Fantastic news for angsty progressive-ish 15-year-olds everywhere: Finally — finally! — after a wait that must have seemed interminable, this readership has gotten its very own Ayn Rand, thanks to Frederic C. Rich and his debut novel, Christian Nation, a story with all the subtlety of a Slipknot video and artfulness of a Chick tract.
By way of disclosure: I haven’t read Ayn Rand since high school. I read her a lot when I was like 17, and then had to stop because I realized it was making me insufferable. But (bummer for me) I remember her work pretty well, and Rich’s novel is essentially what Atlas Shrugged would have been if it had been conceived by a Freedom from Religion Foundation focus group and edited by Howard Dean.
The basic gist of the story is thus: John McCain wins the 2008 election and then promptly dies from a brain aneurysm. Then Sarah Palin becomes president (the Sarah Palin character in this book puts Tina Fey to shame, by the way) and, in cahoots with those scary homeschool leaders and Evangelicals, sets America on the track to becoming a brutal theocracy where homosexuality, adultery, masturbation, and a bunch of other things are banned. The book’s protagonist, Greg; his best friend Sanjay (a gay man from India who is the new gold standard for one-dimensional characters); and Mike Bloomberg (now the governor of New York) try to stop them before it’s too late. Suspense!
Rich’s book suggests that he’s very, very worried that Westboro Baptist Church or their ilk will win the House, the Senate, and the presidency and then proceed to kill all the gays. In fact, above the book’s title on its cover is written “it could happen here . . . ,” suggesting that the book isn’t so much a novel as a progressive doomsday prophecy. Rich goes out of his way to intimate that conservative Evangelicals are currently doing what the Nazis were doing in the 1930s. “This isn’t the first time the world didn’t listen,” he writes after a quick discussion of dominionism. “In college I read Hitler’s Mein Kampf.” He prefaces one chapter with a quotation from Dr. James Luther Adams, an anti-Nazi dissident, which reads, “Repeatedly I heard anti-Nazis say, ‘If only 1,000 of us in the late twenties had combined in heroic resistance, we could have stopped Hitler.’”
Interestingly, he criticizes Pat Robertson for saying the treatment of Christians in America is comparable to the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. Rich also goes after the book’s militant Evangelicals for their worries about the U.N.’s usurpation of American sovereignty — in short, fear-mongering conspiracy theories and wackadoodle comparisons to Nazis for me but not for thee.
Come for the groundbreaking Evangelical-Christians-are-like-Nazis rhetoric, stay for the mind-numbing dialogue. Characters say things like “I hope you will forgive me, Patricia, but your conversation, although entertaining, I generally do not find intellectually stimulating. It may be selfish of me, but tonight I am looking to be intellectually stimulated, not simply entertained” and “What does he give you that I can’t? . . . I want to be your soul mate” and “Friends are precious and it is far too easy to let them drift away” and “I am a contemplative person who prefers action that is not directly confrontational. I would rather inspire by example.” I feel really bad for Rich if the kind of people he hangs out with actually talk like that.
Another great thing about Christian Nation is that, for a book that aspires to be progressive and edgy, it’s kind of medieval about women. It has, by my count, three female characters with speaking lines, and none come off well; one is Sarah Palin, the second is Greg’s consumeristic girlfriend who dumps him when he leaves his cushy lawyering job to try to save America from theocracy, and the third is a fat midwestern librarian named Lurlene who is simple-minded and really into Jesus. That’s not counting Christine Quinn, who bursts into tears at one point.
Greg tells readers at least a few times that his girlfriend’s cursing bothers him. For instance:
It continued to alarm and annoy me that, each year, Emilie’s language became increasingly vulgar. She knew how to “behave” when we were with older people in social situations, but she brought home with her the casually foul language of the trading desk. I wonder now why I didn’t tell her more often how much it bothered me.
If only Emilie would “‘behave’” when she was at home! Bloomberg says “these fuckers are monsters . . . Nazis,” and Greg is totally fine with it. But when his girlfriend tells him to “grow a pair,” his delicate sensibilities are highly offended; ladies shouldn’t be cussing. Christian Nation, by the way, doesn’t even bother trying to pass the Bechdel Test (we can apply that to books, right?). Speaking out against Christo-fascism, we must assume, isn’t really women’s work.
Rich seems self-aware enough to realize that people might think his book’s a little over the top; there’s a disclaimer-y afterword where he says this novel isn’t so much a prediction as “a warning that such an outcome is possible.” In other words, as long as Rich has confirmed elitist stereotypes about the knuckle-dragging, gun-toting, wife-beating homeschoolers who live in landlocked states and speak in tongues all the time, he feels his work is done. So if you’re looking for an excuse never to leave the Acela Corridor — or if you’ve just been jonesing for some Mike Bloomberg fanfic — then rejoice! Christian Nation is here. And not a moment too soon, since those crazy Evangelicals were obviously about to take over.
— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.