Just when you think things can’t get any stranger…
It’s a bit of a puzzler, why the minds of that hall full of Bible-reading, God-invoking radical rightwing, whitewing Americans didn’t immediately leap — as mine and many others’ did — to the beginning of Exodus 32. If the reference isn’t familiar, allow me to retell the story in (very) brief.
Moses went up the mountain to keep his date with destiny. But he was a long time coming back, and the people got nervous. One bright soul among them, by name Aaron, had the idea of melting down all the women’s jewelry and making a moulded statue of a calf. This they proceeded to worship, calling it their God. This annoyed the Lord of Hosts considerably, and he told Moses to skedaddle back down that mountain and straighten those people out ASAP. Which he did, and the rest is (contested) history.
Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man. (Romans) … Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! (Exodus)
Even I — as a non-believer and non-church-goer — was strongly reminded of the Old Testament tale, and I was not alone. I have to wonder, did no one in that cheering crowd have an uneasy moment? After all, it’s their religion and their belief system being mocked here, not mine.
But the layers of meaning in this iconic image resonate beyond the Bible text and into our lived, secular experience. The so-called “conservative” PAC (actually an insurgent, radical right deviationist splinter of the established Republican Party) is funded by and dedicated to money and monied interests. Their fascination with gold — as a medium, as a metaphor — is archetypical, antique, the age-old human addiction to barbaric display. Warlords and tyrants are consistently mesmerised and gratified by it:
“If I’ve only got one life,” most dictators seem to think, “let me live it surrounded by gold.” When you have all of your country’s resources at your disposal, why not? Gold furniture, gold wall decorations, columns with gold capitals, gold taps. Bright gold, fake gold, shiny alloys for functional metalwork. Viktor Yanukovych, the recently deposed pro-Russian leader of Ukraine, lived in a positive blizzard of gold, which was revealed to a waiting world when he was ousted in the country’s 2014 revolution.
Peter York, for Politico
But gold is also an enduring symbol of wealth, even if our bank accounts are no longer backed by it, even if the statue is only gilded and not solid. And the worship of wealth is also described in the Bible as incompatible with the worship of God.
There are other interesting aspects of the Golden Cad statue on display at CPAC. It carries a magic wand topped with a golden star: does this imply that ex-President Trump has magical powers? (Some of his biggest fans will not let their kids read Harry Potter books, because they are about magic.) Or is it a not-so-veiled reference to his “fairy godmother” ability to channel wealth and pardons to his faithful servants, “magically” solving their problems?
The statue also wears what looks like a pair of boxer shorts made out of an American flag. I am old enough (barely) to recall a time when American Conservatives (real ones, not tinpot Far-White populists) used to scold the hippie generation in the very strongest language for “disrespecting the flag” — for letting it lie on the ground, stamping on it, burning it, or incorporating it into clothing. And yet here is a room full of soi-disant Patriotic Americans cheering and apparently adoring a statue of a guy wearing Old Glory… as his underpants? Really?
Oh yes, and the artist responsible for this astonishing vulgarity told the world that it was made in Mexico… you remember Mexico, that “shithole country” whose people are all robbers and rapists trying to invade the US? According to Trump and his frothing followers, that is.
It was a CPAC moment deserving a Guinness Book of World Records entry for cognitive dissonance. Strangely, the press reports make no mention of any heads exploding in the crowd.