It’s a little late to be making a summer reading list, but American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century was never meant to be summer reading — or certainly not beach reading.
American Theocracy is a weighty and well-footnoted tome of recent social and political history, representing the apogee of author Kevin Phillips’ career from his beloved Republican Party.
In his groundbreaking 1969 book, The Emerging Republican Majority, Phillips trumpeted the rise of the Republican Party in a region he was first to call the Sunbelt.
In the nearly 40 years since that groundbreaking work, Phillips has written a dozen volumes of historical, political, and social analysis. In The Politics of Rich and Poor, he wrote about the widening economic gap between the classes in post-Reagan America. In American Dynasty, he scourged the Bush family and their connection to business practices and foreign interests inimical to American security.
Now, in American Theocracy, he takes the next step in denouncing the Republican Party he has spent most of his life nurturing and supporting. “This book is dedicated to the millions of Republicans, present and lapsed, who have opposed the Bush dynasty and the disenlightenment in the 2000 and 2004 elections,” he writes in his dedication.
Phillips’ book is divided into three extended essays, the first on the dangers of petro-politics and foreign policy; the second on the rise of radical Christianity and its grip on the GOP; and the third on the staggering debt the federal government has accumulated under George W. Bush.
“Despite pretensions to motivations such as liberty and freedom,” Phillips writes, “petroleum and its geopolitics have dominated Anglo-American activity in the Middle East for a full century. On this, history could not be more clear.”
Phillips takes the reader on a tour of that history, including the machinations of early oil barons Samuel S. Bush and George Herbert Walker. A century later, the descendants of these two men have taken turns in the White House and have led their nation into two wars to maintain American hegemony in the oil-rich Middle East. The Bush family has close personal ties to the corrupt ruling family of Saudi Arabia, the nation with the greatest oil reserves in the world.
America’s reckless policy in the Middle East is a direct result of our addiction to oil, Phillips writes. But there are some people who actually applaud the war in the Holy Land as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Perhaps as many as a third of all Americans believe the second coming of Jesus, the Rapture, and the end of the world are imminent, Phillips writes. Such people care little about environmental destruction or the unsustainable national debt. To these voters there are only short-term answers and the Republican Party keeps them on a steady diet of red meat with issues such as gay marriage, abortion, and obscenity on television.
“The rapture, end-times, and Armageddon hucksters in the United States rank with any Shiite ayatollahs,” Phillips writes, “and the last two presidential elections mark the transformation of the GOP into the first religious party in U.S. history.”
Phillips does an excellent job of explaining how this brand of Christianity became so deeply rooted in the South. After the defeat and humiliation of the Civil War, it was the Protestant churches — especially the Baptists — who ministered to the wounded psyche of white Southerners. They spun from this great tragedy the myth of Southern downfall, purification, and redemption, based on biblical mythology. The Southern churches led their people in seceding from reality, in creating their own history and mythology, bearing little resemblance to any facts. Most Southern Christians have not rejoined the world of reality, remaining in denial of evolution, global warming, and the corruption of the current administration.
Part of that corruption is the staggering debt which the Republicans have allowed to accumulate through reckless tax cuts. Phillips estimates that the total of all private and public debt in the United States to as much as $70 trillion. The bill collector is coming in the form of foreign governments, which grow weary and worried at constantly underwriting our bonded debt. When China and Japan decide they have had enough, the dominoes of debt will start falling and there is little to stop them.
The Republican Party lies at the crux of these three dangerous trends in American society and at the heart of the GOP is the House of Bush.
The usual array of rightwing pundits have lined up to take their shots at American Theocracy. David Brooks’ denunciation recently ran in The Post and Courier. Brooks scorns “Americans, both cynical and naïve,” who are willing to buy into Phillips’ thesis.
Cynical and naïve. That’s a perfect description of the corporate/Christian alliance which is the modern Republican Party.