About a year ago, I wandered down a rabbit hole while researching conservative attitudes about the January 6th insurrection. Along the way, I stumbled upon comments by Scott Adams, the cartoonist responsible for the Dilbert comic strip. He was raving about politics and blaming everyone for the problems of America but those most likely causing them. At that point in time, I stopped reading his comic strip in the Chicago Tribune, one of the newspapers to which I subscribe.
Like millions of other Americans disgusted by the vagaries of corporate life, I found Dilbert funny in some ways, and tragic in others. Adams is certainly adept at pointing out the fact that lousy bosses often rise to the top, and that middle managers have a hard time getting them to understand, much less embrace the truth.
And yet, Adams himself appears to have a hard time understanding the truth about many things. Most recently, he branded all Black people a “hate group” in one of the biggest gaslighting faux pas of all time. His Dilbert comic strip is now getting canceled right and left. Even the company responsible for getting Adams’ content out to newspapers had heard and seen enough. They dropped him too.
As reported on the website Popverse, this is how it all went down. “On February 22, Adams posted a live YouTube stream in response to a Rasmussen poll that asked Black Americans whether or not they agreed with the phrase, ‘It’s okay to be white’ — a phrase that is a known slogan for alt-right and racist groups. 53% of those polled agreed, with 26% disagreeing and 21% unsure.
Adams’ response to the poll was vehement. “If nearly half of all Blacks are not okay with White people… that’s a hate group,” Adams said during the broadcast. “I don’t want to have anything to do with them. And I would say, based on the current way things are going, the best advice I would give to White people is to get the hell away from Black people… because there is no fixing this.”
Adams deserved to get popped for making those racist remarks. Perhaps like many people claiming some sort of free speech clause… he’s now feeling like the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Popverse notes: Adams continues to be glibly unrepentant for his comments and their effects., “I’ve lost three careers to direct racism so far. Crocker Bank, Pacific Bell, and cartooning. All three were perpetrated by White people for their own gain,” he tweeted on Monday. “No Black person has ever discriminated against me. That’s partly why I identified as Black for several years.”
Drunk with power
Mr. Adams seems like a massively conflicted character, almost a cartoon of his own making. That self-conflicted nature reminds me of the time that I was sitting in a hospital emergency room with my daughter when she scratched her eye and was in some pain. We waited a long time to see a physician. While we sat there together a man strapped to a gurney in an open area was moaning and groaning loud enough for everyone to hear. “I want my booze!” he kept bellowing. “I want my f******* booze!”
This went on for a half hour at least. A security guard stood by his side keeping watch over the obviously inebriated man. Finally, the angry drunk turned his head to the policeman nearby, while saying, “Why did you do this to me?”
The officer leaned close enough to speak quietly to the man, and said: “We did not do this to you, sir. You did this to yourself.”
That’s a lesson that Scott Adams is learning right now. His self-inflicted punishment is costing him in terms of national image. There are financial implications as well. He’s lost comic strip revenue that once included income from 2000 newspapers in 65 countries. Even his book publisher is dumping his book project titled Reframe Your Brain. Why would anyone buy a book like that after learning the way Adams thinks?
Actually, there are probably millions of people eager to buy Adams’ book because they think just like the guy. Racism in the United States of America has gained stature among Right-wing activists enervated by the likes of Donald Trump, who blessed them on several occasions, even inviting them to be part of the January 6, 2020 attack on the United States Capitol building.
The most disturbing part of the type of dishonesty that leads to social injustice of this order is how many supposed Christians embrace Trump and by proxy, the racism that goes with it. That favoritism emerged during his 2016 campaign when the likes of high-profile Christian evangelicals such as Franklin Graham branded him God’s favorite candidate and stood by him through all sorts of scandals that would have tanked any other politician. The only thing that helped Trump survive his own power-drunk surge toward the White House was evangelical dismissiveness toward his clearly corrupt nature.
Graham is now starting to show regrets about his Trump support, but the harm done poisons his legacy and has damaged democracy in the United States of America. As reported on WNYC, “Like his father, Rev. Billy Graham, before him, Rev. Franklin Graham is one of the nation’s most prominent preachers, influential in the evangelical world and in the highest echelons of Washington. But where Billy Graham came to regret that he had “sometimes crossed a line” into politics, Franklin Graham has no such qualms about showing his full-throated support of the President. An early advocate of Trump’s candidacy, he has remained stalwart even as scandals pile up. Graham tells the New Yorker staff writer Eliza Griswold that Trump’s critics have forgotten that “he’s our President. If he succeeds, you’re going to benefit.” Of Trump’s many personal scandals, Graham says only, “I hope we all learn from mistakes and get better. . . . As human beings, we’re all flawed, including Franklin Graham.”
Hypocrites and legalistic zealots
But evangelical Christians that follow the likes of Graham are nothing if not devout once they make up their minds that God is on their side. Even after two well-deserved impeachments and a massive set of lies about the threat of Covid, about 30-35% of Americans refuse(d) to give up support for Trump.
There is effectively a 1:1 relationship between the percentage of people that vote for Trump and those that adhere to a biblically literal worldview on subjects such as creationism, the contention that the earth and all life were conceived in just six literal, 24-hour days, that a literal flood once covered the entire earth and that all “kinds” of living creatures were preserved aboard an ark that floated for nearly a year.
There is zero scientific evidence supporting any of those contentions, yet nearly 1/3 of Americans eagerly defend such untruths as absolute truth. To put it more bluntly, they are quite used to lying to themselves to defend their belief system and other equally shallow and self-centered priorities, often based on anachronistic ideology and traditional understanding of scripture failing to allow for scientific or cultural advancements debunking the so-called biblical version of reality.
The culture and lifestyle devoted to literalistic, fundamentalist, and legalistic religion also spends considerable effort trying to turn their belief systems into law, even demanding that religious beliefs such as creationism be taught in public schools. These attempts at imposing Christian law ignore the Constitution’s clear ban on imposing a state religion. The pursuant retort is that the Constitution itself is based on so-called “Christian values,” and that America is by design a “Christian Nation.” None of this is in the least bit honest.
Pushback is not persecution
When the American public conducts pushback against attempts to turn religion into law, the hard-Right Christian community loves to cry “persecution.” This version of victimhood is a gaslighting attempt of its own kind. That’s why Trujp was successful in garnering the right-wing Christian voting bloc. He plays the victim himself, and earns sympathy as a result. Before Trump, the Christian Right voted for George W. Bush on the dog-whistle hopes that an authoritarian embrace of Christianity would win the day.
This push toward American theocracy was predictable. The signs have been there for decades, as “Rock musician Frank Zappa once said, “The biggest threat to America today is not communism, it’s moving America toward a fascist theocracy, and everything that’s happened during the Regan (sic) administration is steering us right down that pipe.”
The ironic aspect of all this theocratic favoritism is that President Barack Obama is a practicing Christian with a healthy family in comparison to Trump with his multiple wives, porn star associations, and lust for his own daughter. Yet the Right Wing eagerly branded Obama as a “Muslim” as if that religious affiliation disqualified him from office. In specious fashion, the dog-whistle goal was to associate President Obama with Islamic extremism with hints of abject racism mixed in.
Speaking of Democratic Christians, President Joe Biden is a devout Catholic man that has seen suffering and sorrow in life and approaches challenges with compassion and contrition. Former President Jimmy Carter devoted his entire life to service after occupying the highest office in the land, yet the Right-Wing still refuses to recognize his true Christian nature versus the dishonest puppet-play religiosity of a man like Trump who couldn’t quote a Bible versus when asked about it. Yet he promised to ban abortion and gay marriage, and that trumps all other qualities among conservative Christians.
An ugly history
Looking back 150 years or so in American history, this political zealotry disguised as Christian righteousness is sort of ideological monstrosity that once pushed the notion that Manifest Destiny granted White Christians absolute dominion over the North American continent. The grand excuse that God favored white people was used to wipe out Native Americans through wars, theft of land, distribution of disease and alcohol, broken treaties, and when all else failed, outright genocide.
That same brand of Christian gaslighting supported slavery for centuries, in part because the Bible didn’t specifically ban it. Never mind that Jesus preached love and spiritual equality for all souls regardless of race. That truth was too inconvenient for pro-slavery fascists and ostensibly devout Christians that ultimately seceded from the Union to form the Confederacy.
This pattern of hypocrisy and denial of culpability for hideous outcomes wrought by hate-based religion is consistent. It leads to dishonesty about social justice and produces the worst offenses against humanity, all while claiming that Christianity is one of the most persecuted religions on earth. That brand of gaslighting and dishonesty is beyond disturbing. That is why Christianity as a religion needs a reality check. If the tradition can’t handle honesty about its own corruption of scripture to justify selfish actions, then it doesn’t deserve to have the word CHRIST in its name. Jesus specifically fought that kind of religion during his ministry, yet legalistic Christianity persists in its sins of power to this day.
The not-so-anonymous hate club
All this dishonesty allows racism to persist to this day as well. That’s why a big market remains for the brand of hate espoused by Scott Adams. A stubborn segment of American culture has refused social change for centuries. That means some conservative publisher will pick up the rights to Adams’ book and it will sell well among deplorables eager to embrace the high-profile confirmation bias offered by Adams.
That love for famous people spouting hate and lies is the same reason people have flocked to Fox News for decades, where Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and other well-known “commentators” preach right-wing talking points even when they know it is damaging to the nation they claim to protect. That makes them liars and hypocrites of the same order as dishonest Christians, which makes ugly sense because biblical literalists and constitutional originalists adhere to the same brand of a belief that anachronistic texts hold never-changing truths.
It has taken a while, but the like of Fox finally got caught red-handed after perpetrating the lies of Trump and the Republican Party for decades. Now Rupert Murdoch is plotting ways to avoid culpability for his corrupt regime of liars by trying to throw them under the bus. Murdoch and Fox (and by proxy, the GOP and Trump) are addicted to the money and power they gain by lying to the world. But they sure don’t want culpability. They’re the same sort of addict as the guy strapped to the gurney crying out, “I want my booze!” They are addicted to the thing they most need to leave behind.
The lesson behind all of this is that while it is hard to be honest, it is even harder being honest and ethical at the same time. In a perverse way, Scott Adams passed the honesty test with his racist comments. Yet he fails miserably at being a person of good character with an ethical foundation worth imitating. By his own confession in fact, the cartoon Dilbert was (also) always about hatred for the world and a self-righteous indignation at being wronged in his employment. One now wonders if the people firing him had an incredibly just cause. As in, “Was Scott Adams always an unemployable jerk?”
About this whole enterprise of Right-wing hate and dishonesty, and how it eventually catches up to people we can honestly say, “We did not do this to you. You did this to yourself.”
This article was originally published on the author’s LinkedIn Site Honest-To-Goodness.
Christopher Cudworth is the author of the book Honest-To-Goodness: Why Christianity Needs a Reality Check and How to Make It Happen.