Flavin’s Corner April 2002

The Devil in Taxachusetts

Damn you, Bill Weld!  Your poser-Deadhead gubernatorial karma has cascaded from being bitch-slapped by Jesse Helms, to Paul Cellucci going Canuck and leaving Jane Swift pregnant and in charge, to the emergence of the Mormon multi-millionaire, Willard Mitt Romney, as the Republican heir to the Bay State.  Having a rich man govern the poor is sad enough without having to be subjected to an adherent of that faux scrubby clean cult of hyper-diffusionistracists, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  You’ve allowed the Devil to come to Taxachusetts, Bill Weld.  I trust New York is to your liking.

As with many politicians and candidates today, it’s often asked what one did during the late 60's and early 70's.  Viet Nam?  Clinton was at Oxford, Bush was on one long party pretending to be in the Texas Air National Guard, Gore was a journalist, Kerry and McCain worked hard, and now there’s Mitt who dutifully did his two year stint as a white shirt and black tie wearing, door-to-door Mormon missionary in Paris and Bordeaux.  Elder Romney at eighteen and in France...  Well, if my dad was a past chairman of American Motors, four time governor of Michigan, and on Nixon’s cabinet after an unsuccessful challenge for the Republican presidential nomination, maybe I’d elect France over, say, Pittsburg.  So, Mitt avoided both the violence and vices of those times.  He went to high-school in Michigan, predictably took his bachelor's degree at BYU in Utah, grabbed his MBA and JD from Harvard, and then made a home for himself in the Bay State.  As well as millions of dollars as a shrewd businessman.  I got a bad feeling about this.

Poster for Smith's failed 1842 campaign.

The Mormon and Massachusetts connection has roots.  Joseph Smith, the author, money-digger, charlatan, candidate for the U.S. presidency, and founder of the Mormon cult, had a great grandfather who gave testimony at the Salem witchcraft trials that caused a young woman to be hanged.  As an eight year old boy with a broken leg, Smith was brought from New York to Salem, as the city’s ocean breezes were thought to be medicinal.  Later, in 1836, an adult Joseph Smith, who was very near possessed with the peak of his charlatan influence, rented a house on Union Street in Salem for several weeks in the hopes of discovering buried treasure.  In desperation Smith attempted to broker with God and offered the city of Salem as an enticement if only the buried treasure would be uncovered.  It wasn’t, the Mormons didn’t take Salem, and while some point to this episode and judge Smith as a false prophet, others regard it as an important and generally overlooked footnote to our American past and heritage.  In 1838 Nathaniel Hawthorn published his short story, “Peter Goldthwaite’s Treasure,” which dealt with a man searching all over a house in Salem for a cache of gold and it’s been suggested the inspiration for both Smith and Hawthorn were common tales of ancient treasure told in inns and taverns.  Or maybe Hawthorne heard about the failure of Smith.  Okay, Smith didn’t find what he was looking for in Massachusetts, but apparently Mitt Romney has.

Though many cults (and some religions, as well) have a secret motivational dynamic of get rich quick and stay that way, the Mormon cult has always been arrogantly up front about its approach to money.  In fact, Smith and his immediate followers got into serious trouble by printing their own money on more than a few occasions.  Ever wonder where the expression "as phony as a three dollar bill" came from?

1837 Kirtland-Mormon bank note.

The occasionally extorted 10% tithe that the cult requires from its members is perhaps not that dissimilar to heavy-handed obligations at churches, synagogues, mosques, meeting houses, temples, sacred groves, or certain union functions.  However, an increasing number of well off Mormons now produce a dependable yearly cold cash intake of in excess of several billions of dollars for the cult.  And this is on top of a well diversified corporate empire worthy of the Fortune 500.  Romney, a former stake president and ward bishop, should likely tithe 10% or more of his Massachusetts governor’s salary to some post office box in Utah.  Sometimes one man’s taxes is another’s tithe. 

Since its inception and first pubic offering, the Mormons have been a corporate cult with their scriptures as their initial exploitable holding.  Open a recent printing of The Book of Mormon and it’ll be copyrighted by the Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Pop quiz -- name another copyright cult.  The Church of Scientology is correct!  Actually, their use of science fiction and pseudoscientific beliefs are not that dissimilar, as both are derived from an American consumer need for the fantastic.  The failure of Travolta’s Battlefield Earth may stave off the Scientologists for awhile, but we might not be able to escape the Mormons and their remounting of Battlestar Galactica

Well, to be forthcoming as far as religion and money are concerned, we often forget that Massachusetts was founded by those lazy Separatists (i.e. Pilgrims) who were under contract to build a shipping station and only barely managed to stay alive until more laborers arrived.  Maybe Taxachusetts deserves Romney and his cunningly cutthroat corporate ways.  Sadly, unless the liberal Democrats can swing the vote outside of metropolitan Boston in November, the Commonwealth will have another Republican governor whether deserving of one or not.

I recall a little over twenty years ago when I lived in Lynn, MA and telephoned Marion Lena Starkey, the author of The Devil in Massachusetts: A Modern Enquiry into the Salem Witch Trials (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1949).  She lived the next town over, in Saugus, and though advanced in years and with the playful grumpiness of an attentive maid in the background, we had a delightful conversation about the possibility that ergot poisoning might have been the cause of the claimed hallucinations in 1692 Salem  I was impressed the old broad seriously considered an option of either accidental or ritual drug intoxication.  We both politely (and correctly) agreed that though the ergot theory was interesting, better evidence could be found by looking at land deeds and noting who benefitted from the hysterical hangings and executions and who didn’t.

Starkey’s work on the Salem witchcraft trials is still recommended (with a tag of light reading and a criticism of its narrative style and a few incorrect dates), and will always be remembered as the direct inspiration for Arthur Miller’s 1953 play, The Crucible, recently filmed starring Winona Ryder, the godchild of the late Dr. Timothy Leary, who was pleased as punch when I informed him about Starkey’s familiarity with the theory of ergot poisoning, though personally he subscribed to a model of social hysteria generated by greedy landowners.  You can’t blame drugs for everything.

There’s never been any credible evidence to substantiate the nasty rumor that Massachusetts voters were 'high' when they elected Bill Weld.  You can’t blame drugs for everything!  Yet, if the Devil comes to Taxachusetts and Romney is elected this November, a model of social hysteria might not be the best explanation and drugs as a reason could work just as well.  Or a majority of voters are just plain dumb.  We’ll see.

Taught to be cautious,

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