In this alternative history, McCain wins the 2008 presidential election. Soon after taking office, he suffers a brain aneurysm while speaking in Moscow and dies, leaving the presidency to the terribly inept Sarah Palin. The protagonist, a successful Wall Street lawyer named Greg, is skeptical when his best friend begins to insist that there are signs the evangelical Christian right is headed for a violent revolution in the pursuit of a theocracy. In hindsight, Greg does indeed see these signs, and the book is his memoir leading up to the revolution. He points out (real) quotes by an array of prominent figures who made their intentions blatant – they want to create the Kingdom of God in America. In the beginning of the book Greg cites the rise of Hitler as another case in which the world chose not to read the signs. I wouldn’t compare the Christian majority to Nazism, at least not as we know it today. But in the world that Rich describes, it may be a fair comparison. Rich addresses this very question in the author Q&A on the book’s website, saying, “extremist ideologies flourish in the soil of economic suffering, national self-doubt, fear and distress.”
For the reader that may not follow the news, it might be difficult to discern where fact becomes fiction in this book. Through the eyes of his protagonist, Rich recalls a lot of real events and connects them to later (fictional) events that turn the country into an increasingly oppressive theocracy (redundant?) At first Rich’s alternative world seemed highly improbable to me, but as I continued to read, I felt more and more uneasy. The steps the Palin administration took to ensure the evangelical message was unimpeded by secular law didn’t seem impossible; in fact, I’m not sure the majority of Americans wouldn’t support them.
I’m optimistic about Americans being able to retain their freedom of religion (or non-religion). Surveys indicate that agnosticism, atheism, and non-religion are on the rise all over the world, including the US. So unless there’s a military coup (I guess it’s not out of the question), eventually I think we’ll get to an America that doesn’t squabble over religious monuments on government property or have a yearly “war on Christmas.” In the meantime, I’m happy to support secular measures to keep in check any government endorsement of religion. I’ll close with a quote from the book that helps exhibit its ominous tone:
“I submit America to Christ.”
With those words, Steve Jordan began his inaugural address. Within moments, the rain promised all morning by the gray skies began to fall gently and did not stop.
For the twenty years prior to that rainy day when Steve Jordan finally mounted the steps to the Capitol, Christian fundamentalism had been the largest mass cultural and political movement in America, and the fortunes of each side in the ongoing “culture war” had ebbed and flowed. For the eight years following the election of McCain/Palin and Sarah Palin’s unexpected ascension to the highest office in the land, the nation had headed slowly and unsteadily down the path envisioned by its evangelical leaders. But the year 2017 was entirely different. With the long-sought goal in sight, a popular mandate for Jordan, both houses of Congress solidly in control of the Christian right, martial law still in place, and a Christian Militia in almost every state ready to do their bidding, Jordan and his team now sprinted toward victory.