirit.” Can you tell me a single actual, real thing about Obamacare that they didn’t like, beyond the fact that it bore his name? Seriously, what did Republicans have against it? Maybe it was the mandate. We can argue about that, but everybody knows that, from an actuarial standpoint, you can’t have a workable insurance system unless everybody, or nearly everybody, is covered. So I supported the mandate, but I know people who resented it, and they’re not necessarily bad.
What else? Did Republicans not like the “keep your kids under your policy until they’re 26”? Did Republicans not like the “pre-existing conditions” part? Did they not like the fact that States were free to comply with the law either through the Federal government or by setting up their own exchanges? Did they not like that private insurance companies were still allowed to run the show? (After all, Republicans love private enterprise.) But then, if 30% of Republicans think Obamacare is different from the Affordable Care Act, they’re not likely to have any comprehension of things like exchanges.
So, hence “vindictive.” Sheer, blind fury at President Obama. Unthinking, ignorant, pugnacious hatred. And it was stoked and taken advantage of by the most cynical, unscrupulous, mendacious person ever to run for President, much less win. Now, it’s funny to watch Repubs scramble. They can “repeal” but they can’t “replace.” They got what they asked for—unintended consequences!–and a whole lot more is coming their way.
You remember that classic scene from Chinatown, where Jake Gittes is interrogating Evelyn Mulwray?
Jake Gittes: I said I want the truth!
Evelyn Mulwray: She’s my sister…[slap]
Evelyn Mulwray: She’s my daughter…[slap]
Evelyn Mulwray: My sister, my daughter. [More slaps]
Jake Gittes: I said I want the truth!
Evelyn Mulwray: She’s my sister AND my daughter!
Let’s update that for some late-breaking developments from a certain cable news station:
Jake Gittes: Who are you? Tell me the truth!
Cable news station: CNN [slap]
Cable news station: Fox [slap]
Cable news station: CNN [slap]
Cable news station: Fox [slap]
Jake Gittes: I said I want the truth!
Cable news station: I’m CNN and Fox!
CNN has famously, or infamously, tried to position itself in between Fox’s rightwing craziness and MSNBC’s liberalism. This mushiness has not helped CNN’s ratings; it consistently ranks well behind Fox in viewership.
This is because CNN stands for nothing; in adapting its “both sides are entitled to an opinion,” it jettisoned its moral authority by normalizing Donald Trump and equating blatant falsehoods with truth. People don’t watch “nothing,” indeed, why should they? So now, CNN’s powers-that-be have decided that standing for nothing is not a winning strategy. What to do? Mimic the #1 cable news channel, Fox, and make a hard right turn.
On Wednesday I read, in the San Francisco Chronicle, that CNN has hired two new senior people, both drafted from Fox: Dave Briggs, who co-anchored “Weekend Fox and Friends,” and Stephen Moore, “former economics advisor for the Trump campaign, former consultant for Fox News [and] a Wall Street Journal contributor” (the WSJ is, of course, owned by Fox owner Rupert Murdoch).
Whatever prompted CNN President Jeff Zucker to cave? Well, CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, wants to buy AT&T, and Zucker wouldn’t be the first company head to make nice to a President in order to advance a deal that will make him richer than he already is. Zucker himself was quoted in the Chronicle that the reason he’s tacking Fox-ward is to appeal to “more conservative viewers because, you know, Trump and all.”
Well, at least he’s honest, if not particularly articulate. He’s also a coward, allowing himself to get pushed around by a bully who has shown no reluctance to use his power to intimidate people into doing his bidding. Trump has attacked CNN ferociously: for instance, on Jan. 12, shortly before being sworn in, he tweeted: #CNN is in a total meltdown with their FAKE NEWS because their ratings are tanking since election and their credibility will soon be gone! Zucker evidently felt that, rather than go against a sitting President, he might as well yield, and take it like a man.
But Zucker also is naïve, if he thinks CNN’s ratings can be improved by this appalling act of surrender. Republicans are not going to suddenly start watching CNN. They already have Fox “News,” not to mention right wing talk radio. All that this capitulation will do is alienate what few moderate viewers CNN retains.
It’s distressing to watch the demise of a once-glorious T.V. network. CNN invented cable news, with its historic 1980 founding by Ted Turner. It led us through the Reagan years, the Gulf War, Clinton’s impeachment, the 9/11 attacks, the Iraq War. It reigned supreme in live coverage; it was in fact—as Fox lies about being—“fair and balanced.” Now, CNN circles the drain in a desperate, doomed attempt to make the Tea Party like them. Poor Wolf Blitzer, to end his career like this. As a certain POTUS often tweets, #SAD!
Our United States Constitution provides for “the Removal of the President from Office” in only four cases: Impeachment (Article I Section 3) or “his Death, Resignation or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office” (Article II Section I).
Impeachment, we are pretty familiar with. Two Presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Impeachment is merely an indictment by the House; conviction and removal require a majority vote in the Senate. In the event, neither Johnson nor Clinton was convicted.
One of the three scenarios outlined in Article II Section I has, unfortunately, been played out too often in American history: the death of a President. Eight have died while in office: William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Harding, FDR and JFK. Our smooth Constitutional process ensured no period of uncertainty in any of those cases. As for resignation, only one President has quit: Richard Nixon. Which brings us to the last, final, fourth means by which a President may be removed from office: “the Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office.”
Since it’s never happened, we have only conjecture to guide us. What would constitute such an “Inability”? Physical illness, of course. Woodrow Wilson suffered a severe stroke in October, 1919, more than one year before his second term as President was due to expire. He was largely paralyzed afterwards, but remained in office. Years later, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was President, he was a sick man, hospitalized numerous times, and each time he temporarily transferred power to his Vice President, Nixon, but he never resigned. We thus have no experience in how to deal with a President who is physically unable to perform his or her duties.
What if a President is ill, not in a physical sense, but a mental one? This question has arisen, seemingly organically, since Trump was sworn in. Let’s conjure up a scenario–this is purely imaginary–in which his behavior becomes increasingly erratic. Let’s say it starts with a continuation of the lying for which he has become notorious. (The latest is his insistence that the U.S. murder rate is the highest in history, when in fact it is at a historically low level.)
Imagine that the lies continue unabated, and become increasingly tenuous. Perhaps a Court rules against him on some large matter. He lambastes the judges. No matter; he has suffered a defeat. He is defiant; there is talk of a Constitutional crisis: the Executive versus the Judiciary, each co-equal. What is to be done? The country is riven with debate; the halls of Congress roar with the din of controversy. What will happen? Suddenly, Trump tweets that he never took the position in the first place that the Court rejected. In fact (he tweets), he argued the exact opposite. Were it not for the dishonest media (the New York Times, CNN, NBC, ABC and so on), which falsely misrepresent his positions, everybody would have known his real position.
It is an outrageous lie. Privately, even his most ardent Republican supporters are aghast. Public pressure mounts for someone, somewhere, to do something—rein him in. Cracks in Trump’s wall of support appear. Ted Cruz suggests all is not well in the Oval office; Paul Ryan says, embarrassed, he can speak only for himself, not the President; Kellyanne Conway, under massive assault from the media, quits. Even O’Reilly, on Fox, wonders if the President is compos mentis. The question of the President’s sanity, his mental fitness—up to now just background chatter in Democratic politics—now boils forth upon the general body politic.
Suddenly, in the midst of this electricity, comes new news of Russian involvement in the 2016 election. Investigative journalists determine that, yes, Trump was in St. Petersburg at the time of the alleged sexual liaisons reported in the dossier. Meanwhile, the bipartisan Senate Judiciary Subcommittee, which had been holding closed-door hearings, issues a scathing report, which concludes that, not only did Russian intelligence blatantly hack into the DNC’s and Podesta’s emails, but they did so with the intention of getting Trump elected—and certain officials close to Trump—most visibly, Rudy Giuliani–strongly appear to have been complicit.
The country is now in full uproar. Trump again resorts to Twitter. “I never even met Rudy Giuliani until 2012,” he writes, despite dozens of photographs showing the two men together as long ago as 1985. Monster lies pile up, one after another. “I’ve never been to Russia.” “I criticized Wikileaks for releasing the emails.” And the capper: “Why does the crooked media say I admire Putin? He’s a bad man. So-called reporters are the most dishonest people in the world.”
On August 6, 1974, Barry Goldwater famously told a Republican Conference lunch, “There are only so many lies you can take, and now there has been one too many. Nixon should get his ass out of the White House—today!”
That was his response to Nixon’s ultimately intolerable final lies about Watergate, which were annihilated by the tapes. That afternoon, Goldwater and a cadre of Republican leaders—Sen. Hugh Scott, Rep. John Rhodes—marched to the White House and told Nixon the game was up. Nixon resigned from the Presidency three days later.
Nixon was not physically ill. He was not accused of being mentally ill, but pathological lying—which, essentially, was his crime—is a form of mental illness. Soon, it might be that a Republican deputation from Congress repeats that march to the Oval Office, this time to inform Trump he has to leave. If he does not, they tell him, they cannot guarantee that some Republican Senator or Congressman might not introduce a motion to remove the President from office, based on Article II Section I. And, they add, were such a motion introduced, it would more than likely pass.
There were rumors, back in those hot summer days of 1974, that Nixon would surround the White House with troops (of which he was Commander-in-Chief) and refuse to vacate the office. Fortunately for the nation, Nixon backed down. Trump—more volatile, far more grandiose in his own mind than the insecure Nixon—seems unlikely to kowtow to the wishes of mere Congressmen. The standoff, should it happen, will make for unbelievably great live T.V., and we can already start fantasizing about who will play whom—Trump, Kellyanne Conway, Melania, Ivanka, Pence, Spicer, Giuliani, Ryan, McConnell, Comey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the arresting officers—in the movie.
I’ve known Jean-Noel Fourmeaux du Sartel, Potelle’s winemaker/proprietor, for about 27 years, since I wrote an article for Wine Spectator on Chateau Potelle (which he founded with his then-wife, Marketta), back in 1989 or 1990. In fact, as Jean-Noel reminds me, it was my first big feature article for the magazine. I remember driving up the steep dirt road to the winery, high up on Mount Veeder, in a clearing in a forest heavy with evergreens; the road was so pitted after a rainy winter that when I arrived at the winery, Jean-Noel welcomed me to “Chateau Pot Hole.” His sense of humor was also exhibited when he punned on his name: “My friends call me Johnny Christmas!” He was a funny guy, but dead serious about wine, and about taking what he called a French-approach to a California style he deemed excessive. (He compared California wine to Tammy Faye Bakker!) The wine I remember the most from that visit was the VGS Zinfandel. It was in a tall, slender bottle; the meaning of the letters, Jean-Noel explained, was “Very Good Shit.”
Visitors these days will find a nicely paved roadway instead of pot holes, but Chateau Potelle isn’t there anymore; Jean-Noel sold the winery and vineyard to Jackson Family Wines, my ex-employer, in 2007, who renamed it Mount Brave. But he kept the brand’s name. I ran into Johnny Christmas recently at the Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux tasting, at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. I’m pleased to review his exciting new Chateau Potelle wines.
Chateau Potelle 2014 VGS Syrah (Mount Veeder); $75. This Syrah instantly brought me to the Northern Rhône, although the tannins are completely different. I don’t know if anyone really cares about California Syrah anymore, except some sommeliers, but really, there’s a distinct place in cuisine for a great wine like this. It’s noble. I mean that in the French sense, of world-class finesse. The wine is young and immature, absolutely black as a moonless midnight, with just a tease of purple-garnet at the extreme edge. Aromatically, it’s muted. But in the mouth, Boom! Such power, such masculinity (if it’s still okay to have a gender reference these days). Waves of blackberry jam, plum preserves, cherry compote, dark chocolate, roasted veal bone, tamari, cloves, crispy bacon, charred cedar wood, Chinese 5-spice…Jean-Noel finds lavender, and I can see what he means, there’s something floral and pretty. Those tannins: big, firm, thick as only a Napa mountain can grow them, but so finely meshed. The vineyard is very high up on Veeder, at 2,500 feet, well above the fogline, where the solar radiation is intense, but keep in mind Veeder is right above San Francisco Bay and gets those cooling winds. Yikes, just spectacular. Grill up some lamb, sprinkle it with rosemary and black pepper, proceed to heaven. Drink this now, after careful decanting or even double-decanting, and over the next ten years. Score: 96 points.
Chateau Potelle 2014 VGS Potelle Two Red Wine (Napa Valley); $65. Massive flavor erupts from this young, dramatic wine, offering tiers of cassis, black currants, black licorice, plum crisp, sweetened espresso, milk chocolate, raspberry newton, smoky cedar, teriyaki beef and briary, peppery wild blackberries. The beef teriaki must come from the 16% Syrah in the blend of this Cabernet Sauvignon- (41%) based beauty. The briary pepperiness hails from 14% Zinfandel. Other varietal components are Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The “Potelle Two” designation, according to the winery, is meant to suggest this is a “second wine.” That is completely insane; this wine is as good as nearly anything out there in a dry, full-bodied table red. Irresistibly delicious. Drink now-2020. Score: 95 points.
Chateau Potelle 2014 VGS Chardonnay (Mount Veeder); $50. The structure is what pleases me. Anyone can get California Chardonnay ripe; packing in an architectural framework is tricky. Brilliant acidity, the mouthwatering kind that feels like freshly-squeezed limes. Sur lie aging brings its own form of structure, or perhaps texture is a better word, with a yeasty, sourdough dimension, while oak tannins bring a hint of firmness. There’s a minerality that reminds me of licking granite on a cold day. But back to the fruit. Papayas, guavas, immaculately ripe peaches and pears, Meyer lemons, kumquats, fresh pineapple, kiwi—my goodness, it goes on and on. But this is no fruit bomb: nervy, intense, complex. People think of Mount Veeder as Cabernet country, and it certainly is, but the mountain makes fabulous Chardonnay, and this one, grown at 1,800 feet and fermented with natural yeast, is spectacular. Score: 94 points.
Chateau Potelle 2014 VGS Zinfandel (Sonoma Mountain); $65. In the 1990s Chateau Potelle was making what was possibly California’s best Zinfandel, from their vineyard high up on Mount Veeder. These days, proprietor Jean-Noel Fourmeaux du Sartel still makes the winery’s VGS Zinfandel, but he’s shifted his fruit sourcing across the Mayacamas to another mountain, the one called Sonoma. This wine shows that Jean-Noel hasn’t lost his deft touch with Zin. It’s robust and exuberant, yet retains that “Frenchy” elegance, despite a hefty alcohol level of 15.5%. The flavors span the gamut, from raspberries and cherries to fruit liqueur, ripe figs, prosciutto, white currants, pepper and cloves. I personally would have put a little less oak on it; it doesn’t need all that toasty vanilla. But it sure is a delight. Score: 91 points.
Chateau Potelle 2014 The Illegitimate (California); $18. You wouldn’t know this was from Potelle without careful reading of the back label, but it is. It’s a departure for the winery, a (relatively) affordable, mixed-red blend with a statewide appellation. Jean-Noel calls it his “second flag.” There’s a place for it on the table. Dry and robust, it features blackberry, currant, licorice, cassis, bacon, black pepper, tapenade and smoky flavors, wrapped into chunky tannins. The mouthfeel is a little rough, but it’s a good, sound wine with some aspirations. The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Barbera, Petit Sirah and Zinfandel. Score: 86 points.
President Trump’s national security advisor, Michael Flynn, and Steve Bannon, his senior advisor who also sits on the National Security Council, have proposed to the President a massive change in the way that American law enforcement agencies are organized, according to Breitbart News, which first broke the story.
The President is considering merging the country’s police departments, which have traditionally been under the control of local jurisdictions such as cities and towns, with state Highway Patrols and county Sheriffs’ Departments, into a single, unified domestic security agency. The new force would be housed within the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, part of the Department of Homeland Security.
The combined force, to be called the Head Office for Security (HOS), would report directly to Homeland Security director John F. Kelly, but its operational head would be Henry Hammler, 57, a longtime aide to Bannon when the latter was head of Breitbart News. Hammler, a former poultry farmer and Army major, served in a non-combat capacity in the 1983 invasion of Grenada under former President Ronald Reagan.
According to sources, the HOS would be divided into two sections: an administrative wing and a financial wing. The proposed head of the administrative wing is said to be Richard Heydrich, a nephew of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher currently on trial for taking over Federal land. Leading the financial wing would be Dr. Julius W. Streicher, most recently a senior vice president for political affairs at Goldman Sachs.
An insider, who did not want to be named, told Breitbart that Flynn and Bannon proposed the change in order to streamline the nation’s multi-layered security apparatus, to allow President Trump “greater flexibility in determining how to deal with threats to national security, both foreign and domestic.” Since taking office, Trump is known to have complained about how complicated law enforcement in the U.S. is, with dozens of competing agencies, ranging from town constables to National Guards to the Central Intelligence Agency. According to the source, “He [Trump] wants to be able to give an order and have it apply anywhere and everywhere, instantly, without getting hung up in the bureaucracy.”
The idea of merging local and state police forces with federal security forces, without judicial enforcement, has generally been shunned in democracies, although it is standard practice in countries such as Zimbabwe and North Korea. In the West, the last time such forces were joined into a single entity, under the supreme authority of a leader, was in 1939, in Germany, when Adolf Hitler merged all law enforcement agencies into his Head Office for Reich Security.
The source said that at a recent meeting of the National Security Council, where the idea was discussed, Trump insisted that the new HOS would not be anything like Hitler’s Nazi regime. “That’s stupid,” Trump was reported to have replied when unidentified members of the N.S.C. questioned him about it. “This is nothing like the Nazis. Hitler was insane—although I do respect his ability to bring Germany together. Our new Head Office for Security will be completely different, that I can tell you.”
The changes would have to be approved by Congress. According to Breitbart, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the Speaker of the House of Representatives, when asked about the proposed changes, said he was not familiar with the plan. “I haven’t seen details yet. But President Trump is in the best position to determine how best to protect the people of the United States from harm, and if that’s something he feels is in the national interest, I’m sure that patriots in the House and Senate will be open to it.”
Trump is said to be anticipating fast approval of the new HOS and has even begun thinking about a new look for its officers. The source said that Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, who has run her own fashion company, is designing a uniform for high rankers. “Ivanka loves black for sheer elegance, but she’s concerned that all-black might be too severe,” the source said, adding, “She wants hints of color, but she doesn’t want it to look frivolous.”
This blog has obtained an exclusive sketch of Ivanka’s design, below. Kellyanne Conway, President Trump’s senior counsel, told me that the cross-like figure on the hat “is not a religious reference. Don’t be so dramatic. It’s a ‘T’. For ‘Trump.’”
Many years ago, in the early 1980s to be exact, I was driving home early on a Sunday morning from L.A. to San Francisco, idly switching between radio stations, when I came across a broadcast. It seemed to be, near as I could tell, a church meeting, and a big one at that to judge from the roar of the multitudes, who were presided over by a fire-and-brimstone preacher, of some evangelical or born-again stripe. As I have always found this sort of thing interesting—in a Margaret Mead-amongst-the-Samoans anthropological way—I listened. The preacher brought his audience to greater and greater heights of frenzy. The roaring and “amens” increased in crescendo. The mists of time have erased from my memory most of the particulars of what the preacher said, but there was one part that so seared itself into my brain that, even all these decades later, I recall it word for word.
He was talking about people who resisted the Christian message of Jesus being Lord and all that. He said they (the Christians) would try their best to convert non-believers, but that, in the end, if the non-believers refused to obey, “We will drag them, kicking and screaming, into the tent.”
Yes, those were his exact words. “He’s talking about me!” I thought. I found this so striking that I pulled over to the side of the road, to mull over what I had heard. To “drag someone kicking and screaming” is an old term whose derivation I do not know but whose meaning is clear: to make someone do something they do not want to do, by the use of force. I remember clearly the distinct image, repeated often over the years, those words formed in my mind: I saw a tent—a huge canvas structure, set up in some Bible Belt pasture or field, in which a Pentecostal audience was arrayed, like Romans in the Coliseum, egged on by a fiery Protestant orator. I saw a group of four or five burly white men engaged in the act of seizing hold of the arms and legs of a smaller white man who was struggling to escape from their grip. That smaller white man was me. As I screamed and flailed, the burly men carried me through the tent flaps, to the rabid, ecstatic howls of the mob. And there the scenario always mercifully ends.
Thirty-five years ago, these Christian evangelizers were eagerly courted by the nascent Reagan administration. Reagan himself was not particularly religious—nothing that we know about him suggests otherwise—but his political advisors, particularly a fellow by the name of Robert Billings, who was the executive director, under Jerry Falwell, of the Moral Majority, were given a seat at the table because the evangelicals were viewed by Republican strategists as the new equivalent of the “Southern strategy” that had got Nixon elected. And so the evangelicals had the ear of the President of the United States. Now we come to the year 2017, and the evangelicals have not only the President’s ear, but his mind, heart and bully pulpit. They have swarmed into the White House and Cabinet, long ago having seized control of the House of Representatives, and have made major inroads in the Senate and in the United States Supreme Court.
I have a few words for them–for you, if you’re one of them.
When I said you’re about as Christian as my dog, I immediately realized how unfair that is to Gus, as gentle and loving a soul as ever existed. You evangelicals speak the words of your God but you practice the actions of the Devil. You say you care for the poor, yet you would do away with public schools where they obtain free education, with Planned Parenthood where so many poor women obtain health services, with the Affordable Care Act: you would actually take healthcare away from 20 million of the neediest Americans. You would defund Public Defenders’ offices throughout the land, ensuring that only people of means can afford lawyers. You would gut if not eliminate environmental agencies, such as the E.P.A., whose “crime” in your eyes is to protect God’s air, water, creatures and lands. You would toss Muslims out of America and forbid others from coming in, to protect your so-called “Christian” nation, thus violating Jesus’s main instruction: to treat others as you would have them treat you. You have allowed your churches and pulpits to be fouled by politicians who cynically use you, you have allowed mockers like Donald Trump to achieve high office despite the fact—which you know in your heart—that he thinks you are fools. You have watched this President squander the essence of what America has meant to the world for 250 years: a shining city on a hill, of compassion, fairness and hope for all. You have elected a three-times-married adulterer, a self-admitted sexual abuser of women who tells a relative stranger he would “like to fuck” another man’s wife, even while he, himself, is married. Is this how you treasure the sanctity of marriage?
But that is not all! You throw your support behind a man whose mockery of the disabled ought to make you cringe, especially those of you—and they are many—whose own children or siblings are disabled. You think this man, who repeatedly insults anyone who disagrees with him, and who lies with pathological abandon, is a paragon of virtue. You cheer on a man who insults the entire country of Mexico, calling our southern neighbors “rapists and criminals”—and you say nothing to challenge such slurs even though you know they’re false. You see him fritter away our friendships with Australia, Iceland, France, Great Britain—friends who fought beside us in multiple wars and have stood by us through every troubled time. You—who for decade after decade hated the Soviet Union for its atheism—now suddenly discover what a wonderful country Russia is. You, who fulminated against the evils of Big Banks and Wall Street, of Mammon, now have a Cabinet stuffed with the leaders of Goldman Sachs, led by a billionaire who will not reveal his taxes or his business interests–and you do not care. You say you believe him when he says we need to deregulate these monstrous banks–whose CEOs are his friends–and yet you conveniently forget that the greedheads that run them caused the Great Recession that made your neighbors, maybe even your family, maybe even you, lose your jobs and homes. In short, you render unto Caesar what should be rendered unto God, and unto God, you render nothing but pious platitudes.
You have hated on and discriminated against huge swaths of the American republic in your religiously-based bigotry against gay people–a bigotry every Republican administration, including Trump’s, has exploited, and which, in your heart of hearts, you know is wrong. And now–the frosting on the cake–you urge Trump on as he seems hell-bent on unleashing more foreign wars—wars that will kill your sons and daughters or, if they are not killed, will leave them legless, armless, blind, and ravaged by PTSD. You–who talk about love!–loathed Obama, whom your Jesus would have blessed as a peacemaker. Now you are stuck with a warmonger, the father of sons who kill God’s noblest animals on the plains of Africa, not for meat for their well-laden tables, but for their own privileged, twisted pleasure.
What would Jesus have said about that?
I have no respect for you, evangelicals. You worship false gods and you speak with forked tongues. Your movement is spiraling downward, as ever more and more Americans, including Christians and elected Republicans, see through your hypocrisy. You have brought a godless, unstable person to the highest office in the land; through your stiff-necked, spiteful, reckless anger, you have wrought, upon this nation and the world, Havoc. Heed the lesson from 1 Samuel:
“So Saul died, and his three sons, and his amourbearer, and all his men, that same day together.”