Orville Baumgardner and the Big Lie
"Before I begin my lecture, I would like to thank the faculty of The University of California at Berkeley for allowing me to speak candidly before this fine assembly of students. I suspect this is because I am a castoff from the Republican party--not because I am a man of conspicuous achievement. All I did, after all, was discredit the lie that the 2020 Election was stolen from Donald Trump--an indiscretion that has afforded me both the shame of a pariah and the laurels of a champion. Both, I assure you, are completely undeserved--I am only a fallible man and, until recently, a member of the Indiana House of Representatives. Had I not been accused of a romp with a siren other than the Whore of Babylon, that insatiable slut of prophecy who rules the GOP, I would not be standing before you today. No, I would instead still be safely tucked among the Great Whore's legions of johns. But, unfortunately, I cheated on her--an infidelity compounded by the fact that my personal siren was a month shy of the arbitrary age of eighteen. So I stand before you as a man shunned by liars--a man who must find his consolations not in the safety of his tribe but by becoming a pet for the liberal elite. Even so, I thank you for letting me speak in this wonderful lecture room. I would also like to thank the Superior Court in Castleberg, Indiana, for permitting me to post bail.
"Now then, before I start, I would like to make some requests. Please do not take notes--my lecture will be made available to you as a podcast once I have completed my talk. And please raise your hand if you wish to take a bathroom break--otherwise, I may get the impression that you are walking out on me. This would be contrary to the spirit of tolerance that the University promised. Also, try to hold back your questions until my talk is done. I have anticipated most of your questions and will probably answer them during my lecture. But, if you feel your question is urgent, I will answer it on the spot.
"Now then, a bit more about myself. My name, as you know, is Orville Baumgardner, and I'm proud to add that I come from a long line of Baumgardners. In Castleberg, my dear home, practically every restaurant and grocery store is owned by the Baumgardner clan. Therefore, I learned at an early age the value of belonging to a tribe. I did not distinguish myself in high school, having graduated near the bottom of my class, and I attribute this to having had the good sense not to fly too close to the sun. Better the safety of an earthbound pack than the valor of foolish Icarus, and it was with this sound philosophy that I entered politics. Soon after graduating from Butler University, where I managed to earn a degree in marketing, I challenged the Republican incumbent of House District Forty-Four. To my amazement, I won the seat in a landslide--not because I had new ideas but because I had the foresight not to express any ideas at all. Ideas are invariably half-baked at their time of implementation--and, as such, they are bound to disintegrate like Icarus' waxen wings.
"Ah, I am mixing metaphors--forgive my indiscretion, and know that during my congressional career, which lasted twenty years, I never once committed the error of stepping out of ranks. I did not read a single bill that came across my desk, I simply voted along party lines and let it go at that. And so, having cleansed my mind of all nonsense, I became a voracious reader. I devoured the works of all the great thinkers and will say, without modesty, that Nietzsche, Spinoza and Plato are like family to me. Having cultivated my mind instead of wallowing in the mire, I now stand ready to take my place among the thinkers of this world.
"Ah, I see that one of you has a question. Speak up, young man--I will not scold you for interrupting my spiel. You want to know if I am proud of myself for challenging the Great Lie. No, young man, I don't pride myself on becoming a whistleblower. I hold good manners to be the standard by which to best judge oneself, and I committed a terrible faux-pas when I rocked the proverbial boat. When I think of the hoots of derision my recklessness has spawned, I find myself with no greater choice than to hang my head in regret.
"What's that? You think I should wear their scorn as though it were a badge of honor. I would do just that if I thought such an emblem would shield me from decline, but I fear it would only make me a pigeon to yet another lie. Have we ever had balanced elections? How could that be true when our founding fathers enacted a fix that renders much voting moot? A fix that discards almost half the voters in any given election. And those balloters whose candidates triumph are given no greater reward than a champion who changes his colors the moment his office is won. If I may call myself a seer, if I may honestly challenge a lie, I would shout from the hilltops that casting a vote is like staring into the sun. Those who fall prey to the speeches that promise to make all things right are not graced with illumination--they are just blinded by the light.
"So where may we look for substance and truth if elections are simply a farce? I see that another hand is raised--yes, speak up, my good lady. The Bible, you say. I was coming to that. Is the Bible not also a sham? The Good Book, as its flatterers call it, is far too presumptuous to stand. Does the Old Testament not demand outrageous tolls for imaginary sins? And do the Gospels not preach wholesale forgiveness for those who believe in Him? I would hold both preachings to be little more than insular conceits, for why should God deem you responsible for what he, himself, placed in your heart? You may cry that religion is evolving, and, yes, I suspect that is true, but if religion is morphing then how can one trust it at any given time?
"Ah, I see that another hand is raised. Please speak louder, young man. Yes, Einstein did hint that the God of Spinoza will be religion's ultimate end. A God not of judgment but tolerance. A god of nature and light. A god that offers no afterworld--just a transient, joyful life. Alas, I suspect such a god will amount to no more than a balmy phase. Would believing in him not grant monsters like Hitler and Trump a free pass? I suspect so indulgent a god will be crushed by sterner designs. If religion should ever evolve into light, it will quickly turn dark once again.
"In summary, I say all faiths lack the bedrock that truth demands. Sadly, religion offers us nothing but ever-shifting sands.
"So where does that leave us? Aha, I see another holding his hand up. The Law of Natural Selection, you say. May I take a crack at that? I hold the deepest reverence for Darwin's magnificent book, and yet it has left me with notions I can only puzzle at. Yes, the species is strengthened when the unadaptable die--one need only look at the Covid deniers who soon will be dropping like flies. But how to explain the do-gooder who, with no regard for himself, dashes into a burning building to rescue somebody's brat? For that matter, what even accounts for a dog, which has no second thoughts before plunging into a raging torrent to save his worthless master? And what might explain composers and writers, impractical, untempered souls, who abandon life's basic instincts in order to to grace us with music and books? Yes, life is a beastly, contentious thing--I certainly grant you that--but it also bears a divinity that naturalists dare not attack.
"Now then, let us examine the folly of which I stand accused. The girl was a month shy of eighteen years old, I readily concede to that, but that wasn't the reason the Republican rabble impeached me from its ranks. Had I not tried to diminish my Circe when I was swarmed by the press--had I not stated that Donald Trump is a greater Svengali than she--I would not have been deemed a traitor for exposing his Great Lie. Instead, I would have become a contemporary Beowulf, a paladin taking a stand, an unbowed hero withstanding the missiles of another Deep State campaign.
"I see that another hand is raised. Please speak your piece, pretty Miss. You say that men who accost underaged girls do not deserve any praise. May I remind you that I did not accost her, it was she who bedazzled me, and, although I was bewitched, I had the restraint to do no more than touch her breast. How pale my indiscretion seems when compared to the Prophet Mohammed, whom millions insist is the voice of God although he married a child of six. How relative is judgment, how random the stones we cast, and how foolish the hoard is to canonize prophets a thousand times coarser than me.
"Even so, I take no credit for exposing Trump's Great Lie. How can I when mightier conjurors hide more of the sun than he? Compared to the shams of the ages, Trump's bluff is a swaddled babe--an infant born of desperation, not lofty arrogance. And, since I hold good manners to be my talesman, I can only pity so guileless a fib and the paupers it commands.
"So where does an oracle go from here? I know you are wondering that. Must I know my song well before I start singing as Bob Dylan once prescribed? No, my friends, I'm not enough of a scoundrel to heed such callow advice. How can any song be so profound as to merit a prophet's voice? If I am to borrow from Dylan, I would choose a meeker line. Did he not also state in 'My Back Pages,' a song of self-reproach, that he had become his own enemy in the instant that he preached? It is from this humble confession that I draw my direction and faith. Why strive to become my own enemy when I've been pummeled enough as it is?
"Aha, I see that my time is up. Thank you for listening, my friends. If you have any more questions, I'll be in the back of the room."
James Hanna is a retired probation officer and a former fiction editor. His work has appeared in over thirty journals, including Crack the Spine, The Literary Review, and Sixfold. He is also a regular contributor to Fear of Monkeys. Jamesí books, most of which have won awards, are available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/James-Hanna/e/B00WNH356Y?ref_=dbs_p_ebk_r00_abau_000000