A couple weeks ago I read an interview where a hospice worker made an observation that how we live our lives demonstrates how we end our lives. Some go out fighting every step of the way; some go out peacefully; some with reservations. But you can generally tell how they’re going to go out the way they’ve acted the last forty, sixty, eighty, hundred years.
I’m becoming convinced that Billy Graham’s greatest downfall is his semi-worship of powerful men. Often, those powerful figures were presidents, from Nixon to Clinton and most inbetween (save Carter. Odd, that). These men often benefited from the relationships with one of America’s most beloved and trusted public and religious figures. But now the most powerful man in his vicinity is his son, Franklin.
But Franklin doesn’t have the advantage of being an actual politician who can inspire roughly half the population of the United States. He did not rise through the fire of political discourse and meddling and the tribulation of trying to please most despite the impossible odds. He is a political hack who only needs to please a certain (and generally white, privileged, male-dominated) Evangelical base. But he is shrewd enough to recognize that his father’s legacy is stronger and wider than his will ever be. As long as he can ride those coattails, he will. As long as he can convince his locked-away father – who is losing breath and consciousness – that he is taking care of him and convince his followers that the words that are supposed to be representative of Billy Graham are actually Billy Graham’s – such as the recent two-page ad in the WSJ.- then, glory be! Franklin Graham the scam artist/political hack can get away with destroying a legacy and helping to steal an election at the same time.
I’m convinced that’s what’s going on here. The problem is that Billy Graham has had this moral character failure (trusting powerful men) threading through his life, and that his son – a moral failure himself – is exploiting that.
Not only is Franklin Graham purposefully and sloppily burning through the last vestiges of respect that his father earned through a scandal-free public life in order to establish his own credentials within the Fundamentalist/Evangelical Moral-less Majority (because, really, what else does he have?), but Billy is letting him do so because he fundamentally trusts powerful men. I recognize that draw, sadly, because I’m wired to think that way too. Yet, I’ve been on the other side of privilege and seen what those same men have done to my non-white/non-male cis/non-middle class friends and family and neighbors and students long enough to recognize that Navin Johnson’s father was right.
Especially if that whitey is a middle aged no-good-nic son taking advantage of his late-stage Parkinson’s nonagenarian father.
I hasten to add that I do not believe that the elder Graham is cognizant enough to know what he is ascribing his name to. Nor that he believes nor certainly says that which is being applied to him. I’m confident that Franklin comes to him, asks him to sign or if he will agree with some document or photo and Billy, not being fully aware but trusting his son, nods in approval, or some such way shows approval. Not of the content, but of whatever it is that he thinks that Franklin is asking of him. He trusts him that much. To his detriment.