BY CHRISTIAAN MITCHELL
Like most kids in post-1940’s America, I learned that stories must have morals from Disney. And if Disney taught me anything, it was that when the bad guy wins, everything goes to pot: Prince John usurps the throne, bandits and starvation stalk the land; life in the kingdoms of Maleficent and the Evil Queen is suffused with creepy darkness and dodgy mirrors; Scar becomes king, the weather turns bad and everything catches on fire.
Even as a child I found the idea silly that the mere presence of an iniquitous ruler would immediately lead to ruin, cause the crops to fail, and change the weather. But the idea does have historical precedents. The Chinese concept of “The Mandate of Heaven” is attested as far back as the early Zhou Dynasty [c. 1000 b.c.e.]. The conceptually related Divine Right of Kings has its own [ig]noble history in the West. Its cousin, Divine Providence, looms large in early American hagiography.
Of course these ideas are the products of worldviews that, not unlike the Disney universe, are permeated with magic. Nonetheless, there is a basic “real world” plausibility to them.
It was not because the Shang Dynasty had become corrupt that floods came and crops failed. Rather, it was that creeping corruption and incompetence made otherwise normal, random natural disasters into society-destabilizing events. Similarly, the presence of an evil king does not cause wickedness to flood into the world, so much as the neglect of the processes meant to check bandits and charlatans allows them to flourish.
Stability and insulation from nature’s slings and arrows is one of the principal benefits of living in an organized society. Effective public institutions ensure that drought does not become famine; that a local outbreak of disease does not become an epidemic. Neglect of those institutions allows problems to become crises, and crises to become catastrophes.
America is experiencing deaths on the scale of the Sept. 11h attacks on a near daily basis. And our would-be-king fritters away his time playing golf and launching increasingly desperate attacks against our sacred institutions. Closer to our own front doors, COVID has killed over 10 times as many Oklahomans as Tim McVeigh. Yet our governor has offered us little more than prayer, fasting, and attempts to threaten those trying to help into silence.
Maybe this is the Disney talking, but one can’t help but feel like God is trying to send us a message about our choices. We turn our backs on His prophets with coats of a single color, trained to heal and read the future in the signs writ large upon the Book of Nature. We raise up leaders who reflect our worst impulses toward selfishness, hubris, and unconcern for our fellow citizens. And, sadly, the moral of this story appears to be that the wages of these sins are death.
– Christiaan Mitchell is an attorney who lives and works in Tulsa