Years ago, I described the Christian rage that had been directed toward me. It had happened a decade or so before, in a chat room I once frequented.
A pompous, judgmental personality habitually condemned those who were not professed Christians. Christians did not escape his wrath. Many were condemned for not holding the right hatreds. “Apostasy” was a favored word.
Chat rooms are often dens of overstatement and bravado. Anonymity allows a level of daring that polite company might otherwise inhibit. His boasts were, at least in part, an attempt to goad his opponents into anger. For him, an insufferable persona was a weapon.
So I asked him if he took full credit for his evident moral superiority. No, he responded, he was much too humble to accept full credit. I speculated how grateful he must be.
BurrLand: You must offer prayers of gratitude fairly often.
Mr. Z: I am grateful that I can pray in humility.
BurrLand: Not like others of inferior morality.
Mr. Z: Yes, the inferior do resent my greatness.
I then quoted Jesus from the Gospels, telling of two men going to temple to pray. One thanks God for making him superior, not like other men, “extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” The tax collector prays differently: “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” Jesus praises the sinner, and has scorn for the superior man.
My opponent was furious. Using scripture for the unholy purpose of rebuking a fellow Christian was, well, apostasy!
The cabinet meetings conducted by my President, those of which transcripts are made public, seldom fail to startle me. They sometimes remind me of that long ago exchange. The highest officers of the executive branch offer ritual praise of Donald Trump, as the President, arms crossed, gazes sternly on.
This time, Vice President Pence took the floor, heaping praise on Mr. Trump. The internet reaction has been harsh. Slate Magazine offers this headline:
A line-by-line breakdown of Mike Pence’s master class in toadyism
One participant in a television discussion remarked that watching the practice made her want to shower.
Even dictionary.com reacted:
— Dictionary.com (@Dictionarycom) December 21, 2017
They linked to their own definition of “sycophant”
a self-seeking, servile flatterer; fawning parasite.
I thought that a touch harsh. A touch.
Mostly the worshipful praise offered by Mr. Pence was for what Republicans falsely characterize as a Middle Class Tax Cut. The cut for the middle class is slight, and temporary, and applies to only part of the middle class. The cut for the extremely wealthy is massive. For huge corporations, it is both massive and permanent. And, in a few years, the temporary cut for the middle class not only expires, it will be replaced with a larger increase in taxes.
Still, we cannot reasonably expect a Vice President to provide a dispassionate analysis right to the President’s face. His scowling, Mussolini-esque, face.
It is true that the Vice President of the United States reminded me a little of the Charles Dickens character, Uriah Heep. Heep was unctuous to the point of bubbling oil, referring to himself “a numble man.” Dickens made “numble” into a word.
Mr. Pence went further. He was a numble man who had witnessed a miracle:
And I just — I’m deeply humbled, as your Vice President, to be able to be here. Because of your leadership, Mr. President, and because of the strong support of the leadership in the Congress of the United States, you’re delivering on that middle-class miracle.
But I was most impressed by what the press and pundits missed. It did not come from Mr. Pence or the object of his worshipful praise.
Before Mr. Pence spoke, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson led the President and the cabinet in prayer, as they joined in thanking God on behalf of a grateful nation. For the Almighty had graced the country with a courageous, superior cabinet:
We thank you for a President and for Cabinet members who are courageous, who are willing to face the winds of controversy in order to provide a better future for those who come behind us.
That set the tone for the rest of the grateful prayer, as the President and his grateful cabinet thanked the Lord for providing a fortunate nation with …… well …… themselves.
And, at the conclusion, the President thanked him:
Thank you, Ben. Beautiful. Thank you very much.
It was, indeed, a beautiful moment.
Especially after the nation took a much needed shower.
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