The ability of American secularists to maintain good mental health requires an uncommon capacity to resist the stresses and exasperations occasioned by a growing number of irrationalities. Daily, the people of this country are urged to think and act in ways that flaut reason and critical, evidence-based thinking. A few examples that come to mind include the gun fixation as expressed on behalf of weapons manufacturers by the NRA, a proliferation of deceptive advertising for medications, lunatic single issue campaigns by conspiracy buffs (e.g., the anti-vaccine movement), the threats to public schools from pseudoscience and pseudo-history, federal and state legislative initiatives that oppress women (e.g., anti-choice initiatives), movies and broadcast offerings that lend credence to psychic babble (and rabble), nearly everything communicated on Fox News or promoted by Republicans and, of course, the granddaddy of all schlock, religion. The latter can annoy in endless ways, from manifestations somewhat harmless (e.g., media coverage of all things Pope-related) to those that dismay (calls for prayer associated with tragedies and disasters) to the scarier cases that flaut Constitutional First Amendment safeguards and threaten our personal liberties.
In this context along comes Steven Jonas’ fictional non-fiction novel, The 15% Solution. Jonas describes how the Republican Religious Right, over a period of several decades, transformed America into a fascist Christian nation. Horrific stuff, but plausible enough based upon factual events commencing with the Reagan Administration in 1981 to the present time. Prophetically, this book was released before the North Carolina Legislature passed two thoroughly unconstitutional bills of a religious nature in 2013, one almost laughingly rendering prayer and fasting as state policy and the other explicitly declaring North Carolina a Christian state. (It was not signed into law.)
The 15% Solution employs the public record of theocratic statements, pledges and policies from leading Republicans and their allies on the Right to support details of a post democratic America after a theocratic coup. It seems a not-unlikely worst case scenario of off-the-rails religion-based government, a descent into totalitarian Christian rule. One overwhelming sense the reader gets from this book is that we are much closer to such a tragedy than most Americans realize.
While The 15% Solution has elements of the grim futures seen in Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and George Orwell’s “1984,” the future that Dr. Jonas presents is most unnervingly closest to the dystopian order presented by Margaret Atwood in “The Handmaiden’s Tale.”
This is a scholarly book with twenty chapters in three sections, extensive footnotes, a very lengthy preface, an extensive afterword and, oh yes, seven appendices.
Features of the 15% Solution that I found most captivating include:
- The actual statements, pledges, threats and promises of Right-Wing religious zealotry over many decades. Those quoted include Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Patrick Buchanan, Antonin Scalia, John Kasich, Robert Dornan, J. Danforth Quayle, Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson, David Duke, Paul Weyrich, Randall Terry, George F. Allen and David Barton, among others. I believe we tend to dismiss comments such as the following from Pat Buchanan: “We’re on the verge of taking [the Republican Party] back as prelude to taking back our country – as prelude to taking back the destiny of America, and when we get there, my friends, we will be obedient to one sovereign America and that is the sovereign of God himself.” (The Nation, D. Corn, 3/11/96). Maybe The 15% Solution will lead more Americans who don’t want the kind of country that theocrats like Buchanan view as heaven on Earth.
- The repetition of an “author’s note” at the bottom of numerous pages to the effect that “there is no indication or evidence that… ” the parties quoted would have supported or approved of any of the events” described. Wink wink! The hell they wouldn’t. Steven Jonas knows they would, I know they would and readers will know they would love it. But, I suppose it’s wise in a legal sense to cover one’s posterior, particularly if everyone can have a good laugh about such notes while reading along. And goodness knows-the grim situation depicted needs humor. I don’t think there would be much of it in a theocratic, Taliban-like America.
- The progression of the Republican Party into the American Faith Party, then the Republican Christian Alliance and finally the American Christian Nation Party.
- The new national flag-a blend of the Christian cross and the old Confederate flag.
- An extensive discussion of the nature of fascism in Appendix II. This word is tossed around a lot, often in ways that extend the word’s reach beyond recognition by an dictionary as well as out of line with good sense. Dr. Jonas makes it quite clear what it means and why he uses it judiciously and intentionally in this book.
- The journal notes describing events by a concerned citizen showing how fascism arose in the U.S., the “national ancestor” of the fascist Christian state.
- The inaugural addresses by theocratic presidents. If you think God-talk is bad now, watch out if the Christian state comes to pass.
There are a couple features of The 15% Solution that might diminish the prospects of the work becoming a best seller and wake up call for America. This is unfortunate because the widespread adoption of the work might promote the chances that this grim future will not come to pass. One is that it seems more suited as required reading for students in political science classes than casual reading for entertainment. It is scholarly and rich with substantiation for every major point advanced, including 30 or so amendments to the constitution outlined in detail that show the nation’s descent into religious fascism. Another is that it describes what happened in the past two decades that did NOT happen-yet. We all know that there has been no establishment yet of the apartheid state of the New American Republics in 2011. I wish Dr. Jonas had set the dates for these dreadful developments at least a decade or two into the future. But, that’s just a minor quibble-all the concerns remain and the assault on separation of god and government grows by the month. If The 15% Solution remains a fictional good read rather than an unerring secular prophesy of a fascist Christian takeover, I’ll be relieved and delighted.
Like a cancer, theocratic fascism is well on its way to being a serious possibility in America, and this book just takes the process a bit further than it has already traveled. There are no guarantees that our Constitutional democracy, our remarkably successful experiment of government of the people, by the people and for the people could not fail, as so depicted in The 15% Solution. Most of us have no idea how, exactly, to do what we are asked by political speech makers with the best of intentions (i.e., exercise “eternal vigilance” to safeguard our Constitutional democracy). People in the U.S. Congress and the Supreme Court, and powerful institutional forces whose objectives are essentially fascist in nature, already have significant power in our struggling democracy. It is not impossible that there could be secessionist (Christian) states and even a civil war, once again. I’m quite vigilant already-how can I be even more vigilant, and effective?
The more we know about how easily it could happen, little by little and bit by bit, the better our prospects for defeating it before it gets too far along.