Posted on 2023-09-05

“As the twig is bent, so grows the tree” – old Oxford proverb

A few weeks ago, a fellow promised to cut off my tie if I wore one to a dinner I was to attend. Since I was not the main speaker at the event and it was at a home, I wasn’t planning to wear one anyway.

The first two years I started speaking around the country I was always casually dressed. The thing is that in relatively ordinary times, even at a low ebb, when your message is that the problems are systemic and going to get far worse – and particularly if there is a prophetic element involved – it is important for people to know that however seriously you take your work, you don’t stand on ceremony. It makes it easier for them to talk bluntly with you – and honestly consider your message. When chaos forcefully arrives and starts accelerating, people are soothed by a certain formality of appearance combined with easy jauntiness. I started wearing suits when I speak beginning in 2017.

Though there is (and always will be) something tousled and frumpy about me, I have always paid attention to how appearance affects a situation. I used to emphasize to political clients that even more important than how an event looked was how it felt. How does an event make the attendees feel? That is critical. In my first statewide campaign, I consciously emphasized my more tousled, frumpy nature. I figured out quickly that most top operatives were very buttoned down and coiffed. I also figured out I was shrewder and more decisive than they were…and far more willing to take calculated risks. Coming off dumpy made opponents simultaneously underestimate me and drove them wild when I outmaneuvered them. Being underestimated gives you a lot more room to maneuver. Driving opponents to distraction over being outmaneuvered makes them much more likely to start swinging wildly in frustration. Both give you a serious competitive advantage. By my second statewide race, I was just ordinarily frumpy: both opponents and the state’s press corps were on to me and there was no advantage to being more common than my ordinary state.

And yet, I must confess, if I am the opposite of slick, I have always preferred a certain formality. I rarely even wear polo shirts. If you catch me in a t-shirt you either just caught me waking up or I have lost a bet in the family. When I was still two years old my Mom and I were living with her parents in Birmingham. One day Mom sent me out to play in short pants (which were fine) and a t-shirt (which most decidedly was not). I sat fuming on the front stoop. My grandmother, who doted on me, came home from work, saw me sitting there in a funk and asked what was wrong. I bitterly complained that, “Mom made me go outside in my underwear.” To my astonishment, Mamo started laughing. I had thought she was going to go yell at Mom. It was the only time I can remember ever being mad at my grandmother. I sat in a deeper funk than ever. Eventually I was called back into the apartment. It may seem like a wasted day, but Mom never made me go out in my “underwear” again.

My second grade picture is comical. I just loved President Kennedy. In my photo, I tried to emulate one of his portraits. There I am, in my little green sweater, leaning in with a warm, but decisive look on my face. It was perfect for a bio shot – if it wasn’t of a too solemn second grader.

As the twig is bent…


I hate to be back-tracking in less than a week, but I have drifted back into the DeSantis camp. Yeah, I loathe being fickle but, sheesh, this is like no other campaign in my lifetime.

What set me off was when Ron DeSantis suspended his campaign to handle the terrible damage and displacement in his state by Hurricane Idalia. He handled it with the smooth, easy competence he did the last hurricane – which makes them the two best crisis plans I have ever seen a governor carry out. So what did Donald Trump do? He sat on the sideline and took cheap potshots at DeSantis’ brilliantly executed crisis plan. Would that Trump had handled the Covid scare half as well and decisively as DeSantis did! Would that he had handled the Covid scare a tenth as well as DeSantis handled either of his two major hurricanes!

Our commenter, Pawel, noted last week that he wished DeSantis had come out early in full-throated defense of Trump against the weaponization of the law to try to railroad the man. So do I. I also wish that Trump had acknowledged early on DeSantis’ competence and fortitude.

If I was the prime strategist for these men, here is what I would encourage them to say – and then to live by.

First, Trump: “Ron DeSantis is a truly great governor. I think he will make a fine president one day. But we have unfinished business to take care of first. I showed that you can fight back effectively against the deep state and the globalists – and improve life for everyone in America while making the world safer by avoiding unnecessary wars and insisting that allies carry their share of the burden of our mutual defense. For this, the deep state has waged unrelenting and accelerating war on me before I even spent my first day in the Oval Office. It is not just me they are coming for. They will demonize anyone who touts the greatness of America and its people and challenges their privilege. The battle is joined between ordinary Americans and the deep state. It is mine to finish that battle – so that future presidents, no matter which party, may govern without seeking to rule; so that the opposition will always be loyal opposition, candidly competing for the approval of the American people without making politics into blood sport or a death match. My top priority is the dismantling of the deep state. I am uniquely qualified for this mission. Successfully carrying it out will leave a future President DeSantis room to govern rather than fight a retrograde battle with the dark forces in American politics that want to rule you. Let me carry to completion the battle I began: the battle to make America great again.”

Now, DeSantis: “We all owe Donald Trump a great debt of gratitude. He broke the ice, showing that we don’t have to sit by and preside over America’s decline by ratcheting ever leftward. It moves us toward a government that rules over every aspect of American’s lives rather than acting by the consent of the governed. The weaponization of law to try to get Trump is a criminal offense against our polity – and if elected I will work to jail every person who has misused the justice system to try to punish and tie up mere political opponents. Trump has forced the crisis that has been long in coming; a crisis that might not have come had we been vigilant in defending liberty in the first place. Trump took us from point C – which was despairing acceptance of decline to point B – which is fighting back for the values we hold dear. In the process he has gotten so deeply into the weeds that he is ready to fight anyone who disagrees with him on anything. What started as a Make America Great Again agenda has drifted into a fealty to Trump at all times agenda. That is understandable. Few men have ever had to deal with the sustained and unjust public pummeling that Trump has. But that will not get us to point A – a healthy country that respects and defends the rights of all. I will get us all to point A with the same steady resolve I used in fighting Disney’s efforts to hijack our people’s sovereignty; in stopping the DEI crowd from bowdlerizing our schools; in taking porn out of our school libraries despite the left shrieking that was censorship; and handling a few natural disasters effectively in my spare time. It is time for the restoration of America. I am the man to lead that effort, just as I did in leading it in Florida.”

Again, I do not believe we will get anywhere near the election before catastrophic confrontation breaks out. But I do believe that it is important that those who seek to be leaders now show the sort of grace under pressure that we will need to rebuild effectively then. If either of these candidates said something near to what I have envisioned, I would not be drifting back and forth between them.


Given the glad hosannas Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was met with on Palm Sunday, I have long thought the malignant Sanhedrin must have packed the courtyard with their men in the wee hours of Good Friday. This gave them the false veneer of public approval over their judicial murder that was, most decidedly, contrary to the public’s approval. But so it ever is with tyrannical public malefactors. They contrive what they can’t win.

This brings to mind the upcoming Synod on Synodality. It seems to me to largely be a device to contrive the appearance of broad public support for an assault on Scripture, the Magisterium, and the very legitimacy of Church authority.

Early in his papacy I was bemused when Pope Francis accused Catholics who criticized his desire to loosen the regulations on communion for those who are remarried as ‘Pharisees.’ “Huh!” I thought, “He got it exactly backwards.” It was the Pharisees who wanted loose rules on divorce and remarriage and Jesus who insisted on the covenantal permanence of the marriage bond. The Pope was, literally, taking the Pharisaical position while accusing his opponents (and presumably, Jesus) of being Pharisees. It was relatively early in his papacy and I thought perhaps his frustration had caused him to get it exactly backwards. It did not occur to me that he might not know the actual Scripture involved. Now I am not so sure.

Words have objective meanings. Today we are besieged with people who engage in specific behavior using words to describe that behavior as a synonym for ‘bad.’ Thus, people who have adopted the ideology and tactics of fascists call their opponents…‘fascists.’ People who take the identical position as Pharisees did call their opponents ‘Pharisees.’ Decades ago, a student about to graduate from a major journalism school asked me if she could write a case study on a public dispute I had been at the center of. She had worked as an intern at a newspaper at the time the dispute unfolded, so had been witness to the controversy from start to finish. She got an A+ on her paper and showed it to me after it had been graded. Oddly, she had described me as a “crusading liberal” and my antagonist as an “archconservative.” It was a good paper, otherwise, on the facts, and I told her so, but noted she had gotten the ideological description wrong: that I was the conservative and my antagonist the liberal. She was suddenly disconsolate – as if I had just killed her puppy. “That can’t be,” she wailed. “You are kind and helpful to everyone – and he was vicious and a liar.” Puzzled, I asked her what she thought the terms ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ mean. About to graduate with honors from a major journalism school, she honestly thought ‘conservative’ meant evil and ‘liberal’ meant good. I explained to her the ideological reality of the terms and concluded by saying I was, indeed, a kind and helpful conservative and my opponent was a vicious liberal – separating the actual ideological meaning of the terms from the character descriptions. This dumbing down of the understanding of the specific words is an assault on language and reality, itself.

Just over a week ago, Pope Francis ripped “reactionary” American Catholics who supposedly don’t understand how the faith evolves over time. The development of doctrine over time is a reality as our understanding deepens. The contradiction of defined doctrine is NOT. It is an offense and a stench in God’s nostrils. It was bracing to hear this most political of popes accuse those who want to faithfully abide by Scripture and the Magisterium as ‘political.’ What he meant by that is that these “rigid” folks are resistant to his changes to the faith that would make it more acceptable to the political climate, regardless of its consonance with the Magisterial faith.

In the same interview, Pope Francis said that, “today it is a sin to possess atomic bombs; the death penalty is a sin…it was not so before.” Perhaps the development of doctrine will eventually conclude that either of these things is always sinful (though I doubt it). But they do not become sinful just because a Pope unilaterally says so. The Pope is NOT the successor to Christ; he is the successor to Peter, who was appointed as guardian and guarantor of Christ’s teachings. He cannot contradict defined doctrine – and he most assuredly cannot make it up as he goes along. He cannot even formally define a development of doctrine without the open consent of a counsel – or through a formal infallible statement that must be in concert with the Bishops of the world.

The Church, too, is headed for an irrepressible conflict with those who want to make it something entirely different and opposed to what it has been for over 2,000 years confronting those who are determined to stand with Christ and the Apostles. Throughout the world a serious effort is being made to destroy the Church from without. Minnesota is considering a law that would effectively ban Christians from working as teachers. In several states, Christians are barred from fostering or adopting children because they will not ever agree to mutilate them for “gender-affirming” care. In some states, children can be taken from natural Christian parents for refusing the same. I have just touched on the problems in the United States. Elsewhere, it is worse. In much of Europe, you can be arrested for praying in public view or reciting Scripture. In Finland, they want to send you to jail for quoting the Bible.

What is most jarring and confusing for the folks in the pews is that, this time, the assault from without is joined by a rising assault from within. Prelates and clerics who support overthrowing the Magisterium and denying the plain words of Scripture are praised and promoted by the Vatican. Prelates and clerics who hold fast to the faith as handed on by Christ and the Apostles, such as Cdl. Burke, Cdl. Pell, Abp. Vigano, and Bp. Strickland are investigated or removed from authority by the Vatican. It shakes the faithful to their core.

But have no fear. God is not mocked. The truth is that He is cleaning house, first by exposing those who think to correct Him. They stand forever revealed. Unless they repent, they will be cast into outer darkness. For each of us the challenge is, first, to live fidelity to the faith. God does NOT evolve. Our understanding of Him may deepen and mature – but it will not and cannot ever contradict defined doctrine. The second challenge is to live trust – trust that God is not mocked and will set things right. You can fight if you wish, so long as you do not let yourself degenerate into mere vengeful combativeness. You can hunker down and live the faith with your family and friends, praying for the abuses to pass, praying for God to set things right. Above all, animated by your faith and trust, you must go forth, carrying the Gospel with you to those around you during this time of trial. Pray that the light of Christ will shine through you with brilliant clarity, giving new hope and new resolve to all who encounter you.

I am not inclined to pay any attention to the Synod on Synodality. To me, it is just a fancy new name for religious elders assembling a mob to crucify Christ anew along with Scripture and the Magisterium.

All you laymen who labor steadily in the Lord’s vineyard; all you Priests and Religious who live fidelity to the faith; all you Bishops who faithfully guard the Deposit of Faith handed on to us through the ages and teach it with fidelity; take heart! I am convinced that your deliverance is at hand. All those who think to remake the Church in their own petty, grasping image will be blown away as so much useless chaff. Those who kept fidelity under the assault of those who, within and without the Church, thought they had power to destroy her are a delightful incense in God’s nostrils – and will be rewarded extravagantly.

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

If communication goes out for any length of time, meet outside your local Church at 9 a.m. on Saturday mornings. Tell friends at Church now in case you can’t then. CORAC teams will be out looking for people to gather in and work with.

Find me on Twitter at @JohnstonPilgrim

1 Comment

  1. Mary Pearson

    You are an exceptional writer, always have been. Thank you for calming my soul.

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