In 2016, self-described conservatives, the supposed defenders of the eternal verities, our national traditions, and family values, are rallying to the side of a cretinous, amoral lecher and thief. And liberals, the friends of the little guy and advocates of friendship among all races of men, are siding with a desiccated grifter and war hawk.
Pundits have a lot of explanations for the terrifying, depressing mess that is the 2016 presidential election. Some of my liberal friends say this year is explained by the return of backlash politics. They say that in American history every corresponding gain in the rights and esteem of racial minorities is met with a reassertion of white supremacy. Others point to how the parties have become more polarized, and how swing voters are disappearing. I've pointed to the way Republican politics have failed their heartland voters, noting that these Americans took their revenge on the establishment and a conservative movement that was disconnected from its clients.
Sometimes we pundits point to structural reasons. The Democrats have a superdelegate system that safely carried their scandal-plagued establishmentarian to the nomination. The Republicans don't. And if Republicans used a different voting system, where their party members ranked their choices, the party would have produced a different, less frightening nominee.
People who write about politics are trained by their education to look for explanations in some historical analogy, or some feature of the American system. And that's probably as it should be. Indeed, every single one of these explanations is right, to some degree.
But there's another way to look at it.
I suspect the most honest explanation for this election isn't superdelegates or a fluky GOP primary, but something more primal.
Yes, the day of the Lord is coming, pitiless, full of vengeance and bitter retribution, ready to turn earth into a wilderness, ridding it of its sinful brood. The stars of heaven, its glittering constellations, will shed no ray; sunrise will be darkness, and the moon refuse her light. I will punish the world's guilt, and tax the wicked with their misdoings, stilling the rebel's pride, crushing the haughtiness of tyrants, till a man is a rarer sight than gold, and a slave cannot be bought with all the treasure of Ophir. So terribly will I shake the heavens, and move earth from its place, to show that the Lord of hosts will be patient no longer, and the hour of his bitter vengeance has come. [Isaiah 13:9-13]
Conservatives tell themselves to present themselves as "optimistic." Religious people in America tell themselves to be "winsome." I'm a religious conservative and I've tried all that. I've made the idea of God's chastisement of our nation into a fun joke in another column at the beginning of this ugly spectacle. But the hour is at hand. And it's my duty to be honest with you.
I'm not joking. This isn't a metaphor or hyperbole. I'll give you all the technical and historical knowledge I have. We can discuss history and analyze policy options all day. But if you want my answer for what is actually going on in this election, I suspect we are experiencing God's wrath.
I look at the headlines, our candidates, our political parties, our civic life, and mostly what occurs to me is that God has given us over to ourselves in this election, and he lets us make fools of ourselves with it. And not just this election. All the signs of God's judgment of a nation, or a civilization, seem to be on us. In the Biblical accounts of Chronicles, you see the pattern. Faithful kings "seek" after God and ensure that a faithful liturgy is celebrated in Solomon's Temple. Unfaithful kings make alliances with wicked nations, and cement these alliances with idolatrous worship in "the high places" or even the Temple itself. This lack of faithfulness is generalized, and the priests become wicked and oppressive. The life of God's people becomes marked by violence, dislocation, and oppression. They lose the blessings of the Lord: good harvests, healthy children. They stop winning wars. They are conquered.
The Catholic Church, which I belong to, is rotten with wicked priests and mediocre leadership, ruined by pathetic attempts to make an alliance with the spirit of the age it lives in. It debauched its own liturgy to effect this alliance. Our sister churches of the Middle East are being put on the wrack of martyrdom by Sunni extremists, and the Western Church — fat with German money — is obsessed about how it might come to bless adultery. Last week, I read that the pope is seeking to come to some kind of understanding with a murderous regime in China. How pitiful. And then I look closer to home. Many civilizations have disgraced themselves with the murder of their enemies. But my own is one of few so debauched that we kill our own children and call it good.
Everywhere in the last decade, the leadership class of the Western World has been exposed for its avarice, its greed, its stupid clubbiness, its shallowness. The well-paid executives of our banks crash the economy while defrauding poor and working families. They get bailed out by the government, their bonus checks clear at the end of the year, and their banks' name are put on our Coliseums. Our leaders fecklessly start wars in the Middle East, and then throw up their hands in surprise when the result is chaos, death, and fury unleashed upon the whole world.
In democracies, citizens are said to be the sovereign of their nations. What have we as citizens done to repair the damage or bring justice to our countries? We do nothing. Turn on cable TV, shout at someone at Twitter. For all the times I've satisfied myself with doing only that, I'm sorry.
But for those who can accept it, God's judgment is a good thing. The same fire that consumes the chaff is used to purify gold and silver.
And now, says the Lord of hosts, your complaints have had their way with me. Complain you did: Who serves God serves him for nothing; what reward is ours for keeping command of his, attending with sad mien the Lord of hosts? Here are proud folk more to be envied than we, ill-doers that yet thrive, abusers of his patience that escape all harm! So they used to talk among themselves, his true worshippers, till at last the Lord gave them heed and hearing; and now he would have a record kept in his presence of all that so worshipped him, all that prized his renown. Dear they shall be to me, says the Lord of hosts, when I declare myself at last; never to loyal son was father more gracious; then you shall think better of it, and know them apart, the just that serve God and the sinners that are none of his. [Malachi 3: 13-18]
So these are the last of tens of thousands of words I've written in the run-up to this wretched election. I have lost my illusions about my political allies. Everyone seems to recognize the world tipping into craziness, and they respond by holding on tighter to their own version of craziness. Maybe this is mine. Roll your eyes if you like. I no longer fear Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or their fans. This election has taught me to fear God.