On Aug. 24, Jerry Falwell Jr. resigned as president of Liberty University, the Baptist school founded by his father, a major Evangelical figure.
A tale of sexual impropriety was the cause, of course. It’s always the cause. Oh, drinking, too, as he posted online a picture of himself, fly down, toasting the camera with a glass of booze. Baptists frown at that, maybe almost as much as they do when they hear accusations of strange erotic affairs. Or card playing. And so out Falwell goes, despite his reputation as the man who excavated Liberty University from the mountain of debt his father had left behind.
We shouldn’t exaggerate his sins. Falwell isn’t being frog-marched to jail for his misbehaviors—primarily because, even if they happened, they weren’t criminal. In that, he is unlike his counterparts Jeffrey Epstein, the financier and statutory rapist, and Harvey Weinstein, the film mogul and serial molester of actresses.
That monster pair thought their power and political acquaintances would keep them from being exposed as criminals. Falwell was just an ordinary hypocrite of the kind they sell wholesale: a man who preached one thing to keep his position while practicing something different with his wife and the pool boy. (And isn’t there something off-key in the very phrase “pool boy”? I mean, if you’re an Evangelical leader with a pool boy, the chute is already greased for your long slide down to public scandal and perdition.)
But the hypocrisy isn’t unimportant. Epstein supported all the standard causes of the left, while pimping underage girls. When Weinstein was forced out of his movie company after decades of sexual oppression, he announced his resignation as an opportunity to give his “full attention” to fighting the National Rifle Association, as though that liberal piety would save him.
It didn’t. But then, the National Rifle Association has received its own share of bad publicity in recent months. Released financial documents seem to show that the organization’s leaders had spent donated funds on self-dealing contracts for family members and lots of personal expenses: clothing, private flights, fancy vacations. That kind of thing.
We really have a terrible overclass. For years now, we’ve been forced to hear about the misconduct of everyone from Bill Clinton to the bosses of activist organizations. The transgressions of actors from Bill Cosby to Kevin Spacey. The indiscretions of politicians from Donald Trump’s dalliance with a porn actress to Katie Hill’s lascivious hair-brushings with one of her congressional staffers.
What’s the point of gaining influence in America? Far too often it appears nothing but personal gain and a sexual indulgence that would have raised eyebrows at an orgy in Ancient Rome.
This parade of hypocrisy, this ceaseless drumbeat of revelation, has taken its toll on the nation. Yes, to some degree it was always thus. People are people, from the old Babylon of Bronze Age Mesopotamia to the new Babylon of modern America.
Always some of them will take advantage of their positions. Always some of them will use their power for coercion. Always some of them will mouth sanctimonious clichés while their hand reaches under the table to take a bribe or fondle a young person.
Americans were always thought to be naïve in not accepting that this is the way of things. But recent years of these titillations still haven’t worn us down into acceptance. They’ve only made us more mistrustful and furious. They’ve produced a nation that believes its political, financial, and cultural elites seek only their own interests. And so we get Donald Trump elected president as a corrective to this. And so we get rioters torching police stations in Portland, Oregon.
The differences between the populist Trump voters and the radical Antifa activists are far greater than any similarity, of course, beginning with the leftist political violence on display for months in the major America cities.
But the two groups do have a set of shared characteristics we ought to notice. They both mistrust the old ruling class, for example. They both believe that the common good isn’t being served. They both have the origins of their anger in a long-building sense of betrayal.
How does a person become wealthy in a lifetime of elected office? How does someone fly famous people in a private jet to a private island of underage girls? How does a man dominate the movie industry for years, while making starlets watch him masturbating? The answer is that they belong to a class that lost its moral authority to rule—but kept on ruling, often in the name of claimed moral stature.
Trump’s political genius was in part to have positioned himself to express voters’ anger at the old elites, even though he had been one of them. He found a way to make his personal awareness of national class corruption and hypocrisy an electoral advantage.
In another sense, however, Trump was elected as a symbol of our national mistrust. The view of Washington as a swamp, the sense of government as intrusive busybodies, the notion of an unelected deep state that directs the national bureaucracy for the benefit of its own class—all of this is born from a well-earned disbelief in the authority figures who seem, as a class, to have taken their power as a lifetime pass to a satyricon and an easy-money machine.
If, in this context, Trump is a placeholder for conservative anger, so for anger on the left is Joe Biden—a man who may be the most placeholderish of placeholders ever to receive a major party’s nomination. He operates almost entirely in symbolic space: the empty vessel with which Democrats seek to carry their causes into the White House.
Along the way, we’ve lost trust in our authorities, our governmental leaders, our media commentators, and cultural icons. And why not? What have the nation’s elite done to make us trust them?
Joseph Bottum, Ph.D., is director of the Classics Institute at Dakota State University. His most recent book is “The Decline of the Novel.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.