Back in the late 1990s, when I lived in Dallas, Texas, I became fascinated by television evangelists. They were hucksters to a man, offering healing or ‘financial blessings’ in exchange for donations – usually a very specific sum that the Lord had revealed to them. ‘Sow a $73 seed into my ministry, and you will be rewarded a hundredfold. Hallelujah.’ What interested me was how they had the brass neck to do it, to take cash from the poor and spend it on mansions and NetJets, and it was a while before I understood. They genuinely believe their own hype. That’s the secret. They think of themselves as chosen, and being chosen feel entitled to behave as they like.
If he fails in his bid to be president, Gavin Newsom, the governor of California who’s positioning himself to take over from Joe Biden, would make a terrific televangelist. It’s not just the hair oil and the messianic gleam, it’s his ability to hold contradictory opinions simultaneously; to turn on a dime and espouse causes he once knew to be baloney, and to admire himself while doing it.
Newsom is a practising Catholic; his faith is strong, he says, and yet at the same time his great vision for California is that it becomes the abortion capital of America. He’s made strides towards this noble goal and railed against what he calls the ‘patriarchal forces at play that seek to control women and render them invisible’. You don’t have to be a pro-life campaigner to go to mass, but it takes some chutzpah to be a Catholic who actually tears up with joy at the thought of abortion. In the interest of women’s rights, Newsom has also proudly signed a law which gives violent criminal men the right to be banged up with women if they choose to identify as female.