Does anyone else remember Jim Bakker?
He came to mind recently as I read an article titled The Long, Lucrative Right Wing Grift is Blowing Up in the World’s Face by Alex Pareene writing for Fusion. It’s reminiscent of Rick Perlstein’s 2012 classic The Long Con, about the sordid intersection between consumer-level conservatism and snake oil sales.
If you want to understand intra-GOP warfare, the decision-making process of our president, the implosion of the Republican healthcare plan, and the rest of the politics of the Trump era, you don’t need to know about Russian espionage tactics, the state of the white working class, or even the beliefs of the “alt-right.”
You pretty much just need to be in semi-regular contact with a white, reasonably comfortable, male retiree.
We are now ruled by men who think and act very much like that ordinary man you might know, and if you want to know why they believe so many strange and terrible things, you can basically blame the fact that a large and lucrative industry is dedicated to lying to them. [Emphasis and paragraph breaks mine. – Mary]
Nothing new under the sun
You know how in the Bible (I Tim. 6:10), it says: “For the love of money is the root of all evil”? I think about that a lot in the age of Trump, but I learned pretty much all I needed to know about the subject from Jim Bakker in the decade before I graduated from high school.
When I was a kid, Jim and his wife Tammy Faye were important parts of my life. I’m pretty sure we watched their TV show Praise the Lord on channel 3 about as often as they cared to have a show on the tube.
There was fire; there was brimstone; there was blue eye shadow.
In the early 80’s, Jim and Tammy Faye raised millions of dollars from faithful viewers. In the late 80’s Jim was convicted of fraud related to a real estate project and sentenced to 45 years imprisonment, though he didn’t serve all that time.
The thing is that Jim Bakker is back on TV, this time selling God with a side of survival food. As baffling as it is to me, he still has an audience.
In the words of David Weiss, writing about Bakker’s comeback in Disgraced Preacher Jim Bakker’s New Doomsday Pitch at Newsweek last year:
Perhaps we are not the “political animal” that Aristotle dubbed us, but the credulous one. We are built to believe.
Tackier, more dangerous televangelism?
Now, your mileage may vary, but my brain draws a pretty direct line from the fallen televangelists of my youth to our current President. When I hear Trump speak, I hear the apocalyptic echoes of vintage Jimmy Bakker.
Pareene’s contention, though, is that Pres. Trump has imbibed of the Kool-Aid:
Donald Trump is 70 years old. He has always, clearly, been an incoherent thinker, contradictory and prone to self-gratifying delusions. But if, for much of his life, he was able to pass as an intelligent and well-informed man, it was probably just because he religiously read newspapers, especially the New York Times. […snip…]
Now, though, Trump is older, his thinking more rigid, his favored media outlets less trustworthy and more likely to reinforce reactionary tendencies. Cable news has largely replaced newspapers as his primary source of information about the world. He has also taken to reading conspiratorial websites run by kooks and con artists.
Perhaps, if you have a white parent or grandparent over 60, this sounds familiar? [Emphasis and paragraph breaks mine. – Mary]
I don’t know what is more frightening, to be completely honest: Trump as televangelist or Trump as sucker.
What do you think?
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