Glendower: I can call the spirits from the vasty deep.
Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come, when you do call for them?”
― William Shakespeare, King Henry IV, Part 1
The man who tried to kill author Salman Rushdie with a knife.
The lawyers who reportedly told a Latter-day Saints bishop in Arizona not to call the police when a member of his ward confessed to years of sexual abuse of his own children.
The leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention, now under federal investigation for years of allegedly covering up sexual abuse by members of its own clergy.
The Republican members of Congress — including Utah’s Rep. Chris Stewart and Sen. Mike Lee — who publicly jumped to the angry conclusion that the FBI had no cause to serve a search warrant on the Former Guy’s stately pleasure dome at Mar-a-Lago.
The man who attacked the FBI office in Cincinnati with a nail gun, and the people threatening federal agents and staging armed protests outside federal facilities, all because they believe former President Donald Trump is beyond questioning and above the law.
The Trumpublicans who have virtually destroyed the party of Reagan, Bush and (gulp) Cheney, replacing it with a movement that is openly out to destroy democracy, following the fascist playbook of amassing power by promising to hate the same people you are afraid of — specifically women, LGBT people, Black people, immigrants, teachers, librarians and people who can read.
The thread connecting all of this reprehensible behavior is the dogmatic belief of religion or politics — or, most dangerously, a mixture of both — that a certain faith tradition or particular leader is to be believed, obeyed and revered no matter what.
Americans are most likely to see that in the case of Rushdie, who has been under a death threat since 1989, when the supreme leader of Iran declared Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses” a blasphemous attack on Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, and put a bounty on the author’s head.
In England, where he mostly lives, Rushdie was protected by Scotland Yard and knighted by the queen. In the U.S. and other Western nations, he has been honored as a brave advocate of free thought and free speech. Which he is.
But Rushdie also wins support from Westerners because those who threaten him are, in our eyes, weird extremists who dress funny. Not regular Muslims but radical religious fanatics with no respect for individual freedom or responsibility.
There’s a lot of that going around. More than some Americans might want to admit.
Neither The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints nor the Southern Baptist Convention has, at least recently, put out a hit on any of its critics or lapsed members. But the apparent tendency of those faith traditions, along with the Roman Catholic Church, to protect themselves rather than shield children from the most heinous abuse is a thread that runs far too deeply among those who claim to represent the Almighty on Earth.
Americans generally are supporters, fans, adherents, but not worshipers, of their favorite politicians. Richard Nixon’s party abandoned him for sins far less grievous than Trump’s. Jimmy Carter went from refreshing voice of a new generation to 98-pound weakling in less than four years. George H.W. Bush lost his base when he raised taxes. Barack Obama and Joe Biden drew a lot of flak from their own party for not being liberal enough, both of them losing influence in the process.
Only with Trump, the Jan. 6 insurrection, the ongoing calls for armed uprisings and civil war, open advocacy of Christian nationalism, have the ugliest parts of religion become the ugliest parts of politics.
The automatic assumption of Trump supporters that the FBI has gone totally rogue is bilge not worthy of public officials. It’s not that the FBI’s history is so spotless. It clearly isn’t. Some serious congressional oversight is called for.
But the open calls from some Republicans to destroy the FBI rather than allow it to bring down, or even question, their lord and savior is something that Republicans worthy of the name should view with horror.
No potential political rival, Republican or Democrat, can, or seemingly even wants to, call demons from the vastly deep and, like Trump, expect them to actually appear. And looking for a politician who could amass such power in response is not something we should aspire to.
Perhaps the model here is not Shakespeare’s Glendower but Tolkien’s Gandalf, who said, “Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I have found that it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”
Sounds like a lot more fun.
George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, used to think it was funny to volunteer himself as a Salman Rushdie decoy. Not anymore.