One of These Characters Could Become President

Summer is almost over in this hemisphere, so we have 4 1/2 months until a small number of voters, in a few lightly-populated, semi-rural states, start letting the rest of us know who America’s 2016 Presidential candidates will be. As of now, however, I’m still trying to follow my own advice and ignore political coverage as much as possible.

That’s even though, in retrospect, it wasn’t great advice. The Democratic contest became much more interesting when Senator Bernie Sanders, the democratic (small “d”) socialist from the state of Vermont, received such a warm welcome. One might even grant that the Republican contest became more interesting as it became even weirder than expected.

The Republican struggle to choose a Presidential candidate is like a terrible movie you’re being forced to watch. It’s not funny enough to be comedy and isn’t serious enough to be tragedy. It certainly isn’t a musical. Let’s say it’s a fantasy with both comedic and tragic themes, kind of like a scarier version of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

To me, the funniest part of the Republican race is how observers keep trying to explain why Trump is popular among Republican voters (remember, these are the voters who helped elect George W. Bush not once but twice). The saddest part is that millions of Americans would be pleased if one of these Republicans became President. But maybe it will work out for the best. If the Republicans pick an extraordinarily terrible candidate, the Democrats should do well, even in the Congressional races. That could happen, even in 21st century America.

I wasn’t going to write about any of this (I’m still trying to follow my advice, if only because it’s still 2015), but there was a nice Salon article today. The author, Chauncey Devega, is a black American who loved Rambo, Reagan and Rush Limbaugh when he was too young to know any better. He also read “Soldier of Fortune” magazine and hoped to be our first black President. He doesn’t explain what made him reconsider his right-wing views, either for lack of space or because it’s obvious – he grew up and looked around.

An excerpt from the article:

…what if [a political party’s] “base” consists of people who live in an alternate world where facts, empirical reality, and scientific reason and truth operate according to a different set of rules? What happens to a supposedly mainstream political party’s internal dynamics when the most extreme elements are given control over it? And what if these voters have been socialized into a bizarro reality by a media machine that has created a literal and virtual bubble of information for its viewers and listeners, one where the “news” actually misinforms, thus leaving its public less knowledgeable about current affairs than before?

This alternate reality is the world in which the Republican Party and its candidates for president in 2016 exist. It is utterly impenetrable to outsiders. “Normal” politics do not exist there. This cult-like world is vexing, confusing, headache inducing, disorientating, and enraging for those in the “reality based community” who try to process the 2016 Republican debates. Ultimately, if one is not initiated into the right-wing movement’s rites and rituals, you will not be able to translate its political acts of magic and speaking in tongues that masquerade as serious political discourse.

As a political cult, today’s Republican Party uses faith, a belief in that which cannot be proven by ordinary means, to create a coherent worldview for its public. In this world there are no verifiable truth-claims that can be confirmed or rejected based on empirical evidence. Here, something is “true” because a trusted source, elder, elite, or media personality tells you so. Opinion is transformed into a substitute for facts.

Shorter version: Lies are made into truths for those in the cult and disbelievers are cast out as enemies and heretics.

The only modification I’d make to this is that the word “cult” usually refers to a relatively small group. When a cult gets big enough, it’s no longer a cult. At that point, it’s a movement or, as with the specimen under discussion, a political party that’s gone haywire.

PS – Paul Krugman had some things to say about the most recent Republican “debate”. Basically, he’s terrified.