The Cult of Republicanism

Could Republicanism be a sorry cousin to Scientology? Could the so-called “conservative movement” actually be a Jonestownish-kool-aid-swilling cult? Could all those people who are chanting “Drill, baby, drill!” be a half-degree removed from Heaven’s Gate?

Consider: twenty-eight years ago, Republicans swept into power with a promise to cut the size of government, interpret the constitution in an “originalist” way, ban abortion, restore family values, balance the budget and make America great again. They never delivered on a single promise. But their supporters kept returning them to power. Why? Because they promise to cut the size of government, interpret the constitution in an “originalist” way, ban abortion, restore family values and make America great again.

The party of limited government supports nationalizing banks and insurance companies, borrowing madly from other nations, fighting strength-sapping wars and imposing ever greater burdens on families. But the Republican loyalists still sing the old Reaganite hymns with the same fervor.

It’s what cultists do.  Leon Festinger, a social psychologist a half a century ago, coined the term “cognitive dissonance”  to describe how religious cultists, when confronted with failed prophecies, get even more convinced of the rightness of their beliefs. In his 1956 study of religious cults, When Prophecy Fails, Festinger observed:
A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point. 

We have all experienced the futility of trying to change a strong conviction, especially if the convinced person has some investment in his belief. We are familiar with the variety of ingenious defenses with which people protect their convictions, managing to keep them unscathed through the most devastating attacks. 

But man’s resourcefulness goes beyond simply protecting a belief. Suppose an individual believes something with his whole heart; suppose further that he has a commitment to this belief, that he has taken irrevocable actions because of it; finally, suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before. Indeed, he may even show a new fervor about convincing and converting other people to his view.
Feistenger’s observations about cults sound eerily like today’s big government, constitutionally revisonist, abortion ignoring, budget busting, family destroying Republicans. It’s why they love the new John McCain. He can hand them a cup of grape Kool Aid in a flag-covered Dixie cup and they’ll gulp it down. Then he can keep in place the same old policies that are wreaking havoc on their nation. And they will keep trying to get you to drink it too. 

One thought on “The Cult of Republicanism

  1. This is very scary. But I think it’s more a reflection of the growing sense of anti-intellectualism in America. Seriously, the whole “I can see Russia from Alaska” line should have disqualified Sarah Palin and John McCain from any serious consideration for the White House. But nobody seems to care.


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