The real enemy

A little over a year ago, I warned of our naivete in believing that we in this country are still carrying on “normal” politics. (“The Boogaloo President,” June 10, 2020). Rather, as I said, America is under assault by a sizeable faction of internal anti-government revolutionaries determined, as Steve Bannon has put it, to “bring everything crashing down,” and who will stop at nothing, including a civil war, to achieve that end. In the 13 months since then, the shape of this campaign has become clearer, exemplified in the Capitol insurrection of Jan. 6 and epitomized in a neighborhood flag I saw recently depicting the stars and stripes being torn asunder to reveal a Confederate flag emerging from underneath.

One aspect of this assault is the transparent seven-step strategy being carried out to return Donald Trump to power, part of a larger agenda to further weaken fundamental American institutions by using our political system against itself.

Connecting the dots, it looks like this:

1. Ensure that Trump is eligible to run again by refusing to convict him in his (second) Senate impeachment trial;

2. Keep his base intact by continuing to repeat his lies about a “stolen” election and the delusion that he is still the “rightful” president;

3. Airbrush the capitol riot to discount or obliterate any evidence of incitement or wrongdoing on his part and thus to maintain the fiction of his innocence;

4. Stonewall President Joe Biden and the Democrats to minimize erosion of Trump’s policies until his return;

5. Use the next three years to disenfranchise everybody who might vote against him in another election and to undermine trust in the integrity of the electoral system generally;

6. Spread misinformation about COVID vaccines and climate change in order to keep the country in a constant turmoil of confusion and fear — ideal breeding grounds for revolution. “Don’t let a good crisis go to waste,” as the saying goes. Not everybody wants the pandemic to be over;

7. Continue to promote violence such as hate crimes and further insurrections by so-called “patriots” as a last resort if all else fails.

This agenda is well advanced. In addition to the many radical groups actively energizing it, millions of our citizens embrace it and cheer it on as a restoration of the “real” America and its freedoms, a heroic fight against a godless left-wing “socialist” takeover supposedly in progress. Millions more are terrified by it, repelled by its lies, violence and authoritarian contempt for democracy and the rule of law. All three sides are boiling with hatred, distrust, rage, and disdain for the others, making for an explosive level of national division sufficient, as Thomas Merton said 50 years ago, to “blow the place sky high.”

But with our collective attention distracted and fragmented in this way, we mistake these presumed “enemies,” however we might perceive them, for the real enemy working behind the scenes. This enemy was identified decades ago by the then-prominent lay theologian William Stringfellow, who took seriously the words of Ephesians 6:12: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Stringfellow went on to characterize these principalities and powers as “demonic,” by which he meant not little red men with horns and pitchforks but as “that which brings death,” and enumerated in detail (in 1973, long before Donald Trump) the “stratagems” they use to accomplish their destructive and murderous ends. These include (to use his terms) the denial of truth, doublespeak and overtalk, secrecy and boasts of expertise, surveillance and harassment, exaggeration and deception, cursing and conjuring, and diversion and demoralization. That such stratagems, and the culture of death they bring with them, have dominated our “news,” especially in recent years, is self-evident confirmation of Stringfellow’s astute analysis.

It is crucial, however, to notice that none of these powers and stratagems is the exclusive property of some “other” side. As fallen creatures we are all fatally attracted to them, fascinated by evil (80% of our thoughts — and news — are negative), and enmeshed in demonic systems masquerading as good. What is common to all of us, regardless of our political or ideological persuasions, is that we are acting as those powers’ agents by choosing their way of death, a choice now playing itself out in countless ways big and small as COVID death rates skyrocket, people are at each others’ throats, and the planet goes up in flames. The warfare we are embroiled in is not, as we imagine, political but rather, as St. Paul realized, spiritual in nature. And we are all complicit, all dancing to the tune of dark powers which, indifferent to whether we support Trump or Biden or someone else, are only out to destroy us.

Once we have seen this, the way out of our suicidal predicament is not far to seek. It is found in Deuteronomy 30:19 where Moses says to the Israelites, “…I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore, choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.” Given our propensity to cooperate with the forces of darkness, this is not as easy as it may seem. It does not “come naturally.” It involves, as Albert Schweitzer said, showing all will to live (not just unborn human fetuses, but the whole web of life on earth) the same reverence we show our own. It involves cultivating the fruits of the spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 — love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, gentleness, (and) self-control. It involves becoming peacemakers who respect the dignity of every human being, envisioning new futures from a stance of love. What a contrast to our current degraded political and social landscape!

Choose life. The demonic powers, seeking only death, will fight us fiercely; but our one hope of surviving this pivotal time in history is to firmly reject their monstrous agenda.

John Radigan lives in Saranac Lake.


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