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God’ll Cut You Down: Johnny Cash, Cato, and Triumphant Good

In Johnny Cash’s version of the gospel song “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” the opening chorus goes this way:

“You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Sooner or later, God’ll cut you down
Sooner or later, God’ll cut you down”

Not a believer? Feel free to make some substitutions for God in that refrain: fate, karma, pride, greed. Truth can also join that lineup with no problems. In many cases, the word you will do nicely as well, as in, “Sooner or later, you’ll cut yourself down.”

Recently, we’ve seen this twist of the universe at work. Sam Bankman-Fried, a founder of FTX cryptocurrency and a former billionaire, recently got nabbed for swindling investors out of boatloads of bucks. If justice is served, this disheveled, spoiled hotshot will land in jail.

About the same time, we learned that a man newly elected to the House of Representatives named George Santos lied to his supporters about his past record. He’s not Jewish as he claimed, he never worked for any large Wall Street firms, and he never earned a college degree. “I didn’t graduate from any institution of higher learning,” Santos later said. “I’m embarrassed and sorry for having embellished my resume.”

Embellished? Had he embellished his resume, he would have graduated from the University of Connecticut and told everyone he’d gotten his degree at Yale. This was no embellishment. It was an out-and-out lie.

Others are cut down slowly. The Biden gang—Joe, Hunter, and their associates—has yet to face either inquiry or the courts for their corruption, graft, and chicanery. Agencies like the FBI and the Department of Justice are still conducting their assaults on the law. The legislators who have brought us to near bankruptcy, the bureaucrats behind the ruinous COVID lockdowns and vaccines, the men and women in charge of our disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, the corporate media that abetted all these crimes and wrongs: All these people are still in place. We can only hope they spend most of their days sweating bullets and wondering when the ax is going to fall.

Because that ax will fall. Sooner or later, it always does. It took 70 years, but that ax swung on the Soviet Union, causing its collapse. And sooner or later, that ax will swing again, and the Chinese Communist Party will explode into splinters and dust.

Why? Because the blade of that ax is made up of virtue, honor, and liberty, and the people wielding that ax believe in those things. The wicked can mock those ideals, they can throw a shroud over them and pretend they’re dead, but they can never kill them.

Here’s just one proof that demonstrates the truth of this proposition. In Joseph Addison’s play Cato, first performed in 1713, those three words—virtue, honor, liberty—appear in nearly every scene as Cato, his family, and his small army face the overwhelming forces of the despot Julius Caesar. The battle for liberty and the republic is lost before it is even fought: “What can Cato do / Against a world, a base, degenerate world, / That courts the yoke, and bows the neck to Caesar?” In the play as in life, Cato dies by his own hand, Caesar becomes the master of an empire, and the Roman Republic disappears from the face of the earth.

But not from memory. Hundreds of years later, Addison wrote his play, and George Washington became one of its most ardent fans, quoting or paraphrasing its lines in letters and even having this tragedy performed in the spring of 1778 at Valley Forge in hopes of inspiring his men.

Life follows art, some say, and surely Cato’s example and Addison’s words helped fashion Washington’s character, which in turn shaped our American republic. The spirit of a Roman who died on the sands of Africa passed into a Virginian across a vast canyon of time and distance, and the ideals of a republic were reborn.

If we give way to despair over the fate of our republic, if we come to believe that evil will triumph over good, then we’ve lost the spirit that formed the backbone of the American republic. Let’s take to heart another verse from “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”:

“Well, you may throw your rock, and hide your hand

Workin’ in the dark against your fellow man

But as sure as God made black and white

What’s done in the dark will be brought to the light.”

That light will shine. And that ax will fall.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons-Brandon Wong, CC0 1.0


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