On War and Walking Away

This summer we learned that the largest-ever political donation — $1.6b in shares of an about-to-be-sold business — was given to a non-profit set up by the co-chair of the radical right Federalist Society, Leonard Leo.

The mission of that non-profit, as described in the by-laws filed with the IRS, is “to maintain and expand human freedom consistent with the values and ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.”

Which sounds remarkably like something straight out of A.M. Homes’ latest novel.

Homes’ The Unfolding follows a clutch of disgruntled GOP donors who begin to plot a coup after Obama’s election. We have to act, the novel’s protagonist, the Big Guy, tells his pals:
Continuity, he says, requires a vision, a plan “that ensures that our government as we know it continues to stand . . . A forced correction.”

They plot to overthrow democracy in the name of defending democracy of course. It’s part of what interested her in this moment, Homes’ told me. “The notion of what democracy is, is no longer agreed upon.”

Leo’s outfit takes things one step further. In lieu of the fig-leaf word, democracy, Leo substitutes “freedom.”

Even more than democracy, the language of freedom vs. tyranny has characterized this year’s mid-term election campaigns. The flow of threats and individual attacks after the FBI search of Donald Trump’s mansion only made the rhetoric more bellicose. After losing her primary this summer, one GOP candidate in Florida wrote on Telegram, “It’s time to take the gloves off. This is a WAR.”

It’s notable though, that in Homes’ book, while the Big Guy plans, his family quietly walks away. His long silent wife, to claim her own life, and his daughter to question every last thing he’s ever told her.

Has Leonard Leo lost his grip on his domestic life? I don’t want to know. But I do want to note that the walking away is as much part of the story as the bellicosity.

George Washington was a disaffected British soldier, Homes pointed out when we talked. “He not only changed sides, but became, you know, this truly transformative figure.”

And transformation too, is a vision plan.

Laura Flanders interviews forward-thinking people about the key questions of our time on The Laura Flanders Show, a nationally syndicated radio and television program also available as a podcast. A contributing writer to The Nation, Flanders is also the author of six books, including The New York Times best-seller, BUSHWOMEN: Tales of a Cynical Species.  She is the recipient of a 2019 Izzy Award for excellence in independent journalism, the Pat Mitchell Lifetime Achievement Award for advancing women’s and girls’ visibility in media and a 2020 Lannan Cultural Freedom Fellowship for her reporting and advocacy for public media. lauraflanders.org