Some say property, some say money, some say the insatiable attempt to assuage psychosexual anxieties by a projected identification with monstrous edifices of domination and death is the true American religion. But I say it is what Americans love most: sanctimony.
You could soar like a far-seeing hawk across the entire political landscape of the United States and never spy a single spot not covered with the fine, strong moss of sanctimony. From the highest mountaintop of power to the deepest crevice of servility, from east to west, from north to south – and certainly from right to left – sanctimony will fill your eyes and cloud your head with its powerful savor.
Every issue, every public action, is informed by it – and deformed by it. In a land where both religious and secular people are indelibly imbued with the sense that they belong to a sanctified nation – whether the divine sanction comes from God or else emanates from the fetish object of an 18th century parchment – there can be no political contention that is not also a spiritual agon for righteousness. Whether knowingly or not, most Americans view politics in the words of Dmitri Karamazov: “God and the devil are fighting it out, and the battlefield is the human heart.”
The recent impeachment farce is a good example. As the spectacle slouched inexorably toward its preordained end of acquittal, the writer Jacob Bacharach made a very pertinent observation: “Pretending the whole impeachment and trial were some grave, solemn, and serious legal proceeding rather than just a perfectly normal parliamentary No Confidence vote that was never going anywhere is a total affectation.” And of course, this is true: having the legislature vote on whether or not a government should continue in office is ordinary if the infrequent matter in most countries that call themselves democracies. It’s a question of workaday politics, a calibration of coalitions and numbers that have nothing to do with the “soul” or “character” of the nation involved.
But owing to the doctrines of the national religion, the Trump impeachment was treated – or at least depicted – by the Democrats as a Karamazovian battle for the soul of America. You could barely see Adam Schiff for the soggy, mossy sanctimony that enveloped him as he stood on the Senate floor and evoked the spectre of Kremlin hordes pouring into the holy Heartland to kill, ravage and rape. Trump, proclaimed Schiff, had opened our sanctified soil to demonic impurity by, uh, briefly withholding the kind of lethal military aid to Ukraine that Barack Obama himself had adamantly and (in a rare moment of perspicacity) wisely refused to provide.
As so often happens, the hysterical level of sanctimony was in inverse proportion to the gruel-thin substance of the charge. Given the chance to absolutely nail Trump to the proverbial wall by impeaching him for the gargantuan, brazenly open corruption he perpetuates every day of his presidency through violations of the emoluments clause and the loot his “senior aides” (who also happen to be his daughter and son-in-law) rake in from foreign states and nabobs while serving in office – charges which could have been easily proved with a simple reading of receipts – the Democrats instead focused on a murky case of diplomatic pressure involving the political fortunes of one of their own nabobs, the hapless, hopeless, hair-sniffing joke known as Joe Biden. Obviously, there could have been no practical, reasonable consideration behind such a ludicrous and counterproductive course of action; we can only attribute it to the mind-blind religious fervor of acolytes drunk on their own sanctimony.
Then again, as in all societies from time out of mind, religion, whatever else it does, functions as a veneer in which people are mesmerized by the glittering shadows and flickering shapes while the actual operations of power – the ugly, brutal, lizard-brained process of seeking (or serving) domination – carry on unabated and unnoticed. A cynic or unbeliever might be forgiven for suspecting that the Democratic leadership never intended for Trump to be removed from office before the election and thus chose their charge precisely for that reason – and then deliberately used the sanctimony embedded in the American subconscious to produce a great deal of distracting light and noise while they continued their own avid, lizard-brained pursuit (and service) of power and domination. For while Schiff and his mossy fellows were sanctimoniously decrying Trump’s moral depravity and unfitness for office, they also gifted him the largest, most lunatic military budget in the history of humankind (including the militarization of the cosmos).
Again, as noted here before, the real world of power is not the world most people think they are living in. To read the comments and columns of earnest liberals praising Schiff’s sanctimonious oratory is to know despair. Especially when you realize how paper-thin liberal sanctimony is against the genuinely hideous depredations of the Trump gang and its tens of millions of followers, all of them equally drunk on the delusions of divine sanction.
Perhaps, in the end, sanctimony is our high, hollow, established religion – while despair is the gritty, realistic faith of those hiding in the catacombs.