Saturday, November 12, 2016

Americans, Babylon the Great, and an American history of regarding of the President as an antichrist based on loyalties red and blue rather than on the possibility that we're just Babylon the Great for this era

Over the last twenty some years I would read or see dread-filled missives about how this time around the president was going to suspend the Constitution, establish martial law, and declare the executive office a dictatorship for life.  This began near the end of the Clinton administration, in which some evangelical/conservative Protestants here in the United States believed, somehow, that Bill Clinton was going to abolish the Constitution in favor of making himself a lifelong dictator.

When Bush 2 was president I read articles crop up here in the Seattle area about how Bush 2 could be legitimately described as some kind of antichrist by pastors with progressive sympathies here in the Puget Sound area. 

Then when George W. Bush was nearing the end of his second term I began to hear from a liberal friend or two that HE was going to suspend the Constitution, establish martial law, and declare the executive office a dictatorship for life and suspend all elections.

Within a day of Obama being elected president I got messages forwarded my way declaring that Christians were going to be sent to concentration camps and that Obama was some kind of Islamic sleeper agent sent to destroy the United States.

What these readings have in common is that they regard the President as a kind of terrifying antichrist role ... based on red state and blue state paranoia ... but explicitly avoiding the more general observation that perhaps Babylon the Great is a role that is played by the United States more generally, regardless of whether the government is what we'd call red or blue.  The red state and blue state advocates scrupulously avoid the possibility that the nature of an Antichrist role is played by the President in the very nature of the job description of being the executive of a principality and power regardless of the personal convictions or character of the person who holds the office.  That possibility seems precluded in the partisanship of blue and red state civic religion.

What if this election has highlighted a different possibility for Christians to consider, that if we consider the role of Babylon the Great as described on the world stage in the apocalyptic idiom, that the United States has fulfilled that role in our era regardless of whether blue and red state partisans got the executive they wanted?  To put the matter a bit crudely, perhaps this year the Antichrist is simply a function of whoever happens to get the job being President of the United States, not a function of whether or not the wrong person based on your political or religious convictions happened to win the electoral vote.   

In other words, if the President of the United States can be considered an antichrist only because you didn't want Trump to get the job what would you say about the role of the President of the United States if Clinton won?  Would SHE have been an antichrist or would she be exempted from such a role?  Let's turn the proposition around, if Hillary Clinton would have been an Antichrist had SHE won would the problem merely be that Hillary Clinton became the Antichrist by becoming president elect of the United States ... or would the problem be in the nature of the level of power the executive branch is able to exercise, that the problem is really that the Presidency, the executive branch as a whole, has accumulated so much power it can play what could be regarded as a role not unlike the Beast or Babylon the Great.

Or, as the author Conor Fridersdorf has been putting it, maybe we need to tyrant-proof the executive office regardless of who actually gets the role of the President of the United States.

Let's consider an idea moving forward, that if you wanted to know who the Antichrist of our time may be just ask yourself who you voted for to be President of the United States.  That's your answer.  It's nothing personal, it's just the nature of the job description at this point, maybe. To argue that this or that person would be the greatest candidate to be president could simply be to make a case that so-and-so is the best possible person to fulfill the role of representing the interests of Babylon the Great; the best candidate to be Antichrist for our time.

Advocates for red state and blue state ideals have spilled much ink and printed many words about how the red state voters don't represent the real Jesus, the real heart of the Christian faith.  They don't, and neither do blue state voters.  The red state and blue state civic religions that define the Christian faith and the teachings of Christ chiefly through the social and political agendas of American political and cultural ideals may simply not realize they are endorsing different modes of an imperial cult; they may sincerely believe that just because the food coloring renders the sugary beverage red or blue that they are not still ultimately drinking the same kool-aid.

Over the last twenty years I've slowly and steadily arrived at the view that rather than only deciding the President has an antichrist role depending on whether the concerns are red or blue that we consider the possibility that the entire civic religious tradition of the United States, in both its red and bleu forms, is an imperialist cult.  The tragedy is that the blue and red state partisans only recognize it in each other and not in themselves.

When Jesus taught the parable of the Good Samaritan it was an expert in the law who asked Jesus what must be done to inherit eternal life. Jesus provided an answer and the expert, to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. The man, wanting to justify himself, asked "who is my neighbor?" Jesus told the parable and the crux of the parable was to present to the man that the one who acted in the most loving, neighborly way was the Samaritan.  "The one who showed kindness" was the legal expert's answer, revealing that he didn't even wish to recognize the Samaritan as a Samaritan.  THAT can't be my neighbor, the man's reply reveals to us.

We're seeing legal experts behave in the same way this week.  The red and blue state partisans have amply demonstrated that they are the legal experts to whom Jesus' parable about the Good Samaritan.  Who is that you despise most, who you believe is symbolically as well as personally responsible for all that is wrong with the nation?  THAT is your neighbor.  Love that person.  Jesus' parable about the Samaritan is a reminder that if you are interested in defining who is and isn't your neighbor you have betrayed the teachings of Christ.  So, the application is obvious here, your neighbor is whomever you least want to recognize as your neighbor.  For a red state voter it's a blue state voter, and for a blue state voter it's a red state voter. 

Now I happen to agree with Conor Friedersdorf about the need to tyrant-proof the executive branch regardless of who gets it.

What seems to have largely happened in the last twenty years is that the red and blue partisans ONLY worried about the dangers of executive tyranny when the OTHER team had the office.  That's been a problem and it will continue to be a problem unless something changes. To go by the way people have been behaving on the internet this last week that not only won't change it will be exacerbated.

If you only consider the United States to have a civic religious cult that stands in opposition to the teachings of Christ and Christian doctrine and ethical teaching because the person you don't want in the Oval Office got elected then you ... might need to repent of embracing either the red or blue state version of the civic religion.  You might need to confront the possibility that you've been drinking the proverbial Kool-aid and thought you weren't because, hey, you're drinking the BLUE kool-aid and not the RED Kool-aid.  The same goes for the red state voter who presumes to not drink the kool-aid by dint of being a real, honest American.  Being a real, honest American is no guarantee you haven't embraced an imperial cult that is ultimately Antichrist, whether your voting record is red or blue.  How can you know?  Well ... if your default position is to define Christ based on the vision of American you want rather than assess America in terms of the teaching of Christ and the biblical testimony that's your answer; there are a whole lot of red and blue partisans who have become so good at engineering a Bible that exists in their minds to justify their cultic loyalties they may simply be blinded to the reality that they are not followers of Jesus, they are advocates of red state and blue state gospels.  Well, in that case they're both antichrists, they just may not know it yet.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

looking back on The Stranger's "The Urban Archipelago" from 11-2004 in light of the ... recent news about Trump.
November 11, 2004
The Urban Archipelago
It's the Cities, Stupid
by The Editors of The Stranger

It's time to state something that we've felt for a long time but have been too polite to say out loud: Liberals, progressives, and Democrats do not live in a country that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Canada to Mexico. We live on a chain of islands. We are citizens of the Urban Archipelago, the United Cities of America. We live on islands of sanity, liberalism, and compassion--New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Louis, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and on and on. [emphasis added]  And we live on islands in red states too--a fact obscured by that state-by-state map. Denver and Boulder are our islands in Colorado; Austin is our island in Texas; Las Vegas is our island in Nevada; Miami and Fort Lauderdale are our islands in Florida. Citizens of the Urban Archipelago reject heartland "values" like xenophobia, sexism, racism, and homophobia, as well as the more intolerant strains of Christianity that have taken root in this country. And we are the real Americans. They--rural, red-state voters, the denizens of the exurbs--are not real Americans. They are rubes, fools, and hate-mongers. [emphasis added] Red Virginia prohibits any contract between same-sex couples. Compassionate? Texas allows the death penalty to be applied to teenaged criminals and has historically executed the mentally retarded. (When the Supreme Court ruled executions of the mentally retarded unconstitutional in 2002, Texas officials, including Governor Rick Perry, responded by claiming that the state had no mentally retarded inmates on death row--a claim the state was able to make because it does not test inmates for mental retardation.) Dumb? The Sierra Club has reported that Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Tennessee squander over half of their federal transportation money on building new roads rather than public transit.
For Democrats, it's the cities, stupid--not the rural areas, not the prickly, hateful "heartland," but the sane, sensible cities--including the cities trapped in the heartland. Pandering to rural voters is a waste of time. Again, look at the second map. Look at the urban blue spots in red states like Iowa, Colorado, and New Mexico--there's almost as much blue in those states as there is in Washington, Oregon, and California. And the challenge for the Democrats is not just to organize in the blue areas but to grow them. And to do that, Democrats need to pursue policies that encourage urban growth (mass transit, affordable housing, city services), and Democrats need to openly and aggressively champion urban values. By focusing on the cities the Dems can create a tribal identity to combat the white, Christian, rural, and suburban identity that the Republicans have cornered. And it's sitting right there, on every electoral map, staring them in the face: The cities.
In cities all over America, distressed liberals are talking about fleeing to Canada or, better yet, seceding from the Union. We can't literally secede and, let's admit it, we don't really want to live in Canada. It's too cold up there and in our heart-of-hearts we hate hockey. We can secede emotionally, however, by turning our backs on the heartland. We can focus on our issues, our urban issues, and promote our shared urban values. We can create a new identity politics, one that transcends class, race, sexual orientation, and religion, one that unites people living in cities with each other and with other urbanites in other cities. The Republicans have the federal government--for now. But we've got Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, New York City (Bloomberg is a Republican in name only), and every college town in the country. We're everywhere any sane person wants to be. Let them have the shitholes, the Oklahomas, Wyomings, and Alabamas. We'll take Manhattan
To red-state voters, to the rural voters, residents of small, dying towns, and soulless sprawling exburbs, we say this: Fuck off. Your issues are no longer our issues. [emphasis added] We're going to battle our bleeding-heart instincts and ignore pangs of misplaced empathy. We will no longer concern ourselves with a health care crisis that disproportionately impacts rural areas. Instead we will work toward winning health care one blue state at a time.

That was back in November 2004.  Pretty strongly stated and the contempt is so obvious it hardly needs much commentary.  But something seems so obvious that in the wake of a frankly disappointing and unhappy election ... that it still needs to be said ...

This year, so long after the editors of The Stranger went with their "fuck you" approach to rural voters, residents of small and dying towns for at least a decade; and after the recent electoral college turn out seems to have given a shockingly large victory to Trump rather than Clinton, the staff of The Stranger had this to say in the somewhat imitable Stranger style.
November 10, 2016
We're Fucked
Fuck Fuck Fucking Fuck. So Fucked.
by Stranger Election Control Board

By the time the networks started all-but-calling the election for Donald J. Trump, the Showbox was nearly empty. The crowd watched, stunned, as the United States committed bigot-assisted suicide. The few people who remained struggled to reconcile liberal and progressive victories in Washington State—Democratic governor and US senator reelected, massive transit package approved, minimum wage hiked—with the catastrophic results of the national election.


Well ... didn't the editors of The Stranger emphatically tell the rural red-state voters to fuck off back in 2004?  They did say "Your issues are no longer our issues", right?  Did the editors and writers of The Stranger just forget that the not-the-real-America red states existed?  What could the stupid bigoted redneck electorate possibly do?  A victory for Clinton was all but certain and she did, technically, seem to win the popular vote. 

Trying to be nice here, perhaps the urban contempt on the part of The Stranger editors was just so much easier before the 2008 financial crash. It's looking like we've had a weird "Dewey Defeats Truman" moment but not just for one famous newspaper, and it seems the Fourth Estate isn't just eating crow but may be forced to dine on a whole murder of crows.

Given the vitriolic and contemptuous way in which The Stranger staff addressed the rural red-state electorate twelve years ago how surprised should they have been at what just happened?  Did the Electoral College get abolished between 2005 and now?  Did The Stranger writers and editors somehow seriously imagine that their contempt would not be a small variable at play in this contentious and pathetic election cycle?  Did it never occur to them that the red state electorate might observe the blue state urban contempt and return the favor? 

Relying on that Urban Archipelago might have worked out better if progressives had taken more seriously an attempt to abolish or reform the Electoral College between 2004 and 2016 before it was possible for another Republican candidate to win an election on the basis of the Electoral College rather than a popular vote ... but that didn't happen.

It's possible to feel a great deal of sympathy on behalf of people who are dreading what may come with a Trump presidency ... just not for the folks at The Stranger.

Leonard Cohen dead at 82

for my time Cohen was a more compelling poet (actual poet) than Bob Dylan (even though I enjoyed Bob's songs more, more often than not).

Please, nobody cover that one song.  You know the one not to cover.  Sing "Famous Blue Rain Coat" or sing "Suzanne" ... but not that one that's been done too many times as it is by people who weren't Cohen himself.