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Trump’s Girardian Moment

A reader in Dallas writes:

I draw your attention to the fact that the domestic political dynamic brought about by the Syrian air strikes is EXACTLY what Rene Girard is talking about. The sacrifice (Assad / Syria) brings reconciliation to the chaotic community (the US).

Yet the moment [the very moment!]Trump gave the order to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase used in a chemical weapons attack a few days earlier, all was forgotten and forgiven.

What else could bring Lindsey Graham and Hillary Clinton together? This is the scapegoat mechanism, pure and simple. Luke 23.12: “And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.” They unite around the exclusionary violence they direct at Jesus.

Note too that, per Girard, the sacrifice of Jesus means that this dynamic doesn’t work anymore, not like it did in pagan antiquity. Because everyone sees that Jesus was innocent (a crucial aspect of constructive violence is the mythologizing of the victims – they have to be divinized – the community has to think that the victim brought the chaos and that the victim’s sacrifice will ameliorate it). This is one facet of our culture’s inability to return to paganism now that we think we’ve outgrown Christianity. Much as many might want to revert to paganism, as you have noted, it’s not possible. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross poisoned the cultural wells. Everyone now knows that sacrificial victims are all innocent. So there is no more reconciliation by means of exclusionary violence, not in any lasting way. (Assad is no more guilty than we are.) But that doesn’t stop us trying! You just watch: we will be searching ever more furiously for scapegoats. And THAT is apocalyptic, according to Girard. It leads inexorably to the grande guerre of all against all.

Interesting theory. Thoughts? Go read this page to learn about Girard’s theory of the scapegoat (scroll down). I don’t know how much attacking Syria has served Trump’s interests among voters, but it has certainly made the Washington Establishment happy.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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