I just finished reading an excellent biography of Cato, not Inspector Clouseau’s Cato but Rome’s Marcus Porcius Cato a/k/a Cato the Younger (95 B.C. – 46 B.C.). Cato was known for his integrity in a time of intense political corruption and polarization in Rome that ultimately led to the fall of the Roman Republic when Caesar declared himself dictator for life in 44 B.C..
Cato stood against both political parties, the populares (Democrats) and the optimates (Republicans), in favor of the Republic and doing what was right. As a result, Cato was highly respected, and sometimes also despised, by both sides. That is the price of speaking the truth. Even the 1st century Christians held Cato up as an example of integrity in the midst of corruption.
The current U.S. political climate bears similarities to the Rome of Cato’s time. Political opponents today are demonized. There is no rational discussion by which consensus is reached. There is no middle ground. The reason for the polarization is that people are being brainwashed by the media. But before my friends on the right say, “Amen,” read on, because for polarization to occur there must be two poles, not one.
I ask this question seriously and not rhetorically.
Maybe it’s the pandemic. Actually, I am sure it’s the pandemic. But the pandemic is merely the context not the cause. I’m talking about what I’m hearing my Christian friends say, what they text me, and what they post on Facebook, specifically about wearing masks.
You see, I live in Texas, and our governor, one birthed from my noble profession, a former lawyer and judge, one who should know better, has lifted the mask-wearing mandate in Texas. Some of my Christian friends are thrilled because they think masks don’t mitigate the spread of Covid-19 and actually do more harm than good (“breathing too much of your own CO2, bro”). They’ve obtained these opinions from politicians, not from health care professionals, and that, to me folks, is C . . . R . . . A . . . Z . . . Y.
I mean who among us goes to the doctor because they notice blood in their urine, and when the doctor gives his diagnoses says, “Doc, no offense, but I think I will get a second opinion from my politician”?
I was in a relatively small group of people in September 2016 before the election when a prominent Evangelical leader and author told us God had told him He had raised up Donald Trump to be a Cyrus. I thought his remarks inappropriate before a group who had assembled to hear about the kingdom of God, and I expressed my concerns to the host of the meeting, whom I deeply respect. We both said something to the effect of “Well, we will see.”
I have been an admirer of Cyrus the Great as a leader, not only because of the Biblical account but also because of Xenophon’s biography and Herodotus’s history, all of which describe a good, generous, and magnanimous ruler. I even named my Persian cat after Cyrus.
Here’s where we ended up with Trump in the final year of his presidency: (i) an out-of-control pandemic that while not his fault has to date killed 450,000 Americans (25% of those who have died worldwide) and was made worse because of Trump’s politicization of the issue; (ii) a racial uprising and riots like we have not seen since the late 1960s, not only because of a video of police killing black Americans but because of Trump’s pandering to white nationalists; and (iii) an insurrection which I doubt was intended by Trump but am convinced was caused by him.
Even if one accepts the Trump spin on all three of these crises, any one of them is sufficient to stain any president’s four year term; Trump had them all in one year. He is now the only American President to be impeached twice. Members of his own party have voted for his impeachment, and judges appointed by him have voted against his lawsuits alleging a fraudulent election. Was Donald Trump a Cyrus, or is there another Biblical character who Trump more closely resembles?
If you have followed this blog long enough you know I try to stay out of politics. I have described my attitude toward politics as an “engaged indifference.” I believe modern Christians put too much hope in politics and have been too willing to compromise their integrity and witness to grasp for political power. I believe Christians should partake in politics as with alcohol, in moderation.
But I am obviously not much of an influence. I watched Evangelicals, including friends and family, run after Trump like a dog in heat. Never mind that Trump openly mocked the disabled, paid off paramours, bragged about sexually assaulting women, supported white nationalists, and retaliated against anyone who crossed him. Evangelicals endorsed Trump because of what he promised to give them. It wasn’t about integrity or principle; it was about what Evangelicals could get from this candidate. With politics it always is.
As a result, Evangelicals said to hell with their witness, just give us our piece of pork like every other interest group. And Evangelicals got what they wanted. Trump delivered on three Supreme Court justices, he moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and he protected churches. And let’s not be naive; Trump didn’t do it because he loves Jesus or Christians–in fact, he reportedly referred to Evangelical pastors laying hands on him and praying for him as “bulls**t“–Trump did it because he loves Donald Trump, and he wanted to stay in office.
Yes….an insurrection. A Republican insurrection. Republicans Gone Wild. Republicans breaking and entering, forcibly taking over a government building, and injuring 50 police officers.
When it was Black Lives Matters marching and violence erupted, the Right wanted to label BLM a domestic terrorist group. Now the Left wants to label these Trumper Republicans domestic terrorists.
Much has been written about terrorism in the last twenty years, but I think there is a general consensus among those who study the subject that what usually gives rise to terrorism, whether of the foreign or domestic sort, is the feeling of powerlessness, that there is nothing else that can be done to be heard or bring about change. It is the last resort of the disenfranchised. I offer that by way of explanation not excuse. I have written here before about why resort to violence is neither wise nor justified.
The BLM movement arose because of 400 years of systematic and cultural disenfranchisement of black Americans, culminating this year in some very public killings of black Americans by law enforcement officers. Black Americans were justifiably angry over a history of racism and systemic discrimination and some decided during marches that marching was not enough.
On Wednesday, Trump Republicans gathered in Washington D.C. feeling they had been disenfranchised by an election they believe was fraudulent. Incited by President Trump to march on the Capital, once there many decided that peacefully protesting was not enough and broke in, occupied, and trashed the Capital.