America’s fundamentalist carnival includes many fascinating acts. Pay your money, and you can watch preachers weeping and screaming, dismissing whole segments of humanity as evil, threatening murder, shaking down congregations for extra donations to named-after-themselves projects, or hitting people in the head to heal cancer. You will also see some monsters finally caught after years of molesting children or hear others advocating crimes against humanity such as using nuclear weapons.
Pat Robertson is one of the Christian Sideshow’s longer-running acts, periodically adding some new nightmare to his grim repertoire. Oddly, Pat regards himself as a kind statesman-preacher, a latter-day boondocks version of Talleyrand, Talleyrand having started his remarkable and utterly unprincipled career as a Bishop. Pat regularly mixes the tax-free benefits of religion with the promotion of nasty politics. He has run for President, started quasi-religious organizations to promote his political ambitions, and freely offers his uninformed advice on national and world affairs.
Talleyrand had his various church properties and offices to support him in princely fashion while he worked at politics. Pat supports his public-minded work on resources gathered through one of America’s greatest money-changer-in-the-temple careers. The fortune generated through decades of his appeals to unhappy, lonely people watching television gives him access to a genuine commercial empire, from so-called Christian broadcasting to oil refining.
A key difference between Talleyrand and Pat is that Talleyrand was frightfully clever and was a breathtaking success at politics. I put the difference, in part, down to style. Talleyrand in person might remind one of the late Archbishop Sheen, snapping and twirling his scarlet cape and watching his listeners with penetrating eyes – to all that would added something of Lord Byron’s fascinating stench of corruption. Robertson has never quite escaped the Jesus-on-the-dashboard flavor of his early career. Pat is pure Super Duper Auto Parts, Aisle Six, smiling salesman for mud flaps and sequined sets of big dice, but with enough animal cunning to have risen to running every Aisle Six on the continent.
Pat recently announced on national television that America should murder the elected leader of another country, President Chavez of Venezuela. Previously Pat restricted himself to insulting the religion of a billion people, Islam, or insulting the victims of natural disasters in the United States. After a hurricane in which old men, women, and children died, Pat blamed the victims for their fate by claiming God was punishing America’s immorality. His latest effort breaks new ground, being, by any meaningful definition, public advocacy of terror.
Why won’t Pat Robertson be treated as a terrorist? Believe me, if you said what he said about any of America’s current leaders, you would be arrested quickly under the Patriot Act and locked away. Why will Pat Robertson’s broadcasting empire not be classified as an organization supporting terrorist activities? Perfectly legitimate organizations in other parts of the world have been declared outlaw in the United States for having less direct association with terrorist hate-speech. Several bloodthirsty-sounding Muslim clerics, completely unrepresentative of their faith, have been jailed recently for speech closely resembling Robertson’s.
At the very least, Robertson should be charged under hate-speech laws. But such laws are weak in the United States, and many Americans fear the idea of hate-speech laws. So radio and television broadcasters continue spewing hate and dishonest claims in the exalted name of free speech.
We really do know why Pat Robertson won’t be treated as a terrorist. It’s for the same reason Bush’s former Attorney General of the United States could tell a group of decent, honest, hard-working American Muslims that they should count themselves lucky they weren’t being treated the way Japanese Americans were during World War II. It’s for the same reason that Bush protects a mass murderer named Luis Posada Carriles from extradition and trial. It’s for the same reason that American troops have made a horror of the lives of millions of innocent Iraqis. It’s for the same reason a distraught mother who lost her son in Iraq is vilified by Right Wing savages. It’s the same reason why the morally-contemptible Bush is President.
The reason is the worship of power and greed. While it’s true that a great deal of America’s history has to do with worshipping power and greed, never in my memory has it been so openly expressed, so contemptuously embraced as it is today. It is a sad to reflect in my twilight years that almost everything I was taught as a boy has proved to be wrong. I don’t mean subjects like math or English. I mean values. Most of the evidence of my adult life tends to support the opposite of every moral lesson of my youth, certainly as they apply to the land of my birth, a place where power and greed now trump everything.
I was taught murder always is wrong. I was taught lying always is wrong. I was taught that lusting after money and power is wrong. I was taught that good men prevailed and evil men sooner or later paid for their acts. These lessons came from a ferociously-honest and brave mother who alone raised two boys on the South Side of Chicago. They came also from the church I attended. And they came from some wonderful books and stories I read.
The success of vicious Pat Robertson and his even more vicious President, George Bush, provide almost perfect allegories for the soul-dead thing America has become.
Religion, politics, journalism, and even academics serve the American worship of power and greed. I had a brief exchange recently with an exalted fellow from one of America’s many well-financed propaganda mills tarted up to resemble research organizations. This exalted fellow had been on a national radio interview, interestingly enough on the same subject of Venezuela. Apart from inaccurate claims about a new broadcast network established in Venezuela while he made a case for American interference, when reminded that Mr. Chavez was democratically elected, he chimed in with, “So was Hitler!”
Hitler, despite huge expenditures and desperately hard campaigns, never received more than just over a third of votes. He was appointed Chancellor, after a long series of backroom manipulations, by the Republic’s ancient and exhausted President von Hindenburg. Hitler’s rise more closely resembles that of some of America’s favorite shady men in Iraq and Pakistan than it does that of a man whose election was closely scrutinized and declared fair by international watchers.
I couldn’t let such an inaccurate claim stand and looked up his outfit on the Internet. There, on a page resembling something from a university or research center, was a large quote from Rush Limbaugh about the tremendous job they were doing. What kind of a research institution quotes Rush Limbaugh? There were also, importantly, links for bequests and gifts. And there was an e-mail link to the man on the Venezuela case.
My particular exalted fellow answered at length, accepting the truth of my correction, but making a mighty effort to turn someone’s getting one-third of the vote into a de facto election. There were paragraphs of labored reasoning larded with unnecessary facts, perhaps from a history text quickly consulted before replying. He missed the point entirely of respecting a genuinely democratic decision. Here is the kind of analysis being touted across America in an effort to influence the world. And these people do influence the world.
The same people helped bring you the murderous disaster in Iraq.
JOHN CHUCKMAN lives in Canada.