White House Commemorates Holy Martyr Who Died For Liberty. Whatever Could It Mean?
Steve Martin totally stole Becket's shtick.

Donald Trump signed a proclamation yesterday to mark today's "850th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket," not that Trump has any idea who Becket was or why anyone would mark the anniversary of his death. I'd really love to see a reporter ask the Great Man what he thought Becket's significance was. But somebody in the White House no doubt told Trump this would go over great with evangelicals, because "religious liberty," and that's pretty much what the proclamation focuses on, plus about how neat it was that Becket stood up to tyranny and stuff. So it would certainly be interesting to know more about how this little proclamation came about; for now, let's just note that it sure seems of a piece with some of Trump's other last-days forays into the Culture Wars, particularly his desire to save American history from historians and to promote "classical" (that is, "white") architecture.

The text of the proclamation puts a decidedly modern, culture-warsy spin on Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury who was put to death in 1170 on the implied order of King Henry II. Henry didn't care for Becket's insistence on clerical independence from the Crown, and also because Henry thought Becket's play Waiting for Godot was pointless and confusing. "Nothing happens in it! There's no plot! Will no one rid me of this turbulent/meddlesome priest?" Henry maybe said, although probably not. He definitely preferred TS Eliot, the old fascist.

In the Trumped-up version, no doubt the work of some of the administration's ravingly traditionalist Catholics, the Catholic saint becomes a hero of modern resistance to religious oppression, like requiring pharmacists to fill prescriptions to slut pills:

When the crown attempted to encroach upon the affairs of the house of God through the Constitutions of Clarendon, Thomas refused to sign the offending document. When the furious King Henry II threatened to hold him in contempt of royal authority and questioned why this "poor and humble" priest would dare defy him, Archbishop Becket responded "God is the supreme ruler, above Kings" and "we ought to obey God rather than men."

The proclamation says that Becket's stand against government interference in religious affairs led to the adoption of the Magna Carta, and even to "the establishment of religious liberty in the New World," because if there's anyone the Puritans admired, it was a martyred Catholic archbishop.

The proclamation offers, as a kind of thesis statement, this important lesson:

Thomas Becket's death serves as a powerful and timeless reminder to every American that our freedom from religious persecution is not a mere luxury or accident of history, but rather an essential element of our liberty. It is our priceless treasure and inheritance. And it was bought with the blood of martyrs.

As Americans, we were first united by our belief that "rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God" and that defending liberty is more important than life itself.

We should note here that the proclamation does not invoke the Right's beloved Thomas Jefferson quote about the Tree of Liberty needing to be refreshed from time to time with the blood of tyrants and patriots, because Jefferson was a dirty atheist who was mostly kicked out of Texas schoolbooks because he also believed in a wall of separation between church and state, even though those words are not in the Constitution and therefore there's no such thing.

Martyrs willing to die in the holy cause of resisting tyranny? Seems we've heard that somewhere else recently, like from Kelli Ward, the chair of the Arizona GOP, who literally called on Republicans to be willing to die to make sure Donald Trump stays president even after being voted out of office.

Arizona GOP tweet: This is what we do, who we are. Live for nothing, or die for something."

Or maybe it was only a metaphor, or one of those things that reads the same backwards or forwards. Whatever it is, it's certainly not a fatwa calling on Trumpers to become martyrs. It's just big-boned.

The rest of the proclamation doesn't dwell too much on telling God's Own Americans to martyr themselves; rather, it jumps right in to the need to protect precious little babies from getting abortioned, a topic that Thomas Becket, like Jesus Christ Himself, was silent on, but only because neither had seen how effective it is for rallying Republican voters.

The thing also calls for protecting religious liberty and granting succor to the persecuted faithful around the world, as long as we're talking about the persecution of Christians. This isn't stated openly, but the choice of examples says all that's needed:

We pray for religious believers everywhere who suffer persecution for their faith. We especially pray for their brave and inspiring shepherds — like Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong and Pastor Wang Yi of Chengdu — who are tireless witnesses to hope.

China's ethnic cleansing of its Muslim Uighur minority? Not a word, and nothing about China's treatment of Tibetan Buddhists, either. Burma's genocidal treatment of its Muslim Rohingya minority? Nah. Heck, those people don't even have cardinals or pastors.

There's also this line, which, while I'm not a medievalist, seems maybe a bit anachronistic: "The tyranny and murder that shocked the conscience of the Middle Ages must never be allowed to happen again." While Canterbury Cathedral did get a pretty good pilgrimage business going in later centuries, we also suspect that at the time of the murder, there were plenty who felt it was about time the king showed that troublemaker who was boss. Not to mention all the people who never heard about Becket's killing because they didn't have cable.

The whole thing wraps up with this perfectly accurate statement that is beyond dispute:

A society without religion cannot prosper. A nation without faith cannot endure — because justice, goodness, and peace cannot prevail without the grace of God.

And if anyone knows what justice and goodness are, it's the guy who pardons his criminal friends and likes to get away with sexual assault because if you're a celebrity, you can do anything. We sure hope some reporter asks Trump who Thomas Becket was, if only to see if Trump plans on pardoning him.

You know what historic event far closer to us in time and space Trump didn't mark today? The 130th anniversary of the massacre at Wounded Knee.

Given that it's Trump, that may be just as well.

[White House]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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