Let nobody say the outgoing president of Liberty University is not an intellectual.
Cockburn will not belabor you with the full tragedy of Jerry Falwell Jr. Who is he kidding, you already have read (though not seen, mercifully) all the details.
Falwell’s rapid downfall is a testament to the dangers of hubris. At the tender age of 44, Falwell was handed the presidency of a university his father had already built. He was paid roughly $1 million a year for this privilege. To keep the job indefinitely, Falwell didn’t need to do much. Even taking photos of himself half-undressed with a woman half his age at a yacht party, and entering into a ménage à trois with a pool boy, would have been completely fine. All Falwell had to do was not take pictures of both, and in the former case post them to Instagram for everybody to see. But alas, folly of follies, Falwell did exactly that. Not even cynically putting all the blame on his wife was enough to save him, and he was forced to resign from the university early Tuesday.
If the Daily Beast is right and cuckoldry is the fetish for intellectuals, then Falwell should land on his feet. A lifetime appointment at an Oxbridge college may be in the offing. His career as a leading figure on the right will, hopefully, be more limited.
Despite the political right’s use of ‘cuck’ as a pejorative in the last half-decade (or perhaps because of it), prominent figures in the movement have a rather unnerving predilection for other men knowing their wives in the Biblical sense. According to leaked text messages from his daughters, Paul Manafort encouraged his wife to participate in group sex with other men while he filmed it. Roger Stone put out ads seeking single men to join a ‘hot, insatiable lady and her handsome body builder husband.’ Even John Bolton has been dogged by allegations he pushed his first wife into group sex back in the 1980s.
Still, as Falwell’s favorite religious figure might say, let he who has not had a lurid cuckold fetish relationship with a pool boy cast the first stone. Fortunately for a great many people, Cockburn has not, so he is ready to throw a great many stones.
Liberty University markets itself as a bastion of forgotten socially-conservative values; the school not only bans premarital sex but sexually explicit music and movies, and students are prohibited from even attending off-campus parties where alcohol is served. But like so many ‘social conservatives’, Falwell conserved shockingly little, even in his own personal behavior. His lewd behavior, including sharing a photo of his wife in a maid outfit, was an open secret (and then not secret at all) at Liberty for years before his downfall. The Moral Majority could perhaps maintain its dignity as a Moral Minority, but if it is simply an immoral one, what is the point?
Falwell also perpetuated the toxic co-mingling of American Christianity with partisan politics. It is perfectly acceptable for Christians of any stripe to vote for Donald Trump, for any number of reasons. But Falwell went further, tethering Evangelical Christianity ever-closer to a president who is, at the very best, a deeply flawed person indifferent to Christian ethics. Jesus may have said to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but He at least never said there was nothing Caesar could do to lose his political support, as Falwell said of Trump in 2019.
In many ways, Falwell is a perfect representation of the modern GOP elite: grifting from middle-American rubes, cynically maneuvering for political influence, loving Latin American immigration when it benefits him, and only able to achieve orgasm while betraying his family and posterity.