By Charlie Johnston
From the time of my mid-teens, whenever my circle of friends was wildly but enthusiastically wrong in their assessment of how a particular course of actions and choices would play out, if I saw I could not persuade them, I adopted a technique I called “playing the prophet.” I would tell them matter-of-factly, without anger or bitterness, why I believed it to be an errant course and precisely what I thought it would lead to. It had nothing to do with any mysticism, just normal analysis extrapolated to its logical conclusion. Often, I went along with them on their errant course, without dropping my candid objections. I tried to calibrate it so that, should I prove right, I made it as easy as possible for them to move to my position without any bruising of egos. I also went along with them when I was overmatched so as to remove my ego from any petty efforts to merely prove I was right. I had one friend, in particular, in those early days, whose wise counsel spared me from several big mistakes of my own. Funny thing…if you take pains to remove the emotional triumphalism from disagreements (the desperate need to be right rather than as a means to find what is right), if you thank people for their thoughtful counsel even when you don’t agree, and if you particularly thank them when it turns out they were right, you get better counsel – and you encourage people to share their honest assessments. Do the same in reverse, completely banishing any “I told you so” moments, and your own counsel goes down a lot easier even with people who strongly disagree with you. The truth is, if you don’t follow this formula, most people will still forgive you for your errors in judgement – but some people will NEVER forgive you when you are right.
As I got into my late teens and early 20’s, I modified this technique for public, local disputes, as well. Sometimes, the prevailing conventional wisdom is both so misguided and so certain of itself that there is little you can do other than express your dissent and wait it out. The price you pay for such a stand is usually a barrage of withering criticism and attacks in the moment. You have to manage the response to these with skill and judgment. If you are silent in response to all, you come across as an impotent coward who won’t stand for what he purports to believe in – and will have little influence on future controversies even if you prove completely right on the present one. If you constantly attack all who disagree with you, you come across as a prickly, egotistical jerk who is incapable of collaborating with others. Again, you will have little influence on future controversies even if you prove completely right on the present one. How you calibrate your response and behavior in such a situation is far more important than whether you prove objectively right or wrong in determining what influence you will have on future events. If your goal is to do the most right thing you can in all situations, you will take great care in the calibration of all responses.
I used to tell candidates I counseled that I had two fundamental duties to them. First, I was obliged to give them the best, most candid advice I could in private. Second, once a decision was made, it was my duty to carry it out with as much skill and enthusiasm as I could, whether or not it was the course I recommended. Almost all my candidates were very grateful to have someone who was both absolutely candid and absolutely loyal. This gets to the crux of the matter. If you are in a position of responsibility and the course you prefer is not the course chosen (after you have had full latitude to voice and explain your preference), give it your all to make it work as decided. You have nothing to lose and much to gain. If it works out, you played an important role in its success. If it fails, your vigor at trying to make it work makes it easy for everyone to change course and try it your way. For me, that is the heart of honor. It is a large part of what I mean when I say it is more important to be true than to be right – for you can’t always be objectively right, but you can always be true.
Now, it is a time to “play the prophet” again – from the entirely temporal perspective from which I originated the term over 40 years ago. I have always defined the term, “false dawn,” as that period after a crisis when people think they have gotten things back under control but have actually sown the seeds of greater dysfunction just ahead. I think we have reached our final false dawn – but it is one unlike any I have ever seen before. We actually have two distinct and competing false dawns, both of which badly mis-analyze what has actually happened. Both think they can quickly bring things back to normal after the current tumults are decided in November.
On the right many have convinced themselves that if Trump and the Republicans win a landslide victory that everything will smooth out and we will have all the levers of power to ensure that it does. I actually do think the election will go so heavily to the right that it will be a near extinction-level event for the Democrats. I also think that things are going to be far worse next year than almost anyone can now imagine. First of all, if the election should play that way, do you really think the insane, violent left is just going to say, “oh, never mind,” and go away? People who are insane and violent are slow learners – and will not make the connection that all their histrionics were counter-productive. They will, instead, double down on the very things that ensured their loss at the polls. Do you think that, controlling all the levels of elected power, Republicans will then act vigorously to restore order? The best that can be said of the overwhelming majority of Republican officials is that they have not participated in the actual assault on the social fabric. But if this is our seawall, better get a boat, because the flood is coming. Even if the GOP wiped out the Democrats in the election and even if Republicans suddenly found the spine to enforce public order, our institutions are shot. Forget the perniciousness of media and the justice system – then tell me what institution you have confidence in anymore. Some of the police are trying, but many folded to the multitude of aspiring petty tyrants. These police cowered from the actual wolves among us while ticketing swimmers and honest people for going to get a haircut or a bite to eat. The top echelon of the military has gone whole hog for identity politics, thinking its mission is no longer to win wars, but to make people feel happy. Our churches? Many of them have imposed more draconian rules for worship than the multitude of aspiring secular petty tyrants persecuting them. Bureaucrats are a law unto themselves, thinking (mostly rightly) that the elected officials accountable to the people will not or cannot ever hold them to account. The Constitution is reduced to a mere fig leaf covering over the raw will to power that prevails. How do you resurrect a once-healthy body politic when all its organs are eaten away with cancer? Who has the will to truly clean house and reduce things back to a minimalist government of the people, by the people and for the people?
The left thinks the monstrous cultural forces they have released can be called back should they win. They are not just riding the tiger; they are riding an ambush of tigers. They will not be able to get off without being mauled or devoured. On the bright side, the left has unintentionally struck mortal blows at the educational and cultural institutions they have used to indoctrinate people for so long. Teachers’ Unions and tenured college professors are going to find that they have killed the goose that laid the golden eggs and will, within a short time, have to find real work or starve. While it still has substantial influence, the leftstream media has tanked its credibility – which continues to vanish faster than a toupee in a hurricane. The illusion of bureaucratic expertise is dying. Even if all this could be surmounted, the damage we have done to our nation is insurmountable. We are drawing down on the capital now and think that because there was so much capital to be drawn down on, that everything is basically okay, just needing a few tweaks to get back to normal. We have badly mutilated our productive capacity. Our supply chains are deeply damaged and, in more cases than you think, completely broken. Watch for spot shortages in basic things like food. Keep your eyes peeled for unexplained disruptions in basic utilities – including communications. Officials will try to pretend everything is okay as they shift resources to try to cover the shortfalls and disruptions – and with every shift they will draw further down on the capital and closer to the day when there are no resources left to shift. Many of us are going to know hunger in the near future. If I lived in a city, I would get out as quick as I can. Living in a suburb, it would be prudent to look for alternate supplies of water other than what your municipality pipes in. If you don’t have a natural fireplace or, at least, a chimenea, now would be a good time to get one.
Few now argue with my once-controversial, decades-long assertion that we were headed for a “global civil war fought on cultural lines.” Even many of the most sober secular thinkers now believe we may have reached the tipping point where civil war is inevitable in this country. What is often forgotten is that I said global. Our enemies have been watching. Don’t be surprised if, early next year, both China and Jihadists launch greater attacks and efforts to disrupt not just America, but the entire western world. If America is a sick man, Western Europe is terminal. I am sick to death of hearing arguments about whether Vladimir Putin is a real Christian or a good man. He is a tyrant, no doubt, which is what has ruled Russia for over a thousand years. I have doubts that anything other than a strongman could survive more than a few weeks in Russia. What is critical to me is whether he is a rational man, whether his actions make any sort of coherent sense within his worldview. My conclusion is that they do. He is dancing as fast as he can to stay afloat in a sea of hostile monsters, most notably China on his southern border and a substantial Muslim majority in some of his provinces. I think he is waiting to see whether America has the fortitude and moxie to take its own side in a fight anymore. If we do, we need to form a serious security alliance with him to fight off the existential threat that China and Jihadists pose to the west. I have said repeatedly that I’m recruiting – and I want Russia to firmly come down on the side of the west rather than just maneuver for its own survival in the midst of oriental intrigue. Russia is no longer as oppressive as it was under the czars – and a LOT less brutally oppressive as it was under the communists. It is a work in progress – and I want it to progress on our side. Make no mistake, America’s enemies are heartened to know that, even if things were to calm down a bit, they now have a substantial portion of the population here committed to America’s downfall. Antifa and Black Lives Matter will form the largest fifth column in the history of hostile foreign attacks.
So yes, I have a very gloomy view of the near future – far gloomier even than I have described here. When I say gird our loins, I do not mean for the election – though I pray we prevail there. I say do it for the greatest existential battle in world history. We have two choices opening up before us: resurrection or a new and brutal dark ages.
Over the weekend, I was intending to do a piece here questioning why churches and religious leaders, generally, are so flaccid in their defense of the faithful in these trying times. Fr. Dwight Longenecker wrote a marvelous piece on the sometimes dynamic tension between institutional church leaders and faithful, frustrated laymen. I have wondered why the response of religious authorities to offenses has been so feckless and torpid. But towards the end of the week and more vigorously through the weekend, I started hearing from a host of people about the things I MUST do to make CORAC effective. I expected that: at this stage of forming a large organization, everyone weighs in with how you must do it – some in absolute sincerity, some really not understanding where you are going, and some just trying to hijack your movement for their agenda – which they have never been successful in getting an audience for. Some want to make it only into a prayer group. Others want it to be entirely secular. Still others don’t want to do anything without first garnering the enthusiastic support of Bishops and prelates. All of these are formulas for doing nothing…for just continuing to march in place hoping the world doesn’t cave in on us.
First, let me state clearly what we are and what we are not. We are not a prayer group that does some stuff. We are an activist group that is grounded in faith and prayer. I do not impose any mandatory devotions on anyone. In fact, I endeavor to keep it largely secret what devotions speak to me. Few know beyond the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy what devotions are important to me. My concern is that people be spiritually fed with healthy devotions without neglecting the prayer of doing. I do NOT want to discourage anyone who lives a vibrant faith life just because it is not the same as my vibrant faith life. We have altogether too much triumphalism in faith communities as it is. Others have told me that we are not prayer-centered enough. They are either completely ignoring the national network of Priests and pastors I have gathered together as a resource and the prayer teams around the country that I am vigorously promoting and connecting with each other or they are just irritated because I am not doing it the same way they would. One of the greatest banes of modern faith communities is that too many people define holiness as being “like me.” The minority who want it to be entirely secular, detached from faith, do not understand there is no better way to become the mirror image of the monsters we must fight. Those who want the enthusiastic support of religious leaders before acting at all do not seem to understand that we are largely in the state we are in because many of our religious leaders will neither defend the faith nor allow others to defend it. (See Matthew 23:13) Nonetheless, I am recruiting. I will not seek permission from anyone to stand for faith, family and freedom – but I will not defy the lawful spiritual authority of those given that authority by Christ. I am in the situation that William Wallace was in in the movie Braveheart, when he told Robert the Bruce longingly that if the Bruce would lead boldly as king, Wallace would follow him, but that either way he would stand for the freedom of his fellow Scots. If Wallace would have waited for the Bruce to act, nothing would have ever happened. By acting boldly, he ultimately filled the Bruce with the courage and resolve to act boldly, himself, and lead a generation of Scots to take their freedom. The truth is, several Bishops have told me they are quietly praying for the success of our initiative.
And then it hit me. We are at a tipping point, like a car precariously balanced at the edge of a cliff. The watchword for most officials, both religious and secular, who are not actively engaged in assaulting our culture is, “make no waves.” They are not all – or even mostly – timid. Rather, they know if they move wrongly, they may well tip the car over the edge of the cliff into a fiery crash. So many are frozen in place, knowing that bold action is required but not yet knowing how to calibrate their action to create the least danger of fatal harm. This is why the decisive action of the ordinary man is so critical in these times. We lack the influence to crash the car if our actions are imprudent – only to add to the confusion. If we are disciplined and effective, we can draw the car back from the edge of the cliff to where those who bear greater responsibility can feel emboldened to act. So for now, if we lead effectively in living our duty, many of the formal leaders will be emboldened to act more decisively – and as they act more boldly, we will feel more comfortable in following their lead. Over time, the equilibrium Christ established will be restored. And what a happy people we will be!
Many Catholics – and a few Protestants – have commented approvingly on my vigorous insistence on the critical role of Holy Mary in the task before us in my talk in Limon two weeks ago. I am gratified by those Protestants who told me they had not seen it from that perspective before. Many of the Catholics assumed – and with pleasure – that because I am devoted to Mary, I pushed the same devotion on others. As I have said before, I do NOT like to dictate what devotions anyone should follow, only that they feed their faith with healthy devotions. I had a very different purpose in emphasizing the role of Our Lady.
I sign almost every letter and email I write with the closing, “Ave Maria, Stella Maris!” Translated, it means “Hail Mary, Star of the Sea!” For ancient mariners, the stella maris was the indispensable navigational guide that would lead them safely to harbor. If they lost sight of it for very long, they were in real danger of losing their way and getting lost at sea. The Virgin Mary is the indispensable navigational star who leads us safely to the Harbor which is her Son. Without her, we can quickly and easily lose our way. Now we are all at sea – so I insist on Mary not because I am devoted to her, but because I intend all to get safely to harbor.
As I have noted, our National Conference of the Corps of Renewal and Charity (CORAC) will be on the weekend of September 12 and 13 in Limon, Colorado. Mary Lapchak is the Conference chairman – and she needs volunteers to help her, both locally and online. To help, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below is a sample of our logo. Our own MP came up with a bunch of images and variations. He is an incredibly talented man.