As the Rough Beast Slouches toward Bethlehem, Take His Statements both Seriously AND Literally

Marcus Borg, the liberal Christian scholar, says that you can take the Bible seriously or you can take it literally, but you can’t do both. He advises adoption of the former approach.

Recently, speaking of Trump, Salena Zito has written in the Atlantic that “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally”—meaning that his supporters have come to believe that he will do great things for them, but understand the hyperbole as hyperbole, and forgive it.

I suppose that may be an accurate statement about the thinking process of many Trump voters, maybe the majority of them. But there is a high risk that, in so thinking, they have made a catastrophic misjudgment.

We will know more as the transition process unfolds. As I write, grossly unqualified people are apparently being considered seriously for high positions in diplomacy and the military. Right now, along with Charles Lane, I am sorry to say that I take Trump’s desire to smash the international order both very literally and very seriously.

This is not a happy conclusion. But progressives gain nothing when they forget that denial is not just a river in Egypt.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming