In one of the more disturbing scenes in Alexander Zaitchik’s fine book, Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance, the radio host moved to Phoenix to work the morning shift at Y95, where he was pitted against his friend Bruce Kelly, whose popular show on KZZP was topping the ratings. Kelly was known for doing outlandish things like convincing Senator John McCain to dive into a pool of liquid chocolate, a sturdy rival for morning shock jock Beck. Beck’s wife at the time was close with Kelly’s wife, and Bruce assumed the two would continue their friendship.
He was wrong.
Co-hosting his show with Tim Hattrick, Beck produced a local version of the Orson Welles classic, “The War of the Worlds,” which was the single most influential radio event in Beck’s life. Kelly denounced their version, so Beck sought revenge by calling his wife, Terry, on air one morning. Beck asked if she had just had a miscarriage. After she admitted, yes, he joked about how Bruce apparently cannot do anything right, even have a baby.
One would think that twenty-some years later the man would have finally grown up. Saturday’s “Restoring Honor” rally in Washington, DC proved otherwise. Convincing men like St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols that it was not a political rally and using the conservative niece of Martin Luther King, Jr. to promote his own agenda showed Beck’s longtime allegiance to himself, by any means necessary.
Beck had revealed his revelation during the week leading up to the rally, saying he was not going to prepare a speech (outside of writing a few bullet points) in case God wanted to speak through him. His pompous humility—even now his website claims that the attendees, and not himself, are the heroes of the event—are the results of a lifetime of perfecting his huckster craft, in which he has spent years figuring out the proper catchwords to catch his followers off guard. Restoring Honor was publicized as a fundraiser for veterans, though the fine print read that all costs would have to be recouped first, and we know Sarah Palin’s speaking fee and demand for first class airfare and hotel suites for her entourage are not cheap.
Most fundraisers are run this way—the famous RED campaign has undergone scrutiny for the amount of money it spends on ads wiping away the meager results of the charity, for one. But for a man who now clears $32 million yearly for pimping gold coins and writing Mormon apologetic drivel like The Christmas Sweater, where’s the heart in getting yours before giving?
As the mythologist Joseph Campbell once remarked, the idea of mainstream religion is founded on getting the most people aligned with your idea of God, so that they empty their wallets to keep you expanding. That the Bible is the most read book in the world is the result of the publishing industry and missionary causes, both of which involve capital. Watching Beck inflate the egos of tens of thousands of Americans on the National Mall by paying lip service to his idea of a corporate, privatizing God that opposes Islamic community centers and public healthcare while extending the Bush tax cuts restores no one’s honor, much less self-worth.
Yet this is what greed does: it needs more because without more, it’s nothing. When more is had, more is needed. Beck had to talk about the Dark Age that America is in, because if people think that everything is OK, they will immediately recognize a false prophet. This discontent with reality is what allows men like Glenn Beck to rise to the stature that he currently enjoys. It has nothing to do with divinity, but a manipulation of the senses and emotions of insensible people.
Fueled by greed—the greed that states, for example, that you don’t need to pay taxes yet you should be able to enjoy the conveniences of public services—and devoted to a God that promises a better life after this one, because you can’t stand the one that you’re living now, are the driving forces of this honor that Beck displayed during his Saturday sermon. There’s nothing honorable about declaring the American way of life to be manifest destiny, and it’s this hubris that will continue the country’s downward spiral. Believe all or whatever you want, it’s humankind’s actions that matter, and if we continue to close off the rest of the world, I don’t even want to venture a guess as to what happens when the bubble bursts.