Letters from the Gulag
November 9th, 2020.
Can it be? Has it really been four years since that fateful morning after the election when I wrote, “The odds are high that Hillary Clinton will have unambiguously swept the electoral college by the time you read this”? Oh, how that seems such a different life now. I suppose it is. That was the era Before the Administration. I remember that time now only dimly, as if through something, uh, dim.
The warden won’t let me have a thesaurus.
November 15th, 2020.
It is hard to keep track of the days. I keep a calendar of my own reckoning scratched into the crumbling cement underneath my bunk. They don’t want us to know the real date. The Administration’s power lies in the suppression and manipulation of truth. Lies are reported as truth. Facts are distorted, manipulated to the point it becomes tiring to untangle them, and we no longer have the strength to resist the process. In sloth, we acquiesce to the altered reality, even if the official story is at odds with itself. If there were coherence, there would have to be some truth, and the Administration cannot have that.
November 17th, 2020.
The warden tells us it is Sunday today but by my timekeeping it is actually Tuesday. Later he will allow us fifteen minutes of First Amendment Exercise, when we will sing the Pledge of Allegiance and have Bible study. We are only allowed the Administration’s official text of the Bible, which has been excised of much of its content. All that remains are exhortations to obey masters and pray for officials. This version was prepared by the President’s Faith Council, all of whom are elderly white evangelical men. They left a paltry few verses about having faith, but these are divorced from the commandments to do works. It is the Gospel of Obedience, which is the most they can let us have.
They left in the verse about the truth setting us free. Whether this is cruelty, irony, or just more of the bureaucratic incompetence that has marked the Administration’s rule, I cannot tell.
November 21st, 2020.
Today is Thanksgiving Day, or so we are told. My scratches say different. They marched us to the cafeteria and made us sing the Pledge of Allegiance again. One man refused to say “under God,” and a guard noticed and beat him. The Administration is very religious. The best religious. They’re so religious that haters can’t stand it. Losers.
They served us turkey on metal trays patterned with stars and stripes like the American flag. This makes it very difficult to eat. On the underside of my tray are the words “Made in Malaysia.”
December 1st, 2020.
The Administration has made Christmas a federal season. Today I sang “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” and a guard beat me. The Administration only allows songs that contain the word “Christmas” or “Jesus.” I then sang “American Jesus” and he let me go.
December 21st, 2020.
This morning we celebrated Christmas Eve by singing the Pledge of Allegiance. The chaplain then led us in a read and response of the Bill of Rights. One of the prisoners began laughing hysterically as we did. The warden did not see the humor in it.
January 19th, 2021.
This morning, the warden announced the Administration had been made permanent to ensure freedom and equality for all citizens. He might as well have said the Administration had been made permanent to ensure pancake waffle potato hat. Words have lost all meaning. We once laughed at progressives for embracing the linguistic nihilism of postmodernism. Now we all have. The words I write on this napkin are hieroglyphics.
February 17th, 2021.
It’s Valentine’s Day, sponsored by Hallmark. The warden has discovered I’ve been making fun of him for the last three years. He said I am being transferred to a Freedom Camp to learn the duties of a citizen in a democracy. He also said that I hurt his feelings and violated his rights. Those sent to Freedom Camps for First Amendment violations rarely return.
February 30th, 2021.
It’s Sunday—or, by the Administration’s new calendar, Third Trumpsday. Today is my last day here. A guard informed me I will be taken to the Freedom Camp in the evening. I asked him if he’d heard the Gospel. He said he’s not racist but he doesn’t like black music. Then he walked away.
I’ve been musing what it is about the Gospel that so threatens the Administration. It was a simple matter to categorize and demonize Jews and Muslims, making those groups about ethnicity, lineage, and place of origin, instead of difficult, abstract ideas like theology or belief. Under the Administration’s rule, the nation is still nominally Christian—even if the state’s religion bears little resemblance to the orthodox faith. Yet, those who preach the beatitudes or warn of God’s judgment on idolatrous nations are labeled dissidents. Even flying a church flag higher than the American flag is grounds for arrest.
I’ve decided it is because the Gospel ultimately rests in mystery. The Administration requires control of ideas, and it cannot abide by a Truth it cannot wrestle to its own purpose. Divine mystery is transcendent, elusive, and pervasive. It is a guerilla fighter, striking at the authorities of the world from an unassailable perch. In every place, even in the darkest prison cell, the Gospel opens a window of light that can’t be shuttered, and this confounds tyrants. Because the Gospel itself cannot be bent to the will of the Administration, it must, at all costs, be distorted, suppressed, and hidden from sight.
Tyrants come and go, however. They are in and out of fashion like hats. Or toupees. The Gospel endures throughout the ages because it is from another place, one out of the reach of the tiny orange hands of kings. Do not fear those who can destroy only the body, it says. Fear him who can destroy the body and the soul in hell. The Administration’s rule is nothing compared to eternity.
So goodbye, gulag, and hello, Freedom Camp! Break my body, if you must. While you’re at it, mind if I share a little bit about a man who called himself Truth?
Photo courtesy Luca Serazzi at Flickr Creative Commons.