How To Heal a Nation in 146 Pages or Less: The Gospel of Matthew Dowd

REVIEW: 'Revelations on the River: Healing a Nation, Healing Ourselves' by Matthew Dowd

November 21, 2021

It's not easy being an editor. Sometimes, for example, an author might submit a three-page biography describing himself as "a renowned thought-leader and writer" and "one of the most creative analysts, visionaries, and political strategists of his generation." A good editor might politely insist the author tone it down a bit to avoid coming across as a self-important psychopath. Matthew Dowd's editor evidently did not think it was worth the hassle.

That is precisely how Dowd, a former ABC News pundit, chooses to describe himself in Revelations on the River: Healing a Nation, Healing Ourselves. The book's content (such as it is) makes clear that the author, who imagines himself as "having the soul of a prophet" called upon to reveal "the truths I have uncovered walking on the earth beneath the heavens above," genuinely believes it. A nearly identical biography appears on Dowd's website promoting his campaign for lieutenant governor of Texas.

For a book that claims to offer guidance on "healing a nation, healing ourselves," 146 pages might seem a tad on the short side. Until you start reading, and it feels like 400. Dowd lays out his personal revelations on a variety of topics—love, fears and trauma, interconnections, the "concentric circles of life," among others—and riffs with the unrelenting confidence of a multilevel marketing guru or stoned college freshman after a semester's worth of Philosophy 101 and Introduction to World Religions.

"For me, love isn't a destination, but the actual path we are on," the renowned thought-leader explains. "It is somewhat like the 'force' in Star Wars." Have you ever noticed that "sometimes our past informs decisions we make about our future"? Dowd has. "No matter how hard we twist the world and try to see things as black and white, reality always tells us to look at the shades," the generational talent reveals.

There is an entire chapter that could have been edited down to a single sentence: "We're, like, all connected, man." Indeed, the experience of reading Revelations on the River is akin to being trapped in a room with the most boring person you know, who has just taken ecstasy or LSD for the first time.

"I suddenly had this most profound sense of how everything in this universe was so beautifully interconnected," the visionary writes of the time he looked out his window and saw some deer. "It was a complete understanding and vision of how everything I was looking at out the window was all universally connected, along with myself and every other being I could not see." Ever heard of the "big bang," or marveled at the fact that we all came from stardust? Dowd has, which is why he gets paid to thought-lead.

Occasionally, a paragraph will begin with a sentence so egregious it's as though Dowd is trying to warn the reader, "Heads up, here comes some bullshit." For example:

Let me start with my conception of the love relationship with God.

I am quite sure, even without reading all the science on this area …

When I came back years ago from a spiritual trek to experience different faiths in the world …

Something I will never forget that has touched my heart to this day happened years ago when I was snowmobiling in Colorado.

As the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson explains …

Most of the book's chapters begin by introducing a metaphor, then proceed to beat it well beyond the point of death. The chapter on "Light and Darkness," for example, invites readers to imagine themselves as a lighthouse. "The lighthouse of our life may be in a bit of disrepair, or need greater caretaking," he writes. "If so, let us each take the time to do some remodeling and sprucing up, but in the meantime…"

Several pages later, he's still going:

Our own lighthouse may seem beautiful or perfect to others because they are only looking at mere appearances. However, our light could be low, or maybe our signaling is malfunctioning, preventing us from shining in the night and darkness when we are most needed…

My hope is that whatever our condition happens to be, we all strive to do the work required to be the best lighthouse we can be in this moment, on this day.

The chapter (finally) ends with a poem, titled "Lighthouse."

It was around this time that your reviewer experienced a legitimate revelation: There might be something about lighthouses that makes them particularly attractive to woke psychopaths. Dowd admits frequently visiting the structures, sometimes overnight, when he wants to "gather myself and receive the peace and calm that seems to always center me when I am there." CNN chief climate correspondent Bill Weir conceived his son in a lighthouse, according to the letter he wrote young "River" to apologize for contributing to climate change and bringing him into a world that values "Amazon™ more than the Amazon."

To Dowd's credit, Revelations on the River is no worse than the typical campaign memoir. It claims to be a work of personal introspection but contains little insight into the author's flawed humanity. But the fact that Dowd insists on being received as a modern-day prophet is certainly a point in the book's favor. There are no policy prescriptions, just an obnoxious suggestion that we "begin the process of healing [the country] by understanding each other's joys and sorrows," among other meaningless exhortations.

Dowd is running on the Democratic ticket alongside gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke. It would be hard, if not impossible, to find a more self-absorbed pair of lunatics in American politics. Beto, who announced his failed 2020 presidential campaign on the cover of Vanity Fair by insisting he was "born to be in it," thinks he can turn Texas blue by promising to take away your f—ing guns.

Dowd, meanwhile, announced his run for office three years after he penned an op-ed for ABC News in which he "humbly" argued that white male Christians like himself should "take it upon ourselves to step back and give more people who don't look like us access to the levers of power." The reversal is understandable. If you examine the word "thought-leader" closely enough, you'll eventually realize that it contains the word "leader," as in politician, or even prophet.

What a pleasure it will be to watch them both lose.

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Revelations on the River: Healing a Nation, Healing Ourselves
by Matthew Dowd
Skyhorse, 168 pp., $19.99