There is something distinctly bizarre about what has happened since the presidential election nearly a month ago. Joe Biden is beyond any reasonable doubt president-elect of the USA, and Donald Trump will be vacating the White House on or before Jan.20, 2021. But, of course, that phrase “reasonable doubt” has not precluded various followers of the current president, with the vocal support of that president himself, from refusing to admit that Biden has in fact won the race. Just yesterday (Dec.1), Bill Barr, the usually sycophantic Attorney General said publically for the first time that there was no evidence of wide-spread fraud in the election results; by implication he announced that Biden was president-elect, however hard those words were to say—so, Barr did not say them! And then there is the clown prince of attorney land, Rudy Giuliani, who continues to gallivant about the country, haunting various court houses and rooms, shouting about “dead people voting,” “ballot dumps,” and “nefarious shenanigans of election legerdemain,” (Ok, he did not actually say that last one, but has surely implied it), without a shred of proof of any of it. He has been mocked and derided by judges and pundits, but continues to act, on retainer from the Trump organization (is it really $20,000 a day?), in ways that could lead to institutionalization, or at the very least a presidential pardon, followed by institutionalization. One can simply not make any of this stuff up; it sounds like fake news, but alas, it is not.
The current occupant of the White House has never ceased tweeting: “I WON by a landslide;” “The election is a FRAUD; “NO WAY that Sleepy Joe could have gotten 80,000,000 votes!” Yesterday, along with Bill Barr’s reluctant admission, came a furious plea from the assistant Attorney General of the state of Georgia, a Republican, demanding that the president and his angry followers stop claiming that there was any significant fraud in the election, especially not in Georgia, and no where else, either. He shouted, quite literally shouted, “Someone is going to be killed if these lies continue.” Indeed! He has been threatened, his wife has been threatened, his boss, the Attorney General and his family, have been threatened, leading to 24-guards for both families. He even noted that a 20-year-old part-time election employee, while he was transferring election results from still another recount, was threatened as well. A 20-year-old student, working part time for the election recount! These are plainly not normal times by any stretch of anyone’s imagination.
Though this scenario is certainly abnormal in a democracy that nearly every four years (with one notable exception in 1974) has witnessed a transfer of power when determined by a free and fair election, transfers of power historically have not always been peaceful, as any look back at world history can show. Too often, heads have rolled off shoulders in order to make way for a new leader. Just look at Charles I of England, whose head was struck off on Jan.30, 1649 to pave the way for the de facto republic led by Oliver Cromwell. I suppose Charles may have judged his “election” as king a stolen one, if he had had the head to say so, but historical monarchies have regularly ended in bloodshed as one family replaces another on various thrones.
I am, however, today intrigued by the interesting analogy between the peculiar activities of our current 2020 president and the long-ago events that pitted an apparently very popular monarch against his arrogant and preening son for the leadership of Israel nearly 3,000 years ago. Let me say before I explore the analogies I find in these two struggles for leadership of the nation that the analogy is hardly a perfect one. After all, Joe Biden is not Trump’s son; in fact he is older than Trump by four years. And the purported theft of the throne arises from Absalom against his father David, a decidedly different portrait than our 21st century one. However, I do find it fascinating that David’s actions in the contest are eerily similar to those of President Trump; both men seem to have become insulated and isolated from the people they imagine love them unreservedly, the result of which was a surprising and painful defeat, one at the polls and the other in the court of public opinion.
The Bible’s story is found in 2 Samuel 13-18, but I will focus on chapter 15 of the tale. Absalom, the stunningly handsome son of King David, known especially for his incredibly thick and glossy hair, has murdered his half-brother, Amnon, after the latter’s rape of Absalom’s sister, Tamar, followed by her destitution and death. As a result, David banishes Absalom from the court for three years, and though David clearly wishes his son to return to Jerusalem, his royal power, he thinks, might be diminished if he gives in to his son’s blandishments too easily. Finally, Absalom uses David’s general Joab to intervene with David and return him to the city. David gladly receives his son with a kingly kiss, and all seems forgiven.
However, Absalom has ambitions that David apparently is blind to. The boy buys a new chariot, the latest model no doubt, along with some fine horses to draw it, accompanied by 50 robust men. Early each morning, Absalom would ride his fine chariot to the city gate, the spot where all workers entered and exited the city of Jerusalem, and also the place where the lower courts of Israel were held; there cases of domestic concern were adjudicated by the city elders. As the citizens entered the gate for judgment, Absalom would inquire of them, after learning whence they came, if they had any special grievances that brought them to the gate for help. And he would invariably say to them, “Well, your claims seem good and right, but there is no one assigned by the king to help you” (2 Sam. 15:3). In other words, Absalom implies, David has been derelict in his duty, unconcerned about the problems of his people, overly interested in his many wives and his royal comforts. “If only I were judge in the land! Then all who had a suit or a cause could come to me, and I would give them justice.”
David, like Donald Trump after him, has locked himself into a bubble of his own creation, surrounded by sycophants and friends who say only what the king wishes to hear. As Donald Trump lived in the White House, venturing out only for huge rallies of fanatic supporters, listening only to news outlets that praised his every word and action, he began to believe that a huge majority of the nation loved only him and would without question return him to the White House for a second term. What he, and David before him, failed to realize was that a significant majority of the people did not in fact welcome his words and actions, and while FOX news trumpeted his greatness, MSNBC, CNN, and other outlets expressed often quite different perspectives. In short, both Trump and David walled themselves off from a significant portion of their respective nations, while Absalom and Joe Biden were speaking to many people who had for various reasons become disenchanted with the current leaders and whose heads and votes were directed away from those leaders. Both Biden and Absalom promised that if they were the nation’s leaders they would listen to the needs of the people, all the people, and would not confine their concerns only to the elite of the land. As a result, Biden won the election, and Absalom was crowned king as his father was expelled from Jerusalem.
The ancient analogy is not exact, as anyone can see. However, it is an intriguing parallel, I think, and helps to explain in part why these two changes of leadership occurred. Absalom “stole the hearts of the people of Israel” (2 Sam.15:6), while Joe Biden spoke in such a way as to win the hearts of a majority of the US electorate. In that sense, one might say that Joe Biden “stole” the election, and the only fraud to be found is the ongoing claims by Trump and his followers that the elections results are not what they obviously are. Donald Trump, like David before him, lost his seat of power to a more clever, more people-oriented opponent.
Of course, if one reads on in the tale, it may be seen that David regains his throne, and Absalom is killed by Joab as he is hanging in a tree, trapped there by his glorious hair. Whether or not Donald Trump will perhaps again try for the “throne” of the presidency remains to be seen. But for now, as of 2021, he is no longer the president, and the White House will see a new occupant come January.
(Images from Wikimedia Commons)