Tag Archives: Donald Trump

A staggering look at the forces behind the evangelical pick for president

Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump

Pardon the beach-read aesthetic. Here’s the cover of Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump by Gary Lachman.

Updated Sept. 8, 2018, just to say: See this brief review of Dark Star Rising in the Church Times.

Below I’ve pasted my brief Instagram review (with a few minor edits) of Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump by Gary Lachman:

Gary Lachman first became famous as Gary Valentine, bass player and one of the songwriters for Blondie. But since then, he’s become a journalist and cultural historian, writing about the presence and influence of the occult and mysticism in the contemporary world, along with biographies of key historical proponents of esoteric ideas.

One of his previous books, Politics and the Occult: The Left, the Right, and the Radically Unseen (2008) mapped out the stranger ideas and beliefs behind a variety of political figures, past and present. Now 10 years later, in Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump, Lachman has focused on Trump, his background, and some of his advisers, who have found inspiration in writers and thinkers with especially weird and troubling takes on reality.

The New York Times, for instance, has reported on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s admiration for Julius Evola, the late “Italian occultist and esoteric philosopher” (as Lachman describes him) who has found admirers among racists both in the U.S. and Russia, including the American white nationalist Richard Spencer. Oddly enough, now with Russia on the minds of U.S. politicians and national security officials, Putin’s right-hand man Alexander Dugin has made political connections with an Italian disciple of Evola.

Lachman’s research for this book, combined with his background knowledge from writing 20-some books on historical and cultural intersections with the occult, brings to light angles on our current president that most news and commentary haven’t touched.

A few people have left the White House, including Bannon, and a few things have changed since this book was published. But I’ll wager anyone who reads Dark Star Rising will feel even more uneasy about the state of our manufactured politics and the potential for a dark future.

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‘Marx in Soho’ and the current political climate

Howard Zinn, in his 1999 play Marx in Soho, has Karl Marx say something like, “Why is it that every movement of six people is trying to expel someone?” In Zinn’s imagination, even Marx is exasperated at the ideological zealotry that can lead a group as small as six people (with essentially the same goals and values) to wage an intense purity campaign within its own ranks. It’s food for thought in these times, when someone who agrees with you 75% of the time can be 100% your enemy. There is no room for compromise, is there? Better a scorched Earth than a shared Earth, right? Just to be sure, you have to keep everyone within your ranks pure enough. Be vigilant.

During my visit to the Museum of Communism in Prague this past summer, I saw a display that revealed Party officials would sometimes torture and execute Party loyalists just to keep everyone in line through fear. The display showed mugshots of innocent people who were cherry-picked for torture and execution—even when the Party officials knew they had done nothing wrong. Purity through terror.

Update, Jan. 14: 

While social media hissing is not quite like torture and execution, the condemnation of Margaret Atwood by the self-appointed, self-anointed “Good Feminists” is an example of a vicious purity campaign. Read Atwood’s account in The Globe and Mail.

If the name of Margaret Atwood rings a bell, it’s because she is the author of the 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale, which recently became an acclaimed Hulu series. I teach her essay, “The Female Body,” in one of my writing courses each semester. Atwood strikes me as a feminist icon, but lately she has fallen out of favor with some purists.

The purists’ response to her civil-rights stance underscores my original point in this post. In a world with Donald Trump as president, left-leaning people actually want to target Margaret Atwood? But if you agree with her only 75% of the time, she must be 100% your enemy. That kind of thinking earns you Donald Trump.

GOP Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska Explains Why The News Media is Not The Enemy

I thought this was worth the tedious process of transcribing from a DVR.

On CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper today, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska countered President Trump’s abuse of the news media.

I thought some of Sasse’s points are worth recording.

Sasse: “There’s an important distinction to draw between bad stories or crappy coverage and the right citizens have to argue about that and complain about that and [versus] trying to weaponize distrust.”

Shortly thereafter:

“The reality is journalism is really going to change a lot more in the digital era and we have a risk of getting to a place where we don’t have shared public facts. A republic will not work if we don’t have shared facts. I’m the third most conservative guy in the senate by voting record, but I sit in Daniel Patrick Moynihan‘s desk on the floor of the U.S. Senate on purpose because he’s the author of that famous quote, that you’re entitled to your own opinions but you’re not entitled to your own facts. The only way the republic can work is if we come together and we defend each other’s rights to say things that we differ about, we defend each other’s rights to publish journalism and pieces and things that we then want to argue about. I agree with the president that there is a lot of crappy journalism out there. Jake, I think you would agree, that there’s a whole bunch of clickbait  out there in the world right now.

Tapper: “Sure, of course.”

Sasse: “Barriers to entry to new journalism are going to go down, down, down, [Tapper grimaces] and so it is going to be possible, in the next 3 and 5 and 10 years, for people to surround themselves only with echo chambers and silos of people that already believe only what they believe. That’s a recipe for a new kind of tribalism, and America won’t work if we do that. So we need to come together, as a people, and reteach our kids what the First Amendment is about, and it’s not helpful to call the press the enemy of the American people….”

I think we already have “echo chambers and silos of people” and “a new kind of tribalism.”

A bit later, Sasse said:

“The problem we have right now—and I’ll pull up here, but—we’re hollowing out local community and neighborhoods. Some of that’s massive economic change. But at the same time we’re politicizing our national conversations so that the only community a lot of people have is what they project onto Republican and Democratic parties. These parties are pretty bankrupt intellectually. They’re not interesting enough to put your grand hopes and dreams on. We need a recovery of the local and the neighborly.”

You can watch a video of the entire interview here.

Political Heroes

Written in 1992, resonant today:

“[B]y the end of the eighteenth century a whole new type of public figure had to be invented: individuals who could—as Mussolini would have it—make the trains run on time. Napoleon was the first and is still the definitive model. These Heroes promised to deliver the rational state, but to do so in a populist manner. The road from Napoleon to Hitler is direct. Indeed, most contemporary politicians still base their personas on this Heroic model.”

— John Ralston Saul, in his book Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, in a chapter entitled “The Theology of Power”

Donald Trump as faith healer and televangelist

I should, and I will, skip an attempt at the underlying meaning behind 33 percent of South Carolina evangelicals voting for Donald Trump.

Instead, I’ll repeat part of Sarah Posner’s plausible analysis on the Washington Post‘s Acts of Faith blog.

“Trump is arguably the candidate most resembling a televangelist.

“For many evangelicals, Pentecostals and charismatic Christians, magical thinking has found its expression through the prosperity gospel, much to the consternation of Christians who consider it a heresy and a fraud. A uniquely American contribution to the evolution of Christianity in the modern age, the prosperity gospel teaches that God wants believers to be rich.

“It’s also called the health and wealth gospel: Its adherents believe that God blesses the faithful with great wealth, keeps their health robust and cures the faithful of every malady. Successful televangelists boast of revelations received directly from God and of their ability to produce miracles….

“Despite countless exposés of prosperity televangelists’ excesses — including Creflo Dollar’s pleas for his followers to fund his $60 million Gulfstream airplane, Benny Hinn’s phony faith healings, and Kenneth Copeland’s luxurious homes, cars and planes — televangelism still thrives in America. It is, according to the scholar Kate Bowler, who wrote a book about it, ‘one of the most popular forms of American Christianity.’ It has permeated evangelical culture, through television, megachurches, conferences and books that are found not just in Christian bookstores but also at the checkout line at supermarkets and in airports…..

“Copeland’s television program is called ‘The Believer’s Voice of Victory.’ Winning. Copeland was one of a roomful of televangelists who laid hands on Trump last year, thanking God ‘for a bold man, a strong man and an obedient man’….

“Trump draws his most significant support from voters who make less than $50,000 a year. He has led them to believe that only a rich, successful entertainer can make America great again. Like a televangelist, Trump’s success is seen as evidence of his prowess, but even more important, of God’s good favor. His supporters seem to believe, too, that he will bring them along for the ride.”

I really like Posner’s idea of affiliation: If I affiliate myself with the prosperity-preaching televangelist, I’ll get close, closer, to the faith I need to succeed. If I affiliate myself with a wealthy businessman, I’ll get close, closer, to the mojo I need to succeed.

And, after reading that, if you ever had any doubt that Kenneth Copeland is a fraud, well, all doubts should now be gone.

I mean, in the context of Posner’s post, Copeland only called Trump “obedient” after receiving a nice donation.

Meanwhile, I’ve been posting a spelling pun on social media today—”Donald Trump: Make America Grate Again”—only to be informed by a former newsroom colleague that an editorial cartoonist got there first. Dang it.