Kevin Phillips: American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st century
Viking (Penguin Group): New York, 462 pp.
Bach's Mass in B Minor, late night reading of Kevin Phillips's American Theocracy, and a Lunesta pill combine this 4th of July weekend to give Mark Dankof a nocturnal kaleidoscopic dream combining Phillips's data and argumentation with a flashback to JFK's San Antonio sojourn on November 21, 1963, and a glimpse of an Obelisk dedication in the Alamo City with ominous implications ahead.
The sounds of the sun-drenched crowd lining either side of Broadway in downtown San Antonio erupt into tumultuous applause and universal acclamation at the sight of the southbound Lincoln Continental bearing the 35th President of the United States. The seating arrangement is curiously different from what it would be in Dealey Plaza in Dallas the next afternoon. John Kennedy is in the identical position, the right rear. But Governor John Connolly is seated to the President's left in the rear of the limousine. In front of the Texas Governor is the radiant First Lady; in front of the President, Nellie Connolly is situated with an obviously eager demeanor in expectation of the first scheduled motorcade stop since arrival at the airport.
The first stop proves to be near the intersection of Broadway and Hildebrand, the entrance of the University of the Incarnate Word. Mary Ann Bluhm, the Student Body President, has been appointed to present Mrs. Kennedy with a bouquet of yellow roses. The President is engulfed by a sea of ebullient, adoring college youths. Ever ready for the classic photo-op, John Kennedy begins what seems to be an endless session of flesh-pressing and penning of autographs.
When the penultimate procession of Camelot resumes, it does so with the goal of reaching Brooks Air Force Base. John Kennedy will unknowingly conclude his Presidency with what would prove to be his last official act: dedicating the United States Air Force's much-vaunted center of medical technology research.
Strangely enough, the motorcade makes an unexpected left turn off of Broadway. It leaves the realm of time and south Texas sunlight, and disappears into the cool, gray mist of historical mystery and eternity past. What seems especially surreal is that the gathered swarms of greeters positioned in linear fashion on the east and west sides of Broadway do not notice the unexplained evaporation of the Lincoln Continental bearing the 35th President of the United States. The rest of what was the Presidential procession and entourage continues south toward downtown as planned.
But the terminus for the seemingly endless stream of limousines is not Brooks Air Force Base, but San Antonio's Hemisphere Plaza. At the Plaza entrance is a circular mass of humanity, gathered in a strange synthesis of anticipation and reverence. The focus is on an Obelisk, 90 feet tall, standing rigidly erect on a platform comprised of ascending gold, silver, copper, and iron steps. The Obelisk itself is veiled with the American flag, an awesome, engulfing fabric of endless Red, White, and Blue. At the top of the flag-veiled edifice is a Cross. What is the character and meaning of this eerie creation? What will its unveiling portend--or unleash? I have a vague sense of uneasiness which palpably increases as the remainder of the motorcade arrives, and the crowd continues to jockey for viewing position.
There is a great hush as a rotund man, dressed as the Hebrew High Priest, bows down to the statue before turning to address the faithful in his immediate view. The plump, jowly cleric is attired, not simply in the coat, breeches, sash, and cap of the ordinary priest, but the awesome garb of the High Priest donned for acts commissioned by God in the direction of public worship. These include the Breastpiece, ephod, sash, and turban. The Breastpiece is clearly the most prominent component. It contains twelve precious stones set in gold and arranged in four rows. On the stones themselves are engraved the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. Inside the Breastpiece is known to be the Urim and Thummim, the small oracular objects utilized by the High Priest in ascertaining the will of God for the people.
The High Priest seems a most odd and improbable fellow. His countenance changes from stern legalist to smirking chimpanzee. When he speaks, his accent is clearly South Texan with a slight trace of the Appalachian.
"We are gathered here today," he intones, "to commemorate God's richest blessings and covenant relationship with the Greatest Empire ever known, and to rejoice that in a land as great as America, we continue to proclaim the Kingdom of God in our midst. Today's celebrated and much anticipated unveiling of the Presence of God in our midst is evidence of the ongoing guidance of the Biblical God in our lives. Praise the Lord!"
The crowd erupts in spontaneous applause and shouts of "Praise the Lord! May He reign forever!" The chants increase in intense repetition as the Marine Corps Honor Guard begins to carefully remove Old Glory from the Obelisk, that all might see the unveiling of the Mystery of Yahweh in Hemisphere Plaza.
Once revealed, the Obelisk appears as an industrial smokestack from a previous era in American industrial production and manufacturing. It bears an inscription etched on its surface, extending from top to bottom: GOD BLESS THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. I am not participating in the frenzied mass-hysteria that sweeps through the sea of humanity that surrounds the Obelisk. My earlier unease at the initial appearance of the High Priest multiplies exponentially upon close inspection of the gold, silver, copper, and iron steps which lead to the platform where the Obelisk stands at attention. Each step has its own inscription. The gold step is marked, "Banking." The silver step is entitled, "Oil." The copper step bears the appellation, "The Instruments of War." The iron step serving as the apex is marked, not by words, but a symbol emblazoned in fiery red on its front facing. The symbol is a seemingly demonic trinity of three separate individual symbols, transposed upon each other: Old Glory, The Cross, and the Star of David.
The High Priest now matches the crowd in repetitive phrase and intensity, raising his arms to the heavenly firmament while continuing to bellow, "Worship and Praise the Lord, with Tithes and Offerings, even as we praise His Holy Empire forever and ever!"
The crowd bows continually in response to the High Priest and the Obelisk, feverishly chanting in unison, "Who is like the Kingdom of God? Who is able to make war with it?"
I am overcome by the impulse to run away. As unobtrusively as possible, I turn my back to the High Priest and the Obelisk, speed walking in the opposite direction. I pray that I will be able--somehow--to reach safety, wherever that might be. My head is down, my collar turned upward, my legs pumping in the best speed-walking form I can muster, headed north. I do not know how much time has passed, but I find myself back in a deserted section of Broadway again. While relieved at the separation from the events of Hemisphere Plaza, there is an enveloping sense of fear and oppression beyond anything ever experienced before.
Jesus Christ: The Lord of the Kingdom Which Surpasses Empires
The metallic Westclox alarm clock re-enters consciousness with its incessant ticking. It is still night. Broadway Avenue has faded away, as I find myself sprawled on the top of my bedspread, staring blankly at the ceiling of my small apartment in the Alamo City. The fluorescent watch face of green and gold informs me that it is three a.m. The oppressive feeling of anxiety, increased heartbeat, and chest pressure recede as consciousness gradually reclaims me. I am soaked in night sweats, but relieved beyond words. My first impulse, acted upon, is to thank the Biblical God that His Kingdom is not of this World ruled by the Prince of Darkness, and is a Kingdom rooted in love, forgiving grace, and the absolute absence of the fatally corrosive effects of power, ambition, and Empire.
The second thought is this: while I will never again read anything like Kevin Phillips's American Theocracy before attempting to retire in the evening, what do I put to paper at 3 a.m. that reflects the data and analysis from his latest magnum opus? I begin by penning the following for myself, and for the readers in Cyberspace I have the pleasure and responsibility of working for:
Kevin Phillips's American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century, suggests the strong and ominous possibility, even the likelihood, that the United States has begun its slippage down the ladder of descent that has characterized Empires throughout human history. Phillips does not choose the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman models from Daniel's apocalyptic analysis in chapters 2 and 7 of his prophecy. The former Republican strategist draws most effectively on 17th century Hapsburg Spain, the Holland of the 18th century, and the British Empire of the 19th and early 20th centuries in suggesting that it may be twilight for the salad days of the American experience.
What is the synopsis of evidence that, in Phillips's words, the United States is on the "wrong track" (Preface, vii)? The Connecticut-based analyst cites a number of trends and phenomena, subsequently buttressed with raw data and effective argumentation. These include "Reckless dependency on shrinking oil supplies, a milieu of radicalized (and much too influential religion), and a reliance on borrowed money--debt in its ballooning size and multiple domestic and international deficits. . . . (Preface, vii)."
Paleo-conservatives have long warned of the dangers of the overextension of American Empire, in terms of the leakage in national power from a constant resort to military interventionism abroad. The author sounds this same note in stating that "Today's United States, despite denials, has obviously organized much of its overseas military posture around petroleum, protecting oil fields, pipelines, and sea lanes (Preface, ix)." Phillips underscores the implications of this strategy for an America in $4 trillion dollar hock internationally in his "Fuel and National Power" chapter, drawing the reader's attention to the continued historical pattern of past leading powers who caught the virus of "imperial hubris" (p. 6), a disease which led each Empire in question into a "strategic overreach they could no longer afford. . . . left with crippling debt burdens, lost trade advantages, a stricken currency, and increasing vulnerability as rivals increase their stature as creditor nations, financial centers, and technological innovators" (p. 6). In this regard, the argumentation of American Theocracy reads like a repristination of Dr. Abbas Bakhtiar's excellent, ominous analysis in The Coming Financial Crises.
Bush's pseudo-nationalistic supporters, Religious Right and otherwise, seem not to notice the burgeoning American reliance on foreign creditors for this lethal combination of resource wars abroad and consumerist culture at home. Phillips' provides copious evidence of the cancerous decline of the once-vaunted manufacturing sector of the American economy and its concomitant replacement by a financial-services sector whose predatory modus operandi is debt (vii, x, pages 28, 265, 266, 267, 271, 280, 281-88). This debt is a four-fold tier (p. 338) of national debt, household debt, financial-sector indebtedness, and current-account deficit. American Theocracy then proceeds to include what Bakhtiar and others have suggested may be the final passage of sunset for the United States at the beginning of the 21st century: the jettisoning of the Petro-Dollar as the world's reserve currency and the agreed-upon currency for all oil transactions internationally. Iran's development of an oil bourse on Kish Island, denominated by the Euro or an agreed-upon basket of international currencies, may be the real reason for Washington's saber-rattling of recent months on the nuclear power and uranium enrichment issues. In a similar vein, were Weapons of Mass Destruction the reason for the American invasion of Iraq in March of 2003? Or was Iraq's similar attempt at a dollar-detached Bourse and its rumored possession of 200 billion barrels in oil reserves beyond present estimates (p. 77) the real endgame? And if America strikes Iran with a preemptive military initiative, what would be the result of a dumping of American dollars on currency-exchange markets by the Asian banks of China, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea? What are the compounding effects that would occur if dollar-dumping replaces Petrodollar recycling into the American bond and arms markets (p. 41)? Kevin Phillips correctly terms this increasingly probable scenario, "the stuff of nightmares" (xii).
Finally, for paleo-conservatives, Kevin Phillips's analysis of the American Religious Right bears particular scrutiny. The author's intimation that traditional theism, and the attendant Creationist worldview, has inhibited the development of scientific and technological progress in the United States is a post-Enlightenment axiom asserted in many liberal circles, in this instance without the supporting data which underscores most of the rest of the argumentation of the book. The accompanying suggestion that opposition to Roe versus Wade is similarly detrimental to the Christian Right is also asserted by the author, without any acknowledgment of the serious metaphysical questions involved in determining the question of when life begins and what the role of the State is in establishing the legal parameters of its protection. Phillips also avoids the compelling implications of the brand of judicial activism inherent in the Roe decision, and its connection to the decline of the Constitutional question of the separation of powers. If George W. Bush is the embodiment of an Imperial Executive run amuck, is not Roe an indictment of an Imperial Judiciary which has usurped any of the additional rights and responsibilities of a Congress not already stolen by the Executive? Why is the American Left now crying foul over alleged Court Packing by Mr. Bush, when Franklin Roosevelt established the methodology in question to facilitate the circumvention of state and national legislatures in the interest of the agenda of the New Deal--a practice embraced by the Left during its victories in the salad days of the Warren Court? And if Mr. Bush is packing the Robes, is abortion policy really his endgame agenda, or is it the ensconcement of the power of Corporate America, and the legitimization of governmental War and Police Powers in the service of the Beast?
Mr. Phillips is far more on target in his analysis of the dangers of the Dispensational and Reconstructionist movements within the larger house of the American Christian Right, and their liabilities for the foreign and domestic policies of the United States. If the danger for Dispensationalism is the alliance with Zionism to create a self-fulfilling prophecy for global conflagration and World War III (a conflagration most Dispensationalists believe they personally will avoid due to the Pre-Tribulational Rapture doctrine undergirding Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series), Christian Reconstructionism's tenets may well be most vulnerable to the charge that they create the potential for a theocratic legitimization of the worst aspects of the agenda of Empire and Central State. Phillips also believes that the eschatological fatalism of Dispensationalism has been an impediment to serious activism to improve political and economic conditions in America, a fascinating, if qualitatively unproven assertion.
And when it comes to the acknowledged alliance between the Dispensational Right and the Zionist State, Phillips and other researchers would do well to provide the data and analysis of how deeply these links go, and what the implications are. How many of the Christian para-church ministries and publications with pro-Israel leanings are receiving direct and indirect funding and logistical support from the Jewish Lobby, the Israeli intelligence community, and the darkest hallways of Corporate America? Who are the real players in the non-profits, the publishing houses, the news media, the think-tanks, the pulpits, and in televangelism? What are their formal and informal connections and networks? What are the sources and the trails of the money involved? Phillips merely hints at the possible magnitude of this phenomenon in mentioning the Council for National Policy and the Committee for Revival (COR). But what are the implications of Rupert Murdoch holding Zondervan Publishing House as one of the components of his empire? And what may lie behind John Hagee's establishment of Christians United for Israel ? Are these questions devoid of comprehensive answers because of the conspiracy of silence among the members of the American Establishment, Left and Right, about the obvious disproportionate influence of American Jews in the corridors of power in the United States? Phillips seems too polite to raise the question overtly, or to delve into the preliminary material for comprehensive answers. Since some of these forces seem to be directing America into an overt Clash of Civilizations in the Middle East, for motivations which synthesize fossil fuels acquisition with theology, answers may fairly be demanded by the discerningly inquisitive.
And finally, if Kevin Phillips is essentially correct in his macroanalysis of the direction of America in American Theocracy, which I believe him to be, what will this mean for the innocent in the land when the Empire is gone, through painful attrition or immediate cataclysmic event?
This question reminds me of the painful experiences and exile of the innocent in the midst of the events that overtook Pahlavi Iran over a generation ago. Names like Shirin Neshat, Fereydoun Hoveyda, Bahman Nassiri, and Farrokh Ashtiani are not household names among the masses in Bush's America. But their loss, their pain, and years of exile outside their homeland may be a proleptic warning to flag-wavers and Wal-Mart minions on this 4th of July weekend. Mr. Hoveyda's 1979 volume, The Fall of the Shah (Wyndham Books), makes for excellent companion reading to American Theocracy, if you can find it 27 years later. In both cases, these books warn the reader that the doctrine of Exceptionalism is a dangerous one for Empires--American, Persian, or otherwise--who believe themselves to be exempt from the axioms that govern the rise and fall of Kings and Nations throughout recorded history.
(Mark Dankof is a Lutheran pastor and free-lance journalist, occasionally contributing to Iran Dokht, Al Bawaba, Nile Media, CASCFEN, and other Internet news sites. Once a 3rd party candidate for the United States Senate in Delaware , he maintains the web-site Mark Dankof’s America while pursuing post-graduate theological education at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.) His commentary may be found regularly on SARTRE's Old American Right and Republic news site, Breaking All the Rules.
© 2002 Mark Dankof
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