NEW YORK CITY, near America
In the annals of modern American presidential campaigns, no strategy has been more beneficial to those who own the government than the pernicious pact Big Business has forged with Big Religion. If only for the god of wicked irony, the association would never have developed.
Once upon a biblical time, a socially conscious carpenter was appalled on seeing the ancient temple of Jerusalem packed to the rafters with fast-talking sharpies exchanging currency at usurious rates. (A chronicle of sorts—El Greco’s La Expulsión de los mercaderes del Templo—is on permanent display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.) Accordingly, the carpenter cracked his vengeful whip and kept on cracking until every last chiseler was driven off. Art and scripture imply that righteousness triumphed on that olden day; perhaps it did, briefly. But forward through the centuries, the empirical record is clear: the moneychangers won, and Jesus Christ lost.
The sordid victory is evidenced in the early stages of another election season here in the United States. It is a political passion play chock full of right-wing yip-yap about Jesus and how very much the Republican Tea Party contenders—twenty and counting!—rely on celestial guidance in their respective quests for the millions upon millions of dollars in Big Business hush money required to win party nomination ahead of the general election of November 2016.
Let us be perfectly clear, as the late Richard Nixon would say: in this space, the term “Big Business” references Wall Street swindlers and the amalgamated corporate overlords of a once respectable Republican Party, coöpted by right-wing Tea Party jihadists on or about January 1, 2012. And when we speak of “Big Religion,” we refer to the biggest tent show of them all—the “Christianity” of bigots, Babbitts, blowhards, and cold-hearted billionaires.
Perhaps no one among this season’s Teapublican pre-election scrum of presidential wannabes more fully embodies the Big Business/Big Religion worldview than Mike “Dimples” Huckabee, the pudgy author of the extremely easy-to-read campaign manifesto “God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy.”
A former governor the Deep South state of Arkansas, Mr. Huckabee is an ordained Baptist preacher who admires the Confederate flag—banner of southern slave states during America’s civil war (1861-65), these days the proud colors of Ku Klux Klansmen (outed and closeted). In his post-gubernatorial years, the reverend reaped millions as a moralizing crank for television and radio outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch, the odious Tory press baron. Mr. Huckabee fancies himself as humorous; Mr. Murdoch and his underling scribes describe him as “folksy.”
In a campaign swing last week through Texas, Mr. Huckabee addressed the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, alternately amusing and frightening the bejeezus out of the foot-stomping, tambourine-slapping hispanohablantes.
“I do not come to you tonight with the ability to speak Spanish, but I do speak a common language—I speak Jesus,” quipped the dimpled one. Then, with jowls quaking, he warned: “We are living in perilous times, where people who are Christian are on the brink of being criminalized for their conviction.”
Mr. Huckabee provided no affirming details for this alert.
Lest Europeans consider him beyond the Pale of what is oxymoronically known as American conservative thinking, it should be noted: Mike Huckabee, stalwart Jesus comrade, topped the Republican Tea Party favorability polls as a prospective presidential nominee in early 2008, the first year of his White House wet dreams; his fervent followers are a considerable bloc of ultra-reliable voters, therefore key to whomever becomes the party standard bearer in 2016.
Big Business relies on the Huckabee factor. The folksy Arkansan and all other of God’s jesters serve to hide what ails the vast majority of us here with sanctimonious tirades against decisions and circumstances of a relative few of us here—the classics being gay marriage, abortion, and social welfare of any sort for those whose “sin” is shown in their skin. Media find it easier to report on campaign trivialities than to explore actual problems.
Which include: a multi-billion dollar gun manufactory in service to yahoos and mass murderers; corporate lobbyists allied with Congress to enact laws antithetical to the public will; killer cops; electronic surveillance of the citizenry by top-secret governmental agencies, in conjunction with the marketing departments of private companies; perpetual military adventure as a cash cow for war profiteers; personal income inequity caused by de-industrialization, and corporate antipathy to fair wages and trade unionism; legislation that enables corporations and the wealthy to avoid taxes; and Washington sycophants of the oil and coal trusts who insist that climate change is “a hoax.”
It is impolitic for presidential candidates to overtly champion such awfulness. Speaking Jesus, then, is fine camouflage for that which we fear to face.
Moneychangers in the temples of Wall Street wisely invest in religion-soaked presidential campaigns. The shadowy political action committees they underwrite create television commercials aimed at an audience presumed to be churchgoing, and infantile; a fair amount of science affirms the thesis. In turn, the broadcast and cable networks reap immense fortunes as conduits for corporate propaganda.
Viewers of this effective dross—the feverish followers of an ignoble, pinchpenny version of Mr. Christ—are played for suckers. Which is to say, holy rolling ciphers easily proselytized into voting against their own self-interest; faithful sheep stroked into believing themselves a finer caste of human beings than the Truly Needy—a passive-aggressive term of art among Teapublicans, meant to humiliate the least of these, my brethren. They are drafted to the cause of the Truly Selfish by performing as Greek chorus to campaign season yip-yappers.
There is method to this madness.
Amazingly, it takes rather little by way of public relations craft to depict the Son of God not as a sandal-shod avatar of sacrifice, unhesitant mercy, forgiveness, succor, sympathy, generosity, and grand gesture—but instead as a manifestation of holiness in hazy “individualism,” capitalism as the will and glory of God, Teapublicanism as the stairway to Heaven, and extreme comfort as an entitlement of that one percent of Americans who own nearly fifty percent of the country’s wealth. (Never mind Mr. Christ’s disapproval of rentiers.) The old-timey religion of white man’s burden plays a marquee rôle in this flimflammery. After all, the man from Galilee had aquiline features, blond hair, and blue eyes; it’s all right there in glossy color pictures of the Gideon bible.
Thus have U.S. oligarchs—overwhelmingly blond of hair, blue of eye, and expert in the oily ways of gentlemanly extortion—convinced a large swath of the electorate that history’s most famous socialist is and always was more interested in profits than prophecy. Praise Jesus! Alms for the rich! (Pay no attention to the corporate distraction artists just off the stage of campaign theatre.)
Hear now a wee sampling of the Psalmic serenades of Republican Tea Party presidential aspirants—songs to lift the hearts of fatcats grasping for goodness:
- John Kasich, governor of Ohio on the process of pondering his prospective entry into the race: “What does the Lord want me to do with my life? I’m trying to determine if this is what the Lord wants.”
- Rand Paul, plagiarist and Kentucky senator, informs us that his “intense Christian faith” is often tested by horrid events. This has required him, more than once, to “come back to Jesus” to be “saved.” At the windup to his razzle-dazzle news conference announcing his candidacy, Mr. Paul closed his eyes and beseeched the sky above for “God’s help.”
- Marco Rubio, the Florida senator and habitué of a Miami mega-church that denies Darwinian evolution in favor of the faux science of “creationism,” and employs only those who can “certify” they are not adulterers or “practicing homosexuals.” The Almighty, saieth Mr. Rubio, is “the source of all we have,” and “faith in our Creator is the most important American value of all. …You cannot do anything without God, [which is] a profound and elemental truth.”
- Ted Cruz, the Texas senator and son of Christian fire-and-brimstoner Rafael Cruz. Cruz père finds “the average black” incapable of understanding that raising the federal minimum wage would be “bad.” Cruz fils complements his father’s obsession with African American inferiority with an obsession of his own—“perversion.” Without God to provide absolutes, says the presidential hopeful, all America would be awash in the “sexual immorality” of gays and lesbians.
- Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin and likewise son of a preacher man, was a teenage sermonizer in his father’s Baptist parish. He now worships at Meadowbrook Church, in his home city of Wauwatosa. Meadowbrook’s council of elders is open only to men, who claim the Holy Bible is “written by God” and is “without error,” and that Christ’s return to Earth is “imminent.” Mr. Walker recently assured the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, “My relationship with God drives every major decision in my life.” Speaking in the royal we fashion, he added, “Our walk of faith helps us prepare for those decisions, and provides us comfort as we seek to God’s will.”
- John Ellis “Jeb” Bush, while in office as Florida’s governor from 1999-2007, drew on his worldview as a Catholic convert to rail against proposed state legislation to ensure the civil rights of gays. “Or to put it another way,” Mr. Bush wrote in 2004, “should sodomy be elevated to the same constitutional status as race and religion? My answer is ‘No.’” Mr. Bush seems unfamiliar with two matters of constitutional law: before it was amended in 1865, the U.S. Constitution provided legitimacy for African slavery; a principal tenet was and is separation of church and state.)
- Piyush “Bobby” Jindal, governor of Louisiana who prefers that his Hindu given name be forgotten, prescribes a panacea for all America’s numerous difficulties. In a letter earlier this year addressed his forty-nine gubernatorial colleagues, he wrote, “We are in need of spiritual and transforming revival…Jesus Christ, Son of God and the Lord of Life, is America’s only hope.”
On the Democratic side of the holy hullabaloo, Hillary Clinton’s “Faith Voters for Hillary” website reveals that the former first lady of the land (as the spouse of ex-President Bill Clinton), New York senator, and secretary of state under President Barack Obama cleaves unto Jesus in a “deeply personal and real” way. As a girl growing up in suburban Chicago, she and her Methodist family “talked with God, ate, studied, and argued with God.” On the other hand, Mrs. Clinton’s sole declared rival for the Democratic presidential nomination is Bernie Sanders, a rumpled, silver-headed senator from Vermont who identifies as an “unabashedly irreligious” cultural Jew, and a Scandanavian-style socialist who admires share-the-wealth advocates the likes of fellow travelers Jesus Christ and Pope Francis.
David Simon, the journalist and Hollywood producer, presented a dystopian depiction of Baltimore in his television series “The Wire,” which aired from 2002 to 2008. The program foreshadowed the rage now at full steam in that city—the city of his birth, and where he still lives. In a caustic April 28 essay for The Guardian of London, he wrote of Baltimore and all the other raging cities of America’s “horror show,” as he calls our economic Zeitgeist:
[T]he ultimate tragedy of capitalism in our time [is] that it has achieved its dominance without regard to a social compact, without being connected to any other metric for human progress. We understand profit. In my country, we measure things by profit. We listen to the Wall Street analysts. They tell us what we’re supposed to do every quarter. The quarterly report is God. Turn your face to God. We have become something other than what we claim for the American dream, and all because of our inability to basically share.
The idea of building and maintaining a healthy, secular commonwealth through reasoned sharing—and holding Wall Streeters responsible for crimes against society—was once the concern of both major U.S. political parties, as constituted in the century past:
- In 1907, Republican President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt lashed out at “the representatives of predatory wealth.” He accused this class as guilty of “all forms of iniquity, from the oppression of wage workers to defrauding the public.” He offered the citizenry a “Square Deal” of three components: conservation of natural resources, government regulations on corporate conduct, and consumer protection. The predators and their contemporary successors—an unintelligent flock, though as single-minded as any of the rodent species—attacked then (and most assuredly attack now) all such stumbling blocks to their amassing more and more and more, ad nauseum.
- While seeking reëlection in 1936, Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Teddy’s younger cousin) was the subject of scurrilous attacks by corporate tycoons for birthing “New Deal” measures of economic repair and reform, in necessary reaction to a world depression brought about by Wall Street. “Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today,” Mr. Roosevelt roared. “They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.”
In the fifteen years of this century, presidential candidates do not dare show contempt for “organized money,” as Franklin Roosevelt damned the Truly Selfish. All—save for Senator Sanders, who in more than two decades of holding public office has relied on campaign donations from identifiable individuals, averaging $45 (€40)—are beholden to the Wall Street Church of Big Business. The corporate congregation operates today more efficiently than ever, courtesy of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, by which its membership may now deliver anonymous millions, without limit, to their political mouthpieces.
Mr. Sanders blows a bugle reminiscent of that humble joe at the temple of Jerusalem: “Let us wage a moral and political war against the billionaires and corporate leaders, on Wall Street and elsewhere, whose policies and greed are destroying the middle class of America.”
He is echoed by Elizabeth Warren, the powerful Democratic senator from Massachusetts who, to the regret of many, declined to run for president this time around. In a May interview with New Yorker magazine reporter Ryan Lizza, she spoke with righteous anger of Wall Street’s swindles that crested in 2007 in a global recession not yet tamed:
It’s important to hold Wall Street accountable. Some of the biggest financial institutions in this country developed a business model around cheating American families…They sold mortgages that were like grenades with the pins pulled out, and then they packaged up those risks and sold them to pension plans and municipal governments—groups that did not intend to buy high-risk financial products. That’s how Wall Street blew up the American economy. That’s a genuine threat.
According to Ann M. Ravel, chairwoman of the Federal Election Commission, combined spending on the 2016 presidential contest will top $10 billion (€9 billion)—the vast majority of such ungodly sum from corporate largesse. The high court ruling in Citizens United, she said further, rendered the F.E.C. powerless to enforce what remains of election law.
“People think the F.E.C. is dysfunctional,” she told the New York Times. “It’s worse than dysfunctional.”
Soon thereafter, Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote:
It turns out that the Wall Street bonus pool in 2014 was roughly twice the total annual earnings of all Americans working full time at the federal minimum wage. You read that right: just the annual bonuses for just the sliver of Americans who work just in finance just in New York City dwarfed the combined year-round earnings of all Americans earning the…minimum wage. We as a nation have chosen to prioritize tax shelters over minimum wages, subsidies for private jets over robust services for children to break the cycle of poverty. And the political conversation is often not about free rides by corporations, but free rides by the impoverished.
Hear now the bonus-drunked, money-changing misdirectionists behind the campaign curtain. To all ye who would vote: in the name of the Lord, take your eyes off the fastballs! To all ye who would be president—hark! Obey this, our commandment: speak Jesus or forever hold your peace.
Thomas Adcock is America correspondent for CulturMag.
Im Februar 2015 erschien seine Erzählung “The Cannibal of Pang Yang” als eBook bei CulturBooks.