Frederic C. Rich had written a fascinating new novel in which he considers what would have happened if Barack Obama had lost the 2008 election, leaving our country in the hands of John McCain and, eventually, Sarah Palin. And then we suffer another terrorist attack (7/22)
As you might expect, there’s chaos everywhere, for a number of reasons.
The book is called Christian Nation: A Novel:
An excerpt from the book is below — and keep reading for your chance to win a copy:
At the end, only five Republican representatives and two Republican senators broke with the administration and opposed the bill. The strangest piece of legislation in American history passed with overwhelming majorities. What they voted on became, after the president’s signature, a federal law, but its opening words were the following: “An Act to Accept a Covenant With God and the Blessings Thereunder. The United States of America hereby humbly and gratefully enters into a covenant with the Lord our God and protector, accepting each of the following as His Blessings, and as the supreme law of the land.” The text of The Blessing, with its strange combination of vague generalities and specific normative standards, thus entered the US Code as federal law.
Within hours of the vote and presidential signature, in a strategy orchestrated by [Theocracy Watch], every possible class of plaintiff with a legal complaint against The Blessing — non-evangelical Christian groups, non-Christian churches, states and municipalities, judges, unions, businesses, and individuals — filed more than 2,500 lawsuits in every state and in every federal district court in the country, challenging each one of the fifty Blessings on multiple grounds. It was a massive effort to pull together and execute in two weeks. This had been my job. I persuaded the most prominent lawyers and firms in the country to appear as counsel of record, including every living former head of the American Bar Association and the deans and senior faculty of every major law school. Together, the various lawsuits sought immediate stays of the effectiveness of, and any action predicated on, The Blessing as well as seeking eventual determinations that the purported federal law should be invalidated. My job was to be sure that every possible legal basis for challenge was being advanced and that every relevant jurisdiction and court was engaged.
True to the pattern set by [Christianist Steve] Jordan from the day he first walked in the side door of Sarah Palin’s White House, he allowed the nation to revert to a strained calm following the tumultuous two weeks preceding the vote on The Blessing. The stays we requested from the courts had in almost every instance been granted, so The Blessing had no legal effect and, for the moment, people’s lives were not changed.
During this lull, [Internet entrepreneur] Sanjay made a close study of Jordan’s cabinet and subcabinet-level appointments to better understand the administration’s most likely next moves. Jordan had appointed the globally popular evangelical preacher and author Rick Warren (author of The Purpose Driven Life and its many spin-offs and franchises) to be the secretary of Health and Human Services. It was one of a number of celebrity appointments made by the new President. Time magazine noted that it was the most media-savvy cabinet ever assembled, with the great majority having risen to prominence through media-centric careers in the now nearly unified realms of journalism, entertainment, and politics. Each of these cabinet appointees had compelling personal narratives, an uncanny knack for pandering to the narcissism of the American public, a deep knowledge of how to peddle the fantasies for which America thirsted, and a profound mastery of celebrity style. Five cabinet secretaries, Time reported, had appeared on reality television shows. I remember the comment by another journalist that I thought particularly revealing at the time. She said that the Jordan cabinet marked the triumph of personality over character.
A few days into his study of Jordan’s appointments, Sanjay made a strange and disturbing discovery. A federal office for the promotion and coordination of “faith-based initiatives” had been established under President Bush and, although not eliminated, was strangely inactive during both of Sarah Palin’s two terms. President Jordan, during the transition, chose the evangelical preacher and popular revisionist historian David Barton to head the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. Sanjay was one of the few people to focus on the Jordan administration’s lower-ranking appointments to that agency. He discovered, to his surprise, not the usual group of evangelical pastors who had delivered key precincts for the party but a strange mix of MIT-trained computer scientists, Chinese software engineers, and web consultants who had worked for the governments of Iran and Saudi Arabia. Most of the Palin appointees to the faith-based office had been summarily dismissed following the transition, and the two most disgruntled of them spoke to Sanjay’s sources. Over a period of two months, Sanjay pieced together the story, discovering that Barton had assembled a team of the world’s leading experts on Internet censorship. The credentials and experience of these new employees of the faith-based office included the development of efatwa.com (a site for obtaining Islamic religious rulings online); the invention of the algorithms for China’s famously sensitive and flexible web censorship; and the development, for the infamous Saudi religious police, of the software for the monitoring and integration of all security cameras in the kingdom (this software allowed for the automated detection of activities — such as single women driving cars or couples kissing in public — that were forbidden under the kingdom’s version of sharia). This project, dubbed by the code name Purity Web, was under the personal supervision of the president, with Barton as his chief lieutenant. What exactly the goal of the project was, Sanjay could not say, but when he revealed all he had found out, there was a firestorm in the media, and the president himself had to appear on F3 [Fox Faith & Freedom News] to explain.
“This,” said President Jordan, with the customary cross over one shoulder and flag over the other, “will be a wholly modern presidency. I just cannot understand the fuss. What do they think — that religious people are stuck in the Middle Ages? God commands us to use all the tools at our disposal, and I have always been completely transparent about that. In 2008, when Ralph Reed and I were growing the Faith & Freedom Coalition, we were absolutely clear that we were not going to cede web-based organizing, web-based fund-raising, and techno-savvy political action to the liberals. You may remember that all of our original Faith & Freedom chapters were virtual. Ralph said then that the Internet’s first wave was e-mail, that the next wave was social networking, and that there was going to be a third wave. Well, that’s what we said in 2008, and that’s what we are doing today. We are figuring out that third wave — how to use technology to perfect our democracy, to ensure more perfect freedom, and to advance our country toward its destiny as Christ’s Kingdom on Earth.”
The F3 interviewer of course neglected to ask why the architects of Chinese web censorship and surveillance by the Saudi religious police were appropriate choices “to ensure more perfect freedom.” But Sanjay and I did ask. We asked loudly and persistently. We pointed out that as a result of 9/11 and 7/22, the federal government had access to an almost comprehensive video surveillance infrastructure. Without it having been announced, debated, or budgeted, fifteen years after 9/11 we found ourselves with web-linked cameras covering all our major city streets, factories, offices, schools, shopping centers, and virtually all other places of public assembly. Moreover, our traditional distaste as Americans for any kind of surveillance seemed to have evaporated. Reality television shows like Big Brother and Survivor had glamorized the idea of life under the unblinking eye of the camera.
Our campaign succeeded in causing vague disquiet among many people, but without more of an understanding of what the Purity Web was really all about, we were unable to use it as an effective tool against the administration. By the time Jordan went public with the Purity Web during the Holy War, it was of course too late. Jordan’s long-promised Internet third wave now seems so obvious and so inevitable that I find it difficult to understand how we failed to figure it out in 2016.
After a lull of about six weeks, with The Blessing still completely tied up in court, the administration announced the first of a series of “implementing regulations” under The Blessing, this one under Covenant V dealing with marriage. The regulation was titled “On Sexual Deviancy.” We understood later that, following extensive debate, the administration was persuaded not to refer publicly to the “homosexual problem” because of its deep and disturbing echoes of the use by the Nazis of the phrase “Jewish problem.” The “regulation,” which was promulgated as a presidential order without compliance with the public hearing and other procedures normally required for a federal regulation, was straightforward. All homosexuals would be required to register with the federal government within 90 days and, for their own protection, to be tested for AIDS: “a long-overdue public health measure for the good of those who choose the homosexual lifestyle,” explained President Jordan. Although The Blessing stated that “Homosexual behavior of any sort is a crime,” the “regulation” did not set forth the penalties for homosexual behavior, noting that determination of appropriate punishment would be up to each of the states. The Farris Commission, however, simultaneously promulgated a paper from biblical scholars stating that the second covenant, recognizing the higher authority of biblical law, ought to be read to require states to re-impose the death penalty for the crime of sodomy.
The balance of the “regulation” was remarkable for its insidious cruelty to the gay population. First, no benefits, such as pension rights or health benefits, could be extended by employers to the partners of homosexuals, even those purported to be married, and any such benefits already vested were forfeit. Second, all gay adoptions were summarily voided, with special panels of pastors and Christian doctors set up to review each situation, with a strong presumption that the children of single men and male couples must be returned to social services. There was an exemption for children over age five living with female couples if the family were living as Christians and willing to submit to the ongoing supervision of the panel. Finally, no will, contract, health care proxy, or power of attorney would be enforceable if it afforded one gay person rights or discretion in relation to another.
Although this regulation was also immediately challenged in the courts, gay people, especially those with children, were terrified. Gays with children felt they couldn’t risk even the coastal sanctuaries of San Francisco, Boston, and New York and began a gradual exodus to Canada and Europe, marking the beginning of the debates there about the granting of refugee status to gays fleeing America.
Gays without families had been steadily leaving the heartland since the raft of state anti-gay laws at the beginning of Palin’s second term, but after the Deviancy Regulation, the exodus of gays from middle America accelerated sharply. Many of those states were amazed to discover the number of gay households in their midst, and shocked that home prices fell sharply as large numbers of residences, sometimes up to 10 percent of the housing units in an area, flooded onto the market. Sanjay and I figured out what had happened. By requiring all homosexuals to register with the federal government, the option of remaining a closeted homosexual disappeared. The presumption that single people over a certain age must be gay, as well as wild rumors about tests that had been developed to determine sexual orientation, led many to conclude that they inevitably would be “outed” under the new regime. Men and women who had given no indication of homosexuality — some in heterosexual marriages and others masquerading as divorced or separated from heterosexual partners — feared for the first time that discretion would be no protection from the wave of anti-gay violence and persecution coming their way.
Again taking New York’s lead, eight state governors immediately affirmed their own state’s statutes permitting all that the federal Deviancy Regulation purportedly prohibited, and they promised to recognize and honor marriages, adoptions, health care proxies, wills, powers of attorney, and contracts entered into by gays under the laws of other states if brought to their states for enforcement. The US Chamber of Commerce tersely noted that for its members to deny employees vested benefits would expose them to litigation and liability and thus refused to do so until the legal situation was clarified.
The week after the Deviancy Regulation took effect, the country was shocked when an eighteen-year-old gay man, a quiet Buddhist monk who had come to America as a refugee from Myanmar, immolated himself on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. Or, to be more accurate, only that part of the country was shocked that had access to television, web, or newspapers not controlled by F3. The millions of Americans for whom F3-controlled media outlets were their sole or primary source of news never knew that it happened.
Christian Nation is now available in bookstores and online.
If you’d like to win a copy of the book, let us know in the comments what aspect of a theocracy you’d fear most! Leave the hashtag #ChristianNation after your comment to be entered. I’ll contact one random winner next week. (Contest limited to U.S. residents only.)
(Excerpted from Christian Nation: A Novel by Frederic C. Rich. Copyright © 2013 by Frederic C. Rich. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.)