The Problem with Christian Gentlemen: A Short Goodby to Ted Cruz, the “Mr. Pecksniff” of Presidential Politics
Credit where credit is due.
Ted Cruz has a way about him. A way that is sanctimonious, oleaginous, and false.
I have been reading and hearing that there is considerable mourning among the ranks of the good Christian soldiers of Iowa and elsewhere that Ted’s path was “foreclosed” (his word, and an interesting choice) by the Trump juggernaut. These contemners of The Donald’s open sinning had staked their hopes on someone they took to be the very mirror and model of Christian virtue.
Personally, I always felt that Senator Cruz had a good whiff of Mr. Pecksniff about him—Seth Pecksniff being Dickens’ most perfectly realized poseur and hypocrite. Pecksniff’s machinations drive the plot of Martin Chuzzlewit, which Dickens himself considered to be his best novel (most critics demur).
I have been reading and hearing that there is considerable mourning among the ranks of the good Christian soldiers of Iowa and elsewhere that Ted’s path was “foreclosed” by the Trump juggernaut.
This long picaresque work, serialized in 1843 and 1844, is savagely satirical as nothing else in the Dickens ouvre. Mr. Pecksniff is introduced early on as a fundamentally crooked person, rotten at the core, but rather interesting on that account. A supposed architect and teacher of architecture, Pecksniff is adept at flimflamming prospective students (and their parents) into paying exorbitant fees to board at his house and learn at his feet. If one of the students should actually have a gift for drafting, Pecksniff passes the work off as his own.
But his speech—oh, his sublime speech and gentle affect—is never less than sublimely Christ-like in the estimation of his many admirers. And this really is what gives the novel its satirical edge, as Pecksniff’s interlocutors don’t quite know what to do with this almost fantastical level of bullsh*t. Dickens clearly loathes his fictional creation but also appears at times to admire Pecksniff’s immense skill in self-justification and self-congratulation.
Dickens makes the most of Pecksniff by giving him a number of interior monologues, as here when Pecksniff is rationalizing his decision to pimp out his younger daughter at a rather cheap dowry price to a rich but grotesquely uncouth suitor:
All his life long he had been walking up and down the narrow ways and by-places, with a hook in one hand and a crook in the other, scraping all sorts of valuable odds and ends into his pouch. Now, there being a special Providence in the fall of a sparrow, it follows (so Mr. Pecksniff, and only such admirable men, would have reasoned), that there must also be a special Providence in the alighting of the stone, or stick, or other substance which is aimed at the sparrow. And Mr. Pecksniff’s hook, or crook, having invariably knocked the sparrow on the head and brought him down, that gentleman may have been led to consider himself as specially licensed to bag sparrows, and as being specially seized and possessed of all the birds he had got together. That many undertakings, national as well as individual—but especially the former—are held to be specially brought to a glorious and successful issue, which never could be so regarded on any other process of reasoning, must be clear to all men. Therefore the precedents would seem to show that Mr. Pecksniff had (as things go) good argument for what he had said, and might be permitted to say it, and did not say it presumptuously, vainly, or arrogantly, but in a spirit of high faith and great wisdom.
The naked opportunist who, at the same time, imagines himself to be in the service of the Lord. Almost always a white man. How many of this cast and type has the rest of humanity had to endure for the past few hundred years?
Senator Ted Cruz, like Mr. Seth Pecksniff, maintains the utmost horror toward sins of the flesh and the utmost contempt for fleshly sinners like Trump. Any hint of outward disloyalty or dishonesty likewise gives them the greatest alarm. But the very notion that there could be much more grievous sins of the spirit seems never to have occurred to either of them.
I don’t know or care whether Ted Cruz has cheated on his wife. My guess is that he has not. But the mistake he makes, and that his conservative Christian followers make, is to think that this kind of fidelity is somehow the gold standard of personal ethics, overlooking any problems related to higher-level double dealing and self-promotion.
I am not a Trump fan, obviously. He flunks anyone’s reasonable test on sins of the flesh AND sins of the spirit. But give me the fleshly sinner over the Pecksniffian moralist any day.
We can’t find it possible to say, “Goodbye, Ted: We hardly knew ye.” But we will most certainly find it possible to say, “Goodbye, Ted: We knew ye only too well.”