Live Not by the Sword
The ballot box and bullets are a set
It is written: He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.
Donald Trump has spent the last four years running his presidential administration as an extension of his wrestling career. He has blustered and play-acted his way through the duties of the office, and trafficked in late-night one-liners on Twitter and substanceless photo-ops instead of doing the hard work of building a coalition, wrangling votes, and leaving the country in better shape than it was when he entered the White House. Trump seems seriously to believe that pretending to have solved a problem solves a problem.
Were it not for his son-in-law, his vice president, and a few other key deputies, who have put in the real sweat equity on the astounding accomplishments of the Trump era—conservative judges on the bench, Middle Eastern sworn enemies together at the table of amity, pro-life laws and policies on the books—the only real residue of the forty-fifth go-round in the Oval Office would be the wrasslin’ kayfabe of Trump playing Trump playing leader of the free world.
It was all a soap opera for the Manhattan billionaire—he apparently does not know that any of it was real, that the stage and the audience were locked in a political union.
Or, did not know—until January the sixth. On that day, Trump seemed to be scripting the last act of his long charade, the send-off rally that would catapult him over the ensuing four years of political exile and back into the big chair in 2024. The cliffhanger to set up season two, as it were. More feints and mugging for the camera, more lights and flags, more music and make-believe. I was with him, to be honest. I hoped he could mount a comeback and disrupt, again, a town in serious need of a shake-up.
Then it got real.
For the people in the crowd, of course, it had always been real. For Trump supporters, Trumpism is not theater but life or death. People who voted for Trump put their trust in him to make America great again by bringing back jobs, putting food on the table, creating a culture of life, and providing opportunities for education and freedom squelched for decades by the Washington cabal.
Trump voters don’t get to play golf in Scotland after January twentieth. They have to find a way to live in a country that has rejected them, a country that now hates them just for existing. It was always real—and then it got really real, and bloody.
The kayfabe, the scripted smackdowns, the kabuki poses—Trump was ginning up a rally as usual, but within minutes it was an unholy scene wrapped in teargas smoke, punctuated by flash-bangs, and littered with busted glass. People died. A woman whom friends described as the most patriotic person they knew, a veteran of the military which Trump professes to love, got shot through the neck and bled out in seconds. The curtain call for the departing player turned into the storming of the Bastille.
The little people tried on the trappings of power, propping up in the big chairs and taking selfies at the podium. At what must be counted as one of the lowest points of American history, a yahoo dressed as a Viking bellowed like a moose in the hall of debate. It was all a ghastly testimony to the fact that, under Trump, Trump supporters have been more shut out of Washington than ever before. Four years of populism, and it took a mob to deliver the people’s message. It was all a sitcom for Trump, a massive Wrestle Mania starring 80 million people, but nobody knew it until the sitcom turned into a Greek tragedy. By then it was too late.
Trump has made a political career out of the black art of skirting civil war. Sometimes one has to up the ante in order to stay in the game. I get it. But woe betide the man who bluffs and loses. Trump is not the first to learn that political violence is a genie that doesn’t go back into any bottle. He—not he alone, but he above all others—has uncorked the lamp. The demon wreathed in pepper spray and bullhorn noise is abroad.
God help us now, because Trump won’t. He is off, somewhere, in disgrace until he can find a sequel to make the first installment make sense.
This is the moment, my Catholic brothers and sisters, to be done with this whole thing. Not with Trump, for he was always just a vehicle to what many of us hoped would be a better America. With democracy, period. Don’t die for democracy.
Every election is a sham. The phony war of the ballot box is the only use that democracy has for you. The votes are counted (or not, or twice) and someone pounds a gavel and we all go back to being led around by the nose by a coterie of botoxed liars—who, incidentally, traffic in endless war—and their phalanxes of overcaffeinated sycophants charged with interpreting the will of the political oracles for the little guy. Democracy is the ruin of all that is decent and good. There is nothing Catholic at all in any of this. We don’t need to live by the sword that keeps democracy, the real democracy, at bay.
For what we saw on January sixth, the melee and the lunacy and the arterial blood all over everyone and everything, is what happens when a political system premised on enmity—what do you think “checks and balances” boils down to?—is left to its own devices. Democracy is a vision of hell — Hobbes in a Robocop suit. Without the police to keep the people out of the buildings where their fate is decided, the people, in their democratic splendor, run riot over everything. Who can blame them? The system is a fraud and folks are fed up — not just Trump supporters, who are justifiably angry at having been played. Everybody. The more democratic we become, the more we hate one another. This is because democracy is another name for rule by the sword.
We cannot live by that law of the jungle. Our Lord commanded us to be at peace. This does not mean that we roll over and let others destroy our homes and livelihoods. But if we are going to die, we must die for our Faith, not for some crackpot political theory embraced by every unhinged revolutionary from now all the way back to the Gracchi brothers. Democracy is a false religion. We must not buy into it. Leave the devils to their enlightenment—for us, there must be brotherly love, love even of enemies, or else we are not worthy of He who commands us.
The disciples did not understand Jesus’ purpose. They thought He was forming a political revolution. We did not understand Trump. We thought the same thing about him. In the case of Christ, it was deadly serious for Him. In the case of Trump, it was deadly serious for others—Trump punked out. In neither case did the political revolution come about. Everything ended in disaster–until the third day, when one of the disasters was transformed. That is not going to happen with Trump.
Every politician is a charlatan. Every single one. Put not your faith in princes, my brothers and sisters. Wake up. Living by the sword is not our only option. Democracy tells us that it is, regardless of the canard about the ballot box being the alternative to bullets. They always go together, if you’ve noticed. They are a set, not a choice. Don’t follow anyone into oblivion.
Live not by the sword. This is not our hill to die on.