DeMarco: Mike Johnson: a brilliant new speaker – for the 20th century

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Scene: A distant galaxy, year 2834, in the Tardis.

Dr. Who: What’s on the schedule today?

Ruby (the doctor’s companion): Looks like we have the day off. Not an alien in sight.

Who: Smashing! I’ve really wanted to brush up on my American history. The 1920’s seemed like an eventful time-jazz music, speakeasies, flappers, the Depression. I came across this name I had never heard of (flipping pages on a touch screen). Let’s see here… yes, there he is, Michael Johnson. Came out of nowhere it seems. Only six years’ experience and pop! – he’s the speaker of the House. Seems perfect for the job for someone of that era though. Rock-ribbed conservative Christian, literally interprets the Bible, believes in Noah’s Ark and the world being about 10,000 years old. A man for his time! Ha, but there’s a typo in his bio. It says he was elected in 2023. They must mean 1923 (pauses to adjust the Tardis’ time-travel settings). OK, course set for Michael Johnson as speaker of the House. Here we go!

Ruby (shouting over the roaring of the Tardis): Actually, Doctor, there is no mistake!! Johnson was elected in 2023!!!

Who: (also shouting): Sorry, I can’t hear you!!

(The Tardis makes a rough landing. Unbeknownst to the Doctor, Ruby is knocked unconscious).

Who: Blimey! That was more of a shake than I expected. Let’s see what other history we can glean before we start exploring. Righto, I see here that the Scopes Monkey Trial will happen in just a couple years. Well, that’s advantageous for Mike. He’s a constitutional lawyer whom I’m sure can argue a cracking case against evolution. He’s got a strong voice and a great stage presence. Ruby, don’t the creationists win at trial?

(Ruby awakens but is too groggy to respond. The Doctor is oblivious.)

Who: (continues reading) But there’s no mention of Mike at the Scopes trial… Hmm… I guess they needed a more experienced lawyer… (swiping)… so they picked Williams Jennings Bryan. Too bad for Mike.

Who: Ooh, I wonder if Mike ran for President in 1924. With that winning smile and such a nice head of hair. Surely he would have grasped for the brass ring. (Swipes touch screen) What! Calvin Coolidge?! Silent Cal? Surely Mike would have been more exciting. And he hated welfare just as much as Coolidge did.

Ruby (finally fully regaining consciousness): Where are we?

Who: 1923, weren’t you paying attention?

Ruby (now clear-headed): Doctor, we’re in 2023.

Who: Ruby, you are one sandwich short of a picnic! I mean a man like Mike Johnson makes perfect sense for 1923, when creationism and evolution were seen as competitors in the marketplace of ideas. But a hundred years does a lot to disabuse people of the notion that humans kept pet dinosaurs. And look at his ideas on sexual orientation. Back in 1923 every state had a sodomy law. Views like Mike’s prevailed and most gay people lived closeted and afraid. You expect me to believe that Mike Johnson was elected speaker of the United States House of Representatives, second in the line of presidential succession after the vice-president… in the year 2023! Not a snowball’s chance! It’s a foul-up in the blasted Tardis!

Ruby: Doctor, It’s not the Tardis.

Who: And then there’s his wife. Also ideal for early 20th-century America. What a role model for women who had just won the right to vote! Look at her – she’s running her own business. But, as would be expected in 1923, biblically submissive to her husband. What a power couple for the Roaring Twenties. She’s so much more magnetic than Mrs. Coolidge. Wow, they really missed an opportunity by not running in 1924.

Ruby (coming over to the doctor’s computer station and manipulating the touch screen fiercely): Doctor! There is nothing wrong with the Tardis!

Who: (reviewing what Ruby is showing him, stunned): Crikey… We are in 2023. It’s been 100 years since the Scopes trial, there’s now incontrovertible evidence that the earth is billions of years old, it’s been over 50 years since Stonewall, and gay marriage is legal. Isn’t that right Ruby? Gay marriage has been legalized by this time in the US?

Ruby: Yes sir, Obergefell was decided in 2015. (Swiping a touchscreen). Here’s some more about him. He made no secret that his interpretation of the Bible was at the base of his political views. He wrote columns in his local paper about it. Here’s one from 2003 in which he responded to the U.S. Supreme Court’s striking down of a Texas sodomy law. He said it was a “devastating blow to fundamental American values and millennia of moral teaching.”

Who: But surely he and his wife’s views moderated once he was elected Speaker…

Ruby: Well, his wife’s counseling service did take down their website in which they call homosexuality “sinful and offensive to God.”

Who: Well that’s something…

Ruby: But when asked what his views were a couple days after being elected, he said if you want to know what he thinks “About any issue under the sun… Well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That’s my worldview.”

Who: Any issue? Climate change? Nuclear arms? The next pandemic? I am gobsmacked. But I have to know. Does America become a theocracy? Set a course to November 2024 (TO BE CONTINUED).

A version of this column appeared in the November 15th edition of the Post and Courier-Pee Dee.

“Bigger on the inside…”

42 thoughts on “DeMarco: Mike Johnson: a brilliant new speaker – for the 20th century

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    My first two reactions:

    First, I’ve never watched “Dr. Who.” I’ve tried, but just couldn’t get into it. Maybe my problem was starting at the beginning. Maybe it got better, and I should try one of the later “Doctors.” Advice?

    Second, and here’s one where 90 percent or more of people will disagree with me. It starts with the headline: “Mike Johnson: a brilliant new speaker – for the 20th century.” There’s a lot packed into that, but I sense a bit of time-specific sneering there. I don’t hold with that. Is there a term for that prejudice? Time-ism?

    Frankly, I would be JOYFUL to have pretty much ANY speaker from the 20th century instead of Mike Johnson. If you’re feeling generous, could you make it Tip O’Neill? He wasn’t perfect, but he was way better than anything we’ve seen in recent months.

    A related thing is that I don’t sentence people to past time periods simply based on their beliefs. Just as I’m not a fan of Johnson, I don’t subscribe to biblical literalism. But it wouldn’t surprise me at all for there to be plenty of biblical literalists living 100 years from now. In fact, I’d be more surprised by the opposite.

    Also… again, this separates me from most people, probably including Mike Johnson… but I don’t hold with ones and zeroes. You say Johnson “believes in Noah’s Ark.” Well, so do I, although probably not the way he does. I believe we get that story from oral traditions that were passed down from the time when there was a huge flood in that part of the world, as mentioned in some stories from other religions. I believe some guy built a big boat and packed all the livestock he could find into it, and somehow survived the flood. And that people found profound meaning in the story.

    All truth is more complicated than most people who want to FIGHT over the truth like to think…

    1. James Edward Cross

      The Dr. Who that ran from 1963-1989 is quite different that the “NuWho” revival that started in 2005 and continues to the present. The former was a narrative-based serial based on cliffhangers where The Doctor solved problems. The current Dr. Who is a character-based drama based on emotional bonds and epiphanies where The Doctor helps people and sometimes themselves. The format of episodes might seem the same, but the conflict within them are approached in entirely different ways. Many people consider the best Doctor of the revival to be the Tenth Doctor played by David Tennant from 2005-2010 (he has returned to play the Fourteenth Doctor in three Christmas special this year).

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Thanks, James!

        But are you suggesting I START with the 10th Doctor? That doesn’t sound right. My wife will jump right into the middle of a series and it doesn’t bother her a bit. I find that shocking. How do you avoid spoilers, if you watch an episode in which character X is dead? You can’t. And how do you understand references to past events in the dialogue? Again, you can’t.

        This is ONE way in which the 21st century is better than the 20th — for me, there’s no excuse for jumping into the middle of a series when you can start at the beginning…

        Anyway, I tried watching the first Doctor, and it was grainy black-and-white and looked like it could indeed have been British telly in 1963, but I just couldn’t get into it….

    2. Ken

      I guess that’s one way of interpreting Mr. DeMarco’s commentary. It seems to me, however, that his aim is not to discredit the new Speaker’s views based on how old or outdated they may be. (Though that, too, is legitimate: “obsolete relics of a superseded civilization,” as Isaiah Berlin once put it.) Instead, he reprimands Johnson for claiming to be a representative of Christian belief while taking positions that have little if anything to do with Christian teachings. Johnson, in brief, mouths right-wing platitudes wrapped in a badly warped form of pseudo-religiosity. Which is something definitely ripe for ridicule … at a minimum.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Which seems to be to be a very modern mode of operating.

        Think about it — we have Trump, possibly the least religious man in America (and I’m counting atheists in this) posing with a Bible someone handed him for possible his most infamous photo op.

        Was there a constituency for a man who was so publicly and shockingly unreligious but sought to fool people otherwise in 1923? I’m having trouble imagining it. Sure, there were hypocrites, but they got away with it because it was easier to hide the truth about themselves.

        In 1923 terms, the Access Hollywood incident would have been the end, if he had somehow survived all the previous insanity.

        Mind you, I’m using the world’s standards here — a sex scandal. What really demonstrates that he’s no Christian is the fairly obvious fact that he loves no one but himself…

        1. Ken

          Oh, I dunno. Warren Harding was mired in multiple scandals — including continuing a relationship with a mistress during his presidency (and siring an out-of-wedlock daughter) — but it didn’t affect his popularity all that much.

          But I don’t set 1973 or 1923 or 1823 as a model for setting standards. That’s the sort of thing the reactionaries on the Supreme Court are keen on. Not me.

            1. Ken

              If past standards are to be our measure, then I suppose we — at least those of us with Y chromosomes and adequate assets — should pine for the days of yore when a man of means could have a woman or two on the side.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                Well, JFK considered it to be an advantage.

                But I should point out that my comment was intended NOT to say one era is better than some other, but to argue against the human reflex that assumes that anything in the past was bad. I said only one thing that indicated a preference for the 20th century:

                Frankly, I would be JOYFUL to have pretty much ANY speaker from the 20th century instead of Mike Johnson. If you’re feeling generous, could you make it Tip O’Neill? He wasn’t perfect, but he was way better than anything we’ve seen in recent months….

                You don’t disagree with that, do you?

                1. Ken

                  I disagree that we are in a position to cherry pick which parts of various pasts we would like to have back again. The past comes as a whole, not in bits and pieces. So, no single bit of the past can be resurrected as it was. Which means that seeking such restorations comes with some serious risks. Even thinking about it is a hazardous exercise.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    Of course. But my entire life, it seems I’ve been surrounded by people who assume that right NOW — whichever “now” it was at the time — was automatically vastly superior to any past time. People “today” — again, whatever today you choose — were just so obviously morally and intellectually and culturally superior to anyone who had lived in the past.

                    Which might make sense from an evolutionary perspective, if we had written records from 500,000 years back so we could compare. But a decade, or a century, or a millennium is just a hiccup in evolutionary terms.

                    Anyway, a person who thinks today is so wonderful needs to look around more carefully…

                    1. Ken

                      Strange, I’ve never met anyone with that opinion. Everybody I’ve encountered has always gone on about how this or that is worse than it was … back then (whenever “then” was). Folks I circulate among have been going on about “all the meanness” out there for decades now.

                    2. Brad Warthen Post author

                      Seriously? You have never noted the human tendency toward temporal chauvinism? I catch myself doing it all the time, thinking my contemporaries and I know what’s going on, and folks long ago were clueless. But then I think for a moment and correct myself.

                      Perhaps you’re not that conflicted. Congrats…

                    3. Ken

                      The only tendency in that regard I’ve noted is the one where people (the vast majority, anyway) say, I’m glad I don’t live 100, 200, 500 years ago.

                      As for a sense of moral superiority, when I look back at the elite in this state, the planter class, that governed it for much of the 19th century, people like James Henry Hammond, then, yes, I do definitely feel morally superior to them. We all should.

                    4. Brad Warthen Post author

                      Yeah, but I don’t have to look back in time for morally appalling people. There are just so many near at hand.

                      Of course, it is EASIER to judge folks in the past, because we never have to meet them. We’re more likely to see people we actually meet in a more three-dimensional way. Still, some of our contemporaries manage to thoroughly appall anyway. Some of them really, really work at it.

                      I’d mention one in particular, but it upsets Doug when I do. 🙂

                      I’ll just point y’all to this Robert Kagan piece today, “A Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable. We should stop pretending.

                      I might have written about that ere now, but haven’t had time yet. It’s less a column than a book excerpt. I’ve skimmed it, though, and was disturbed to see Trump being compared to Caesar. I thought that was unfair — to Caesar.

                      Like what he did or not (and I’m pretty sure the Gauls did not), Caesar at least accomplished things of some historical note. He vastly increased what his heir Octavian would call an empire. He didn’t just open tacky casinos and repeatedly file bankruptcy….

                    5. Ken

                      Funny thing about that Kagan piece: over at the American Spectator they’re saying that Biden is already doing the things that Kagan frets Trump might do.


                      The American Spectator, along with National Review and Human Events, is one of the oldest still operating standard bearers of American political conservatism. So it’s noteworthy that this article appears there. It’s an indicator of the state of American conservatism.

                    6. Robert Amundson

                      In the intricate interplay of intellectualism and anti-intellectualism, the corrosive impact of negative media influence exacerbates the diminishing sense of love in societal interactions. The tendency for sensationalism, epitomized by “if it bleeds, it leads,” perpetuates a cycle that further widens the divide. Recognizing this, “Listening to the Children” emerges as my proactive response—a project seeking to counterbalance the negativity, fostering empathy, understanding, and meaningful connections to restore a sense of unity in our evolving intellectual landscape. Many years of the frustration of child protection, I hope, is offset by at least trying to initiate change, with a goal of providing a better world for our children.

          1. Barry

            Luckily for Harding, he didn’t have a cable and radio operation devoted to talking about how evil he was for having an affair 24 hours a day

            unless that is- the cable and radio operation liked him- then they’d be talking about how he was Jesus Christ returned to earth (like right wing radio and tv does about Donald Trump)

  2. Paul DeMarco

    One of my favorite things about sending you columns is your commentary, especially when you disagree or have a different take. I appreciate your pointing out that I could be accused of “time-ism.” However, I’m with you in recognizing that there’s much to be learned from people who lived hundreds or thousands of years ago. I agree that modern doesn’t necessarily mean better, although for many peoples who have been historically oppressed, today their situation is the best it has ever been and tomorrow will, we hope, be better still. But I am often amazed by past leaders and civilizations (I was reminded of the genius of the Romans a year ago when I visited the Colosseum for the first time-how did that build that marvel?). And I would have Tip O’Neil back in a minute rather than Mike J.

  3. Pat

    The only thing I have to say about the new speaker is, if the Bible gives him his worldview, to remind him the Bible says the only way you can worship God is in spirit and truth, and liars and deceivers won’t be in heaven.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Or, to elaborate, here’s the Gospel reading from Sunday:

      Mt 25:31-46
      Jesus said to his disciples:
      “When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
      and all the angels with him,
      he will sit upon his glorious throne,
      and all the nations will be assembled before him.
      And he will separate them one from another,
      as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
      He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
      Then the king will say to those on his right,
      ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
      Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
      For I was hungry and you gave me food,
      I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
      a stranger and you welcomed me,
      naked and you clothed me,
      ill and you cared for me,
      in prison and you visited me.’
      Then the righteous will answer him and say,
      ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
      or thirsty and give you drink?
      When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
      or naked and clothe you?
      When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
      And the king will say to them in reply,
      ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
      for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
      Then he will say to those on his left,
      ‘Depart from me, you accursed,
      into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
      For I was hungry and you gave me no food,
      I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
      a stranger and you gave me no welcome,
      naked and you gave me no clothing,
      ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
      Then they will answer and say,
      ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
      or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
      and not minister to your needs?’
      He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you,
      what you did not do for one of these least ones,
      you did not do for me.’
      And these will go off to eternal punishment,
      but the righteous to eternal life.”

      Or the short version: Be good to people…

    1. Robert Amundson

      #theirsatanicmajestiesrequest. Their Satanic Majesties Request is my favorite Stones Album. Of course I may also love Sgt. Pepper’s and Magical Mystery Tour.
      Sing This All Together!
      “Why don’t we sing this song all together
      open our heads, let the pictures come.
      And if we close all our eyes together
      then we will see where we all come from.
      Pictures of us through the steamy haze
      Pictures of us painted in our place.
      Why don’t we sing this song all together.
      open our heads let the pictures come.
      And if we close all our eyes together
      then we will see where we all come from.
      Pictures of us beating on our dreams
      Never stopping til’ the rain has come.
      Why don’t we sing this song all together
      open our heads let the pictures come.
      And if we close all our
      Eyes together then we will see where we all come from.”

      WTF Happened!?

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        With the Stones, for me it’s either Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers or Exile on Main Street.

        With the Beatles, I don’t know where to start. Sure, Sgt. Pepper was a monumental shift. But do I like it better than Abbey Road, or for that matter Meet the Beatles? Rubber Soul and Revolver were both big-step-forward albums, like Pepper. I’m also really partial to my first Beatles album, which I bought in Ecuador — the A Hard Day’s Night soundtrack. Which may or may not have been like the American one. Mine was released, I think (it’s at the back of a closet and I don’t want to dig through it right now), by Odeon, and the cover was all in Spanish…

        1. Bob Amundson

          The Beatles are timeless. I listened to “Little Child” yesterday. Little Child come and dance with me. Brad hit 70 a bit before me, but I am trying to dance with my little child. Mine and 6 year old Hope. Love 6 year old toothless smiles, even if she is in the Philippines. Fix frickin Immigration please.

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          Actually, with the Stones, take Let it Bleed off the list. My memory was fooling me, I was thinking it was all great like “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” but aside from “Gimme Shelter,” the tracks aren’t all that awesome.

          Oh, and the last good Stones album was Tattoo You.

                1. Robert Amundson

                  I have the original vinyl. Remember the Bonzo Do-Dah Dog Band?

                  Death Cab for Cutie = That night Cutie called a cab; Baby don’t do it.
                  She left her East Side drum so drab – Baby don’t do it.
                  She went out on the town; knowing it would make her lover frown -Death cab for Cutie.

                  But Urban Spaceman is my favorite – ” “I’m the Urban Spaceman, baby – I’ve got speed
                  I’ve got everything I need.
                  I’m the Urban Spaceman, baby; I can fly
                  I’m a supersonic guy.
                  I don’t need pleasure; I don’t feel pain.
                  If you were to knock me down; I’d just get up again.
                  I’m the Urban Spaceman, baby – I’m making out
                  I wake up every morning with a smile upon my face
                  My natural exuberance spills out all over the place!
                  I’m the Urban Spaceman, I’m intelligent and clean –
                  Know what I mean?
                  I’m the Urban Spaceman, as a lover, second to none,
                  It’s a lot of fun!
                  I never let my friends down, I’ve never made a boob.
                  I’m a glossy magazine, an advert in the tube.
                  I’m the Urban Spaceman, baby, here comes the twist
                  I don’t exist.”

                  I am a figment of your imagination. To riff on Vonnegut, everything I say is a lie.

                    1. Robert Amundson

                      Yes, BUT in the edition of Cat’s Cradle I recently reread, the “cover page” states, “Everything in this book is a lie.”

                      Sew (A needle Pulling Thread): “Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before… He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

                    1. Robert Amundson

                      Let’s produce Spinal Tap 3 (III?). Lot’s of beer and other adult substances. Like Kiss, we have our Avatars do a Virtual Concert! I wanna Rock n’ Roll All Night (and then sleep for a week).

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