Anyone who’s read Charles Dickens’ novel David Copperfield remembers the oleaginous character Uriah Heep. Described by Dickens as unusually tall and wraithlike, Heep ingratiates himself into David’s world, wringing his hands in false supplication. His motives are transparent–a word much bandied about these days in political circles. He wants to feather his own nest, keep his job, and control through manipulation rather than direct action. Dickens has great contempt for individuals who survive through insincerity and Uriah personifies this noxious behavior for him–and for many of us who sometimes call a contemporary sycophant Uriah Heep.
As I struggle with the latest travesty and/or destructive action taken by the orange man in the White House, I keep seeing Uriahs. Let me just refresh your memory with a few choice examples: When the tape surfaced during the presidential campaign in which he spoke so degradingly about how he approached women, many Republicans spoke to national television cameras and social media outlets decrying such language. We heard from politicians who said they would be ashamed to face their own daughters if they supported such a candidate, yet in due time, they did support him. Ever since the election of someone who relished playing the television persona who got to say with satanic pleasure “You’re FIRED!” we have seen and heard a parade of Uriah Heeps fawning before the president in order to keep their heads above water or to get a position in his sphere or–most centrally–to keep their job and not get a presidential pink slip. One of my favorite examples of the latter was the televised cabinet meeting in which each cabinet member was given a few minutes to speak before their leader/boss. Rather than doing what I assumed they would, i.e., speak about what was happening under their leadership, each one metaphorically wrung their not overwhelmingly white male hands while praising the president in vaguely messianic terms. It was as I watched this degrading moment that I began to think about writing a blog with Uriah’s name in the title.
What makes Dickens’ character so disgusting is his utter insincerity and willingness to perpetuate the system that has treated him so badly when he was a child. He becomes the abuser, like so many after him, thereby perpetuating the noxious system that grinds people down rather than lifting them up. Sad to say, the present political climate in North America is fostering and promoting just such kinds of politicians–people willing to be appropriately outraged by the latest foul words or deeds tweeted by the orange man in the wee hours of the night or early morning. But this outrage is generally short lived because increasingly such people understand that if they stay morally outraged, they may find themselves out of work. This conundrum means we all might send active support to the few who maintain their sense of moral wrong-doing past the next news cycle, who resemble Dickens’ quietly heroic Mr. Micawber, who works and works until he finally defeats Uriah’s oily manipulations and uncovers Heep’s amoral shenanigans.