The Imperial Presidency

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My visual rendition of the above irreverent statement was triggered by an email I received of text puportedly written by Rev. Rich Lang of the Trinity United Methodist Church of Seattle Washington. (I believe that any kind of deity who might exist and in whom I might be convinced to believe would support this kind of irreverence on my part.)
[Update: I emailed the Reverend himself, and he verified his authorship of the text quoted beow.]
I thought it was fundamentally disturbing enough to post some of it here. (I personally confirmed that the quotes ascribed to the 2002 Texas Republican Platform are, indeed, accurate.) If you’re not scared yet, this should help:
Ominous signs are all around us concerning the accrual of power into the hands of the Presidency. If Mr. Bush stays in office I think our future will continue to witness shrinking political rights, financial collapse and endless war. Part of the power and seduction of this administration emerges from its diabolical manipulation of Christian rhetoric. I want to flesh out the ideology of the Christian Fascism that Mr. Bush articulates. It is a form of Christianity that is the mirror opposite of what Jesus embodied. It is, indeed, the materialization of the spirit of antichrist: a perversion of Christian faith and practice
Christian Fascism
This country, like it or not, is overwhelmingly dominated by the ideology of the Christian story. It is not so much that our founders were all Christians. Rather, they lived in an atmosphere which was visioned through the lens of Christian thought and rhetoric. What they saw was that America had become the New Israel (the new Promised Land) of God. America was a benevolent nation seeking only the good of all. Our wealth is a blessing given to us as a sign that we are a “chosen, special people” whose larger meaning is to help the world into an era of peace, prosperity and justice. Every politician draws on this “civil religion story” of benevolence which gives authority to the politicians ambition and agenda. Another way of saying this is: every nation needs sacred legitimation. It needs the authority of transcendence: of a story larger than itself … a story that connects past with present and future. An Empire needs an even broader story: one that connects with cosmic and/or historical redemption and new creation.
Martin Luther King understood this sacred American civil religion and was able to wed it brilliantly with the prophetic religious teachings of the Bible. He drew upon Biblical narratives which limited the power and authority of the elite while calling for economic redistribution of wealth. He drew upon teachings rooted in the personal morality of nonviolence and compassion. George Bush, on the other hand, also understands this sacred American ‘civic gospel’ and has brilliantly merged it with Biblical Holiness and Holy War traditions. These traditions call for the emergence of the Righteous Warrior who will cleanse the land of its impurity. These traditions are rooted in the personal morality of righteous zeal and obedience.

Renana Brooks writes (The Nation June 24, 2003: Bush Dominates A Nation of Victims):
“Bush is a master at inducing learned helplessness in the electorate. He uses pessimistic language that creates fear and disables people from feeling they can solve their problems. In his September 20, 2001 speech to Congress on the 9/11 attacks, he chose to increase people’s sense of vulnerability:
‘Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. … Iask you to live your lives, and hug your children. I know many citizens have fears tonight … Be calm and resolute, even in the face of a continuing threat.’ (Subsequent terror alerts .. have maintained and expanded this fear of unknown, sinister enemies.)”

Mr. Bush certainly sees himself as a Messiah figure. Listen to his language after 9-11: ” I will not forget this wound to our country or those who inflicted it. I will not yield; I will not rest; I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people.” Or, in his 2003 State of the Union speech: “I will defend the freedom and security of the American people”. He has become the nation. He is its embodiment. According to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, – Bush told him: “God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them.” This is Biblical language … it isn’t political script. This is Bush’s soul language. He understands himself as a man with a Divine mission. It also means that for him leadership is not “representing the people” rather leadership means transcending the will of the people. George Bush already knows the truth before the evidence is presented. He is guided by God and must blaze the trial even if the people are reluctant.
Iraq, for example, was a necessary war whether or not Saddam had nukes. Saddam, for Bush, was a bad guy who tried to kill “my dad”. The war, for Bush, was holy and justified and necessary. Purging evil is necessary in the Holiness/Holy War tradition of the Bible. The righteous will purge evil but the unrighteous will be consumed by it.

Jesus drew on the prophetic traditions that called upon the people to change their way of life even as it critiqued and called upon the elites to decentralize their power. Jesus role modeled a lifestyle of redemptive suffering on behalf of others. Mr. Bush, however, draws on traditions that call for purity and cleansing. It is a language of hostility towards enemies and a strident call for obedience. It calls forth a lifestyle of the RIGHTEOUS ONE who will purge evil from the world through sacred violence. This religious rhetoric, which merges Holiness Christianity with Imperial Americanism, is “in sync” with a growing new movement in theology called Christian Reconstructionism (or Dominion Theology).
Reconstructed Fascism
First and most basic is that Dominion Theology wants to replace democracy with a theocratic elite that would govern according to a very literal and peculiar interpretation of Biblical law. The disciples of Jesus are to have “dominion” over all of creation. It is the role of the Church to rule over the wicked and bring them into the obedience of faith.
In a “reconstructed society” democracy would be heresy. The division between sacred and secular would be abolished. A new insistence on conformity to moral rules would replace the pluralism we now know. The purpose of the Federal government would be to enforce morality through military and police functions. Society would be regulated by a theocratic elite: in the words of Pat Robertson: “just as the Supreme Court justices place a hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution, so they should also put a hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.”
We see this at play in the leanings of Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Thomas. Against the common assumption that we are a secular state Mr. Scalia has said (in a FIRST THINGS: May 2002 ) “government …derives its moral authority from God. Government is the minister of God with powers to revenge, to execute wrath, including wrath by the sword.”
Scalia is drawing from Romans 13. If taken literally the implication of those verses would prohibit any resistance against the policies of a government. No more peaceful demonstrations (the government would be justified to do what it did to those recently in Miami and earlier here in Seattle). Even writings of dissent and opposition could be labeled treasonous (this is part of Ashcroft’s passion for Patriot Acts and other warnings not to say too much).
Scalia (and many of the conservative judges placed in Federal Courts since Reagan) believe in interpreting the Constitution in its original intent. As Scalia has said (same article as above) “the constitution that I interpret and apply is not living but dead. It means today not what current society ..thinks it ought to mean, but what it meant when it was adopted.” So, as Katherine Yurica points out in her article THE DESPOILING OF AMERICA:
.. since the death penalty was clearly permitted when the 8th Amendment (which prohibits cruel and unusual punishments) was adopted and at that time the death penalty was applied for all felonies — including, for example, the felony of horse-thieving, “so it is clearly permitted today”.

The good society according to Dominion Theology has men on top. Society would be reconstructed into a strong patriarchy that would provide the social pressure ensuring conformity. Women would find their true function as supportive wives, mothers and homemakers. Those outside this “patriarchal modality” would be exterminated. (Today the Gay marriage movement is a true threat to establishing a patriarchal society. This administration has no choice but to make this a MAJOR issue in the coming election.).
Purity becomes very important. There is only one right way to see the world. It is therefore of fundamental importance to control education in all spheres of culture. We see this in the Bush administration’s approach to testing in schools; in his massive discounting of Global warming and in his repeated refusals to engage in open, diversified conversation about matters of importance: whether it be Cheney’s Energy Task Force, the investigation of 9/11; or the creation of an “in house” intelligence team which created evidence for the Iraqi war after the other governmental agencies couldn’t provide it. The Bush team KNEW the answers before the evidence was even accumulated.
Dominion Theology denies history and spurns the modern. It is not a conservative conserving) movement. Although it might appeal to a nostalgic and mythical past it is primarily focused on a radically, revolutionized future of utopia. It assumes that the end will justify the means and it is moral to work as “stealth agents” fooling the pagans. It sees the world as engaged in spiritual warfare pitting “good Christians” against everybody else. This HOLY WAR and HOLINESS rhetoric is foundational in Mr. Bush’s worldview.
Now if you think that this talk is bit “hyper” on my part … that I’m Chicken Little squawking in the wind … what then do you make of these Texas Republican platform positions of 2002 ???
“The Republican Party of Texas reaffirms the United States of America is a Christian nation.
Government: We reclaim freedom of religious __expression in public on government property, and freedom from government interference. Support government display of Ten Commandments.
… Dispel the “myth” of separation of church and state.
ECONOMY: Abolish the dollar in favor of the gold standard. Abolish the IRS. Eliminate income tax, inheritance tax, gift tax, capital gains, corporate income tax, payroll tax and property tax. Repeal minimum wage law …Gradually phase out Social security tax for a system of private pensions.
UNITED NATIONS: We immediately rescind our membership in, as well as financial and military contributions to the United Nations … we should evict the United Nations…
FAMILY: We believe that traditional marriage is a legal and moral commitment between a man and a woman. We recognize that the family is the foundational unit of a healthy society and consists of those related by blood, marriage or adoption. The family is responsible for its own welfare, education, moral training, conduct and property.
EDUCATION: Since Secular Humanism is recognized by the United States Supreme Court as a religion … Secular Humanism should be subjected to the same state and federal laws as any other recognized religion.
ENVIRONMENT: Oppose the myth of global warming. Reaffirm the belief in the fundamental right of an individual to use property without governmental interference.
This coming election will not be decided because of political policy. It will not be decided in a debate over free markets versus fair markets; tax cuts or no tax cuts, Patriot Act or no Patriot Act; military draft or no draft. None of these issues will determine the election because the candidates are all for free markets, tax cuts, domestic security and a strong global military presence. The election will be determined by the candidate who can embody the deeply felt, often unarticulated religious yearnings of the populace. Yearnings such as “who will save us, secure us, lead us??? who will connect us with a power greater than the terrors of the night?” Bush speaks this language. Democrats are stuck in political nuance. Or, in other words, Democrats cannot speak the language of Martin Luther King who understood that social transformation requires a transcendent authority. And it is a vision of transformation, not nuance, that gives people courage to risk alternative paths to violence.
The problem comes down to this: Democrats, liberals, and social progressives have simply not grasped how afraid, insecure and how deeply in despair the populace is. They keep speaking as if tinkering with the system is a vision that can win the day. What Bush and Rove, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz and Pearls, Abrams and Bolton, DeLay and Rice etc, have clearly understood is that truth is perception. Image is EVERYTHING! Unfortunately, the inner person of America today is a hollowed out consumer who lacks the will power, stamina and imagination to do anything more than be overwhelmed by appearances. Therefore, a politics of crisis, a politics of fear will keep us locked into a state of conformity.

Apocalyptic theology believes that Jesus dying for my sins is far more important than the teachings of Jesus. We see this in the recent movie PASSION OF THE CHRIST. What this creates is a spirituality that can overlook the teachings of Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount is re-framed as an impossible this-worldly ethic. Teachings about nonviolence, economic redistribution, compassion toward those who are thought of as sinners and resistance to injustice are all discounted. Recently, the Governor of Alabama in a fit of religious zeal wanted to take the economic teachings of Jesus seriously: he tried to reform his state to benefit the poor. The Christian Coalition led the charge against such thinking and foiled his efforts.
A leader who loves Jesus is to be followed as God’s man for the hour. The Christian leader is God’s shepherd over the American flock. When Bush, who sees himself as a messianic figure anointed by God, decided on running for the Presidency he called a group of evangelical Pastors together announcing to them “I have heard the call” and then received from them the “laying on of hands” which corresponds to divine ordination for the task ahead. On September 14, 2001 he stated: “our responsibility before history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil”. He then launched the crusade Operation Infinite Freedom against Afghanistan.

The point I’m trying to make is that we are not dealing simply with politics when it comes to the Bush administration. The progressive left, which often pays little attention to Christianity, and the moderate middle, which thinks “these things will balance out”; will be making a huge mistake if they overlook the religious ideology at the core of Mr. Bush personally and the movement he represents. And we are talking about a “movement” (a movement of ‘the people’ not just the elites). We are seeing today the emergence of a “fascist movement”. It is bankrolled and organized by Corporations, and articulated through the ideology of neo-conservatism. But the troops come out of the right wing church. And that church, drawing upon the Holiness/Holy War Biblical narratives of Apocalyptic-Dominionism theology, is growing in this country. This is not a battle between intellectual and institutional elites. It is far more intimate than that. It’s a battle in our homes, our families, friendships, neighborhoods and within our faith communities. Let me make a rather audacious prophecy: WHOEVER CONTROLS THE INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE WILL CONTROL THE FUTURE OF THIS NATION. In other words it’s the vision of Pat Robertson or Martin Luther King.
When Dave Korten (author of When Corporations Rule the World) says that we need a “new story”; he is talking about needing a transcendent authority in which we root our political culture. Human beings cannot live in societal form without a sacred narrative. Neither anarchy nor atheism can construct a house that will hold our future. The Republicans know this well. But the Democrats seem clueless.
What we need is a movement of spiritual justice. We need the language of those who can wed America’s civil religion with Biblical prophetic narrative. We need to expand that language so that it can include the language and stories that are emerging from the antiwar, fair trade and human rights movements.
Together this language can form a unique new narrative that has the power to inspire imagination and courage. A language that can call forth a new coalition powerful enough to envision a new and better world. It will be a language that articulates “we are the ones we are looking for”. A language that proclaims “God with us in our diversity” not God above us threatening wrath and ruin.

As I used to tell my (deceased) Republican Dad, when the revolution comes, you know what side I’m going to be on.
And, if my mother (88 years old and fully Catholic) knew I was posting this, she’d be very, very upset. What’s interesting is that yesterday I came home from having dinner with some friends and found her watching a PTV re-run of Bill Moyer and Joseph Campbell (1988) talking about “The Power of Myth.” It was all new to her and she couldn’t make much sense of it. How ironic that Joseph Campbell’s writings were seminal in informing my own mythic journeys. The power of myth. Yes. I don’t know if Dumbya ever heard of Joseph Campbell, but he certainly seems to understand how to create his own self-serving myths.
While I don’t share Rev. Lang’s faith, I do share his vision of the role that people of faith should be playing in supporting the fundamental intentions of American democracy. I hope that the Reverend Lang’s piece reaches viral proportions on Net email and spirals out into the minds and hearts of religous Americans everywhere.
You can read the Reverend’s entire piece here at the Smirking Chimp.

2 thoughts on “The Imperial Presidency

  1. So I guess a christian taliban is okay, huh? Onward christian soldiers?? A return to the mind-set of the middle ages. Kill all them infidels. I know, how about public crucifixions?

  2. There’s a very interesting piece ‘The Crusaders: Christian evangelicals are plotting to remake America in their own image’, from ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine, April 7th, 2005, at this page.

    It put me in mind of a very interesting article I’d read earlier on Rushdoony, the ‘founder’ of the Dominionist movement, on the SurvivalistSkills.Com site, at

    But such Christian influence in America is hardly new. Witness the huge array of Christian books for Women on the BeautyAndWomen.Com site, at, and a similar listing of Christian books for Men on the ‘New World Order Intelligence Update’ site, at

    Then there’s that classic battleground, creationism vs evolution. See the Toronto Christian Book Centre web page at for an impressive example of how this age-old debate has flared up again under the heading of ‘Intelligent Design’…

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