January 18, 2021
There’s nothing bluer than a clear, January sky in Jacksonville, Florida—I imagine it a sapphire background upon which the season’s liturgy is etched.
Catholics and Episcopalians (like me) observe the day of Epiphany twelve days after Christmas, on January 6. It’s also known as “Three Kings Day,” as it memorializes the Magi’s visit to meet the newborn Jesus. The baby, regarded as King of the Jews, was revealed, fulfilling a spiritual expectation on the part of the eastern Kings.
The word “epiphany” has since come to be associated with divine or innate revelation; enlightenment; a new understanding, one which occurs upon “seeing.”
Thanks to the rampage and deaths occurring at our Capitol on January 6, the day of Epiphany will henceforth mark American history. But how?
The question emerges in the words of American songwriter Don McLean: “Do you recall what was revealed[?]”
McLean’s international hit from 1971, “American Pie,” never fails to bring tears to my eyes. It wasn’t always that way. I grew up singing every word. Now, my voice breaks early on in the ballad, as I imagine the heartbreak my parents endured as young adults in the 1960s.
There were way too many widowed brides: Jackie, Betty, Coretta, Ethel.
The miracle of television brought the assassinations, as well as the Viet Nam war, to our living rooms. It must have felt to my parents as if the country were ripping itself apart, as if Evil, laughing with delight, had taken a foothold on our native land.
Is that what was revealed again this year, on January 6? Did we get a glimpse of the thin fragility of our democracy? A peek at our oldest, deepest, still festering wound—the scourge of “America’s original sin?”
Evil rears its ugly head in many forms, peddling its lies, reveling in our fears, animating white supremacists, duping Congresspeople.
But epiphanies are about light, not darkness.
If an American Epiphany occurred on January 6, I believe the revelation was in the response to the raid on the Capitol. The violence was quashed; its perpetrators, expelled, and later arrested. Those who deliberately engaged in the spread of misinformation—thus inciting the riot—faced swift and unequivocal rebuke.
Powerpoll correspondent Drew Dixon reported more than 90% of “movers and shakers” in Jacksonville disapproved of Congressman John Rutherford’s objections to certifying the electoral college vote on January 6, a view shared widely by other local journalists.
Days later, ten republicans in the US House of Representatives voted to impeach the president in the wake of the Capitol riots, for his behavior inciting them.
Twitter apparently experienced its own epiphany on January 8, when it permanently suspended POTUS’s account. It followed Facebook and other social media platforms in shutting down the president’s ability to broadcast his lies about the election results, lies he repeated for a national audience on January 6, both before and after the rampage.
For those supporters of the president who either believe in or insist upon his election lies, he had a word: “special.”
Indeed, POTUS has carried on a “special” relationship with factions of Christian conservatives who believe he is the “flawed leader” God has chosen to lead the country. His campaign capitalized on the comparisons his followers make between him and a biblical deliverer of the Isrealites, Cyrus.
God uses “flawed vessels” as instruments of His work, the reasoning goes.
Flaws are one thing.
Malignant, megalomaniacal narcissism is something else altogether.
From the beginning, 45 has shown us who is he, and who he’s for, i.e., himself. He is a man who is not accustomed to hearing the word “no.” Whether due to his wealth or his bullying or a combination of both, he is accustomed to sycophancy.
Last September, PBS aired via Frontline a biopic entitled “Choice 2020: Trump vs. Biden.” Interviewees described the former’s three major influencers: his brusque and disapproving father, Fred; the bombastic New York attorney Roy Cohn; and the guru of positive thinking, Methodist minister and author Norman Vincent Peale.
Peale’s emphasis on positive thinking, even in the face of evidence that contradicts a person’s wishes, has been criticized by psychiatrists and theologians alike. NPR boils down the essence of Peale’s positivity pitch as “an almost hypnotic fascination with confidence.”
A Methodist bishop called Peale’s followers a “cult.” A unitarian minister said Peale was peddling “an escape from reality.”
When it comes to overcoming obstacles and challenges in life, prayerful consultation with God and magical thinking are two different things. Believers are taught than when we pray, we’re to seek the greatest of all possible goods, as God would ordain.
Magical thinkers, on the other hand, misbelieve that repeating a lie often enough will turn it into the truth, substituting their own will for God’s infinite wisdom.
Is Donald Trump God’s flawed vessel for some future deliverance America has yet to see?
Or is he a megalomaniacal demagogue who has fleeced half a nation?
Perhaps he is, simply, the result of an upbringing in which others were too dazzled by his family wealth, too intimidated by his bluster, or too worn down by his bullying to competently call him to account.
After all, when a person’s magical thinking is reinforced by enablers over the course of a lifetime, delusion becomes habitual.
Over the years-long course of an authoritarian leader-follower relationship, delusion becomes infectious, resulting in shared psychosis, or folie à millions on a national scale.
One forensic psychiatrist, author, Bandy X. Lee, predicts deep disillusionment and trauma among Trump’s supporters once he is removed from power. As with liberated cult members or domestic abuse survivors, Lee asserts, removal of the abusive figure is the first step in healing.
Lee says addressing the fundamental wounds making us vulnerable to narcissistic abuse in the first place–including economic injustice–will take longer.
Now is the winter of our discontent. Only time will tell us whether 45 will ever face the consequences of his misdeeds and alleged crimes. With apologies to Shakespeare, perhaps a different New York attorney, a veritable sun/son (or daughter) of York, will deliver us a glorious summer.