It can be tough having empathy sometimes. But it’s crucial that we do, because only in the light of seeing someone’s struggle can you understand your own.
Recently, Ted Cruz walked back his non-endorsement of Trump to actually endorse the man. Glenn Beck, that Diet Alex Jones and truly bizarre individual, had a little bit of a meltdown in reaction. Beck had loudly endorsed Cruz and felt that Cruz was chosen to be President by God Itself.
At first, watching Beck react, I was smiling to myself. It was delicious seeing someone across the aisle be exposed as a spectacularly credulous individual who really believed that Cruz, one of the slimiest and smarmiest politicians anyone has encountered, had integrity.
But that feeling rapidly faded. Because, in this moment, Beck asked real questions and he made real points. He pointed out that the two parties were essentially identical and then he said, ”Which one [of the two parties] is for the idea that all men are created equal?”
I don’t know how much Beck believes his own bullshit. But this I do now: Insofar as Beck was sincere, he got let down by every aspect of his privilege. Being a white, straight, affluent, cis-gender, Christian, American man had in every respect deprived him of even the most obvious insights.
By the time I was sixteen, I had researched the arguments well enough to see that those like Noam Chomsky and the late great Howard Zinn who stated that both parties were essentially the same were right. I don’t know if having a mother with an activist background or being the son of an immigrant or anything else let me escape Beck’s nonsensical funhouse view of the world, but whatever it was, I am thankful for it, because I was lucky.
Every single aspect of Beck’s errors can be traced to the way that his privilege, his ideology, and his echo chamber had trapped him into embracing.
The fact is that Cruz is essentially heeding the donors now. In order to win a tough reelection fight, he needs to replenish his coffers, and to do that he can’t be the one blamed for Trump losing a close race. Cruz’s calculation was obvious from the very beginning. His speech at the Republican National Convention, where he famously told people to “vote [their] conscience”, was far from some courageous truth-telling, after all. Given how poorly managed the RNC was, he could easily have pulled a reverse Mark Antony and damned Trump by praising him, using satire and sarcasm. He could have given the RNC one version of a speech and read another one. Heck, given that apparently Trump knew what he was going to do, he could have just written a few vague paragraphs then torn into Trump for the remainder of his time or until he was forced off the stage by someone who managed to realize that they should actually be managing their convention’s messaging.
Cruz didn’t do that. Instead, he delivered a speech that by and large went over well until he gave a passive-aggressive, ambiguous non-endorsement. Like every other cynical, disingenuous, self-serving politician, Cruz gave himself an out and accounted for all scenarios. If Trump did poorly, Cruz would be revealed as the person who stood up for conservative principles. If Trump did well, Cruz could say that he told people to vote for Trump because he told them to vote for their conscience. And that calculus extends to why Cruz endorsed Trump too: he is facing a tough election race.
It is simply astonishing that Beck, a man who claims to have so much ludicrously hyperbolic doubt about so many issues, would be so taken in by someone who is so slimy that even other politicians hate him. Sure, some of it can be explained by Beck’s total lack of critical reasoning and skepticism, which is what leads him to wildly link disparate ideas and coincidences to form conspiracies that are as nonsensical as the idea that Obama gave black people reparations by giving everyone, including lots of poor whites and excluding many already-insured people of color, health care: you know, that particular kind of reparations that you can only get if you get sick. But there are plenty of otherwise very-smart, savvy people who get taken in by a conspiratorial mindset intellectually. What’s amazing is that Beck has personally met Cruz and yet his integrity detector still couldn’t make him see the truth.
Even more remarkable, though, is that this year there really was someone who by all accounts really did care about what he wanted to bring about: Bernie Sanders. I recognize that Glenn Beck is a conservative and terrified of “socialism”, but isn’t it remarkable that he couldn’t ask for someone that passionate and self-sacrificing on his side?
Now, a critical reader might ask, “Wait a minute, Fred, aren’t you making the same mistake? Isn’t it possible that Sanders is just as big of a creep as Cruz?”
Sure. It’s possible that a man who gained the respect of those on the other side of the aisle for being true to his convictions and has been given shout-outs by everyone from Cruz himself to James Inhofe to Rand Paul, really doesn’t care about the things that he claims to. It’s possible this is all a long con. It’s possible that all of the times that Sanders could have gained political advantage through compromise and going the direction of the rest of the country were all just a way of building his credibility to run as a socialist in America, even though sticking to his guns on that front was very risky. Heck, it’s almost guaranteed that Sanders has some skeletons in his closet.
If so, so what?
I saw Sanders speak at UC Davis. He was not a polished speaker the way that someone like Bill Clinton was. He wasn’t charismatic by virtue of his personality: he was charismatic by virtue of caring about the issues.
I wasn’t voting for a savior. I was voting for someone who I felt was at least decent enough to do the job that I was electing him for. I have never demanded that anyone I’ve ever voted for was morally spotless.
Thanks to his Christianity, Beck really could believe that he had met someone who was a new Washington, some kind of literally God-sent saint who would bring his nation back on track. Imagine the arrogance that it takes to believe that one is so special that one would be there and be centrally involved for when Jehovah inspired a savior for a nation.
Obviously, there are many people whose faith, in whatever religion and whatever god or gods, makes them more humble and more cognizant of their place in the world. But Beck’s Christianity is not and never has been that. He represents a Christianity that is akin to the Judaism of the Pharisees: an ideology of power, domination and privilege, an ideology that tells its adherents that they are in the right just by virtue of being part of the chosen people. It’s the ideology of the hypocrite: pray loudly in public. This is of course, in America, a deeply white Christianity, the Christianity of the slave-owner not the slaveholder.
After all, remember that what Beck wanted was a new Washington. For him, Washington was morally sacrosanct, a saint for us all to try to live up to. And Washington was, by all accounts, an honorable man: he commanded his soldiers not to commit torture; he deliberately passed up the chance to be treated as a king in preference for establishing democratic norms. But he also held slaves. And yes, he freed those slaves… after having held them since the age of eleven and increasing the number of slaves he owned by marrying. He held more than three hundred people in his lifetime in servitude, waking up every day to their pain and ignoring it. He was also so patrician in his logic that he couldn’t even effectively command a rebel army at first. And, although he wasn’t inveterately against the rights of Native Americans, he did destroy Iroquois settlements.
And that’s only what we know. For all we know, the man lied, cheated, stole, gambled, screwed around, boozed, or beat his wife. History has a way of turning up the contrast on human beings like that: flawed but decent men become heroes, complicated but destructive men become monsters, and women are heavily marginalized.
Beck both can and must believe in this whitewashed, sanitized, black-and-white, God-and-apple-pie version of American history. To defend his privilege, he has to imagine America’s history and the leaders within it as somehow so special that it justifies being born into a society with this much wealth and fighting tooth and nail to keep it even as others starve. And sure, it must be nice to feel that righteous. But not only has it cost Beck his integrity and his critical reasoning, but now it has cost him that naivete and innocence. A man in his fifties will keep on being suckered by politicians, movements and causes that far younger people will see right through.
Maybe Beck should realize that men can be George Washington because George Washington wasn’t a saint. Ted Cruz is a real dick, but to the best of my knowledge he hasn’t enslaved a single person for a single day. Cruz is a better person than Washington.
Now, Beck himself has been part of insidious propaganda, and his posturing that he is defending that men are created equal is hilarious given both the history and the present realities of racism, sexism and homophobia that have made that creed laughable. And the rant that he gave about being shamed into goose-stepping would be a riot if it weren’t so vile. No, Beck, me saying that your party made the Trump Frankenstein’s monster because you played nice with racists and because you really at the end of the day don’t care about black people, and if you have an ounce of integrity you’ll vote for Johnson or Stein or even Hillary over Trump, is not akin to Nazi Germany.
But again, Beck can only make that comparison because he’s never lived in a real dictatorship.
This is going to be an ugly campaign season. But keep reminding yourself: these are your neighbors having the wool pulled over their eyes. Trump is a con artist, and he embraced the ultimate cons: racism, xenophobia, fascism and nationalism. Glenn Beck may have a lot of problems. I can quite easily say he sucks as a human being. But no one deserves to be taken in and to feel as bad as Beck did when he found out that he had been lied to.
It’s up to us to stand up to the lies.
This article was written by Frederic Christie, a writer for dusk magazine.