Long before the emergence of COVID-19, mass gatherings were unsafe for some people. Take Jesus of Nazareth, for example.
In the archetypal story that speaks volumes about America’s present socio-political condition, on what’s become known as Good Friday the young wisdom teacher and religious/social dissident stands before the judgment seat of Pilate, Roman governor of occupied Judea province. Pilate is well aware that the local religious and village officials brought Jesus because his egalitarian teachings and symbolically-laden sidestepping of compulsory religious practices is fast putting their spiritual authority and social standing at risk. They, and the zealous crowd of traditionalists they’ve assembled, want him gone.
The crowd feverishly demands he be put to death—but Pilate knows Jesus is being railroaded. Not caring to shed innocent blood he repeatedly declares him guiltless of any offense, capital or otherwise, and proposes releasing him. But the throng shouts all the more, “Crucify Him!"
Strongly disinclined, Pilate now evokes the annual goodwill gesture of freeing one condemned prisoner before the Jewish ritual feast of Passover starts. He offers the crowd a choice: free blameless Jesus, or Barabbas, an infamous rebel who allegedly committed murder during an anti-Roman revolt. It seems Pilate assumes the smart choice will be obvious. But in a collective exhortation that’s resounded through the twenty centuries since, the horde howls back, “Give us Barabbas!” Pilate does—and delivers Jesus to be crucified.
Many scholars judge that the Barabbas facet of this account never occurred, but was invented to pump up the drama. Yet actual or not, it unearths the same deep-strata psychological and political dynamics active in the U.S. today.
For the crowd had heard Jesus’ calls to embrace a higher-order moral and spiritual consciousness—and hence live with honor, integrity, and compassion toward all. But as the great psychologist Carl Jung knew, “There is no coming to consciousness without pain.” So confronted with this ethical challenge, rather than tackle the needed soul-searching to face where they’d fallen short in their lives, feel the pain and forgive themselves, and undertake to embody that integrity and compassion, an extreme psychological and emotional anxiety unconsciously rose up in reaction. And the easiest way to get rid of it was to get rid of the person who provoked it.
This precise inner dynamic holds today with not all but far too many supporters of Donald J. Trump. For just as the crowd’s fear-driven cries of “Give us Barabbas!” and “Crucify Him!" handed Jesus’ executioners the hammer and spikes that would pin him to a cross, support for squad leader “Centurion Trump”—and his junior officer Mitch McConnell—has handed two most unenlightened men the same devastating implements. Together they’ve relentlessly driven agonizing spikes into innocent flesh, and through the very spirit of America:
The heavy hammer falls, and McConnell rushes a $2 trillion tax cut for wealthy Americans and big corporations through the Senate without a single hearing...
BANG! The heavy hammer falls, and McConnell rushes a $2 trillion tax cut for wealthy Americans and big corporations through the Senate without a single hearing, while 140 million poor and low-income Americans struggle daily to meet their basic needs.
BANG! As U.S. health officials warn Trump that the COVID-19 threat is grave, his first public comments on Jan. 22 include telling the American people, “We have it totally under control.” All February he writes off Democrats’ alarm as their latest “hoax.” His inability to face reality severely delays effective responses—and Americans are paying with their lives.
BANG! While black lung disease rises among coal miners in his home state of Kentucky, McConnell cuts aid funding. Miners who travel ten hours to Washington to ask that he restore it report he meets with them for one minute, then refuses.
BANG! From FBI Director James Comey to Inspector General of the Intelligence Community Michael Atkinson, Trump defiles American democracy and all those who fought for it by continuously muzzling and punishing government officials who are simply executing their sworn duties.
BANG! By Trump’s order traumatized children are ripped from their parents and caged at the border, with no plan for how U. S. government agencies are to care for or even account for them.
BANG! McConnell won’t support measures to help ensure the integrity of U.S. elections, and undermines efforts to safeguard voting rights.
BANG! Trump’s ill-considered trade policies devastate many small business owners, while American farmers commit suicide at a far greater rate than the national average because of overwhelming financial stress.
BANG! (BANG!!) Despite recurrent mass shootings and other gun violence, McConnell blocks bipartisan background check legislation for gun sales.
BANG! As climate crisis dangers mount, Trump pulls out of the Paris Agreement and proposes rolling back the nation’s Clean Car Standards. This would increase pollution, up U.S. dependence on foreign oil, cost Americans hundreds of billions of dollars, cause thousands of premature deaths, and eliminate up to 200,000 jobs—all while he opposes a Green New Deal that would slash emissions and create many more jobs than that.
BANG! Grieving parents bury their offspring, not because an illness was necessarily terminal but because they don’t have affordable health care.
BANG! Amid telling thousands of documented lies in office, Trump paints respected media organizations as the people’s enemy so supporters will doubt and even resent honest reporting at all critical of him or his policies.
BANG! BANG! BANG! The hammer pounds on, and vulnerable individuals, families and communities, time-honored democratic traditions and norms, public trust, vital foreign relations and security alliances, and even a livable planet are casually crucified.
Like the minority in the ancient crowd who were appalled by the tragedy unfolding before them, and who “beat their breasts” in anguish upon Jesus’ death, there are people who voted for Trump but now fully regret that choice. There are also those who from the first days of his administration to now have wholly supported his ignoble and culturally corrosive conduct.
Some in this latter group have never encountered any religious or spiritual teachings. Numerous others, however, including many who call themselves Christians, are deeply familiar with the story of Jesus’ Passion, or suffering. Some will be moved, frequently to tears, when they hear the scriptural story recounted again this weekend, horrified and heartbroken at Jesus being railroaded unto death by a fear-blinded mob. But if they leave church and continue to support Trump, McConnell, and company, they will reveal a terrible psychological and moral irony; because to suffer vicariously with Jesus, but not feel compassion—literally, “to suffer with”—over the current crucifixions wrought by these men and their political, corporate and wealth-hoarding accomplices, is to show that the narrative’s spiritual and ethical lessons have barely scratched the surface of their consciousness—for they are the same people who 2000 years ago would be calling heatedly for Barabbas’ release.
A second great incongruity will also likely escape them: that according to the biblical book of Matthew, shortly before Jesus is seized and killed he assures his followers that on judgment day God will count them among the righteous, “For I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.” When his listeners question when they saw and succored him in any of these sad circumstances, Jesus replies, “Most certainly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
Scriptural accounts of Jesus’ last words differ, but the book of Luke reports him pleading to God for his killers: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” It’s dreadfully, achingly evident that Trump, McConnell & Co. don’t know what they’re doing in any moral sense. But fortunately today folks with higher awareness aren’t fixed helplessly to a cross. So rather than forgive them, it’s better to stop them. That’s done by replacing them with people whose moral compasses point chiefly toward aiding “the least of these”: progressive and progressive-leaning Democrats and Independents.
Such office-holders will move the nation beyond the “unenlightened selfish interest” crusade of many super-wealthy Americans and corporate oligarchs, which among other ruinous effects has now concentrated immense wealth with a few while the poor in the U.S. number 67 million whites, 60% of African-Americans, 65% of Latinos, and 40% of Asians. In easing the suffering of millions by enhancing their economic well-being, progressive leaders will demonstrate a quality central to every uplifting spiritual and humanitarian tradition: mercy.
In Christian ethics such care for the material and physical needs of others constitutes "corporal works of mercy." Yet progressives will also exhibit "spiritual works of mercy" that boost people’s emotional and spiritual health. One way is by ending an age-old ploy of the rich and powerful that Donald Trump employs with a disturbing vengeance: stirring up anger to shift the blame for social and economic ills from themselves onto vulnerable scapegoats—the oppressed, the outcasts, the “other”; the very “least of these” that Jesus, like other revered sages, insists his followers tend to with dignity and love. Exorcising this rhetorical ghoul from the White House’s heretofore hallowed halls will be a merciful act of the highest order.
The super-rich’s covetous agenda has also hastened the global environmental and climate calamity that now threatens humankind’s future. So progressives will also champion a new work of mercy proposed by Pope Francis, "Care for creation." Among other imperatives, Francis stressed that this involves "[breaking] with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness." That is, with the logic of Donald Trump.
Last December Time magazine named teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg their youngest-ever Person of the Year “For sounding the alarm about humanity’s predatory relationship with the only home we have, [and] for bringing to a fragmented world a voice that transcends backgrounds and borders….”
Before leading the condemned Jesus out to be crucified, the pitiless crowd mocks, strikes, and spits on him. In keeping with this and with his moral fiber, Trump publicly mocked Thunberg via Twitter: “So ridiculous. Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Greta, Chill!” In this and so many other disgraceful instances, a more fitting name for his Twitter account would be his Spitter account.
Expected Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden justly responded, “What kind of president bullies a teenager?” A short answer to which is, “One who is emotionally arrested, morally stunted, and spiritually retarded.” And in a grown-up reply to Thunberg decrying the world’s failure to address the climate crisis, progressive leaders joined in spirit with another Biden tweet: “She is right—we cannot fail future generations any longer. We must take urgent, drastic action to address the climate emergency before it’s too late.”
Humility, and the resolve to act once awakened, is itself a work of mercy. And all such works start not with policies but with consciousness, with compassion, with heart. Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell suffer from severe heart failure—and thus know no mercy.
With the challenges we face as a nation and a world, this is catastrophic. For as Pope Francis stated in his papal encyclical Laudato si': On Care for our Common Home, “Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies.” The upshot is clear: we stand at the precipice of a profound transformation; whether more life-preserving or death-dealing depends on our choices.
In a moral and political failure of biblical proportions, Trump, McConnell and crew keep blindly bawling for folks to belly on up to the Barabbas, and blithely hoist a glass to crucifying the common welfare.
In a way we confront the same stark decision an addicted person does when they finally come face-to-face with the results of their destructive habits: continue to descend into desolation and death, or embrace a promising but not yet familiar new way of life. And as the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous says about that daunting but potentially life-saving moment of truth, “Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point.” Now—economically, environmentally, politically, and morally—we all stand at the turning point. A fundamental evolutionary shift is mandatory. And half measures will avail us nothing.
But in a moral and political failure of biblical proportions, Trump, McConnell and crew keep blindly bawling for folks to belly on up to the Barabbas, and blithely hoist a glass to crucifying the common welfare, our fragile planet, and our children’s futures and very lives on the cross of business as usual. Then at this most precarious and perilous historical juncture, they persist in driving deadly spikes through merciful initiatives that can corporally and spiritually redeem people, and aid an ailing mother earth.
Yet they only hold their positions because their ardent supporters also display acute heart failure—including other politicians and advisors who pass buckets of spikes down the line, and media outlets that distort and attack more than report and reflect. Some of these folks would consider themselves persons of faith. No doubt all view themselves as “good people.” But the moral choice is clear: they can commit to exemplify the elevated virtues espoused by Jesus and other great moral teachers, and hold America’s elected leaders to the same standards; or continue their support and crucify their own honor and integrity along with everything else.
Consistent with caring for “the least of these” and performing works of mercy, Christian scripture says these virtues boil down to a single stance of mind and heart: “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
For those accustomed to angrily blaming others for society’s problems, this requires two things the Barabbas crowd couldn’t muster: a soul-searching moral appraisal, and conquering self-righteous resistance to living this law. But it’s worth every bit of that brave and noble effort. Because the story of Jesus’ crucifixion doesn’t end there, but symbolically proclaims that even amid agony and despair, resurrection remains possible. Failing hearts can be resuscitated. The human spirit entombed by pain and fear can rise again, bringing neighborly mercy and saving grace—even joy—to the world.
When hearts and spirits open so do eyes; and lyrics from “Amazing Grace” describe that inner awakening: “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” Seeing in this way, actions that once appeared acceptable—further pulling the rug out on America’s growing ranks of poor people; inciting hostility and aggression against the vulnerable; “spitting” on a forlorn teenage girl—are now repugnant. And better options become crystal clear.
Those better options are embodied in progressive and progressive-leaning Democrats and Independents who are ready and able to bring about the required transformations—which not incidentally will better the lives of most Trump supporters along with so many others. But to halt Trump and McConnell’s current crucifixions—and stop them from cementing the tombstone in place—they both need to go.
This transformative movement is about much more than a single election cycle. But along with electing Joe Biden it will best take hold by Democrats achieving a majority in the Senate this November. Because if McConnell remains Majority Leader he won’t allow votes or even debates on merciful measures like universal pre-K, a wealth tax, student loan forgiveness, a Green New Deal, and what COVID-19 has now made so obviously essential, health care for all. In short, he (or any like-minded successor) will block a Democratic president and House from truly governing.
To those seeking a more enlightened life, Jesus reportedly advised, “Knock and the door will be opened to you.” In seeking a more enlightened nation the same counsel applies. So as well as working to elect Biden, when the pandemic lifts enlightened folks in key Senate race states like Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, North Carolina and Texas can knock on their neighbors’ actual doors to roll away the stone and let works of mercy reign. People who don’t live in these states can knock virtually, and donate funds to progressive Democratic candidates in any Senate race.
Meanwhile Trump and McConnell backers who still can’t see the light will continue to scream for Barabbas, and Trump & Co. will try to crucify this movement at all costs. But the costs are now far too great to allow people who know neither mercy nor love for one’s neighbors to determine America’s course.
And try as they might, they cannot inter this unique moment of 2020 Vision: the moment when for the first time enough human beings got deep in their bones and hearts that we are one species, on one finite earth, with one shared future—and began to act accordingly. This transformative moment and movement is in a sense sacred, because it reveres and upholds life and love. And it hinges on enlightened people making enlightened choices.
The biblical book of Deuteronomy makes this plain: “I have set before you life and death….”
Come November 3rd, “Choose life, so that you and your children may live….”
Peter Farriday is a writer, editor and public speaker dedicated to furthering benevolent cultural and political advancement. A native of St. Paul, he lives in Los Angeles County.