the insecurity of true believers...

As this campaign season has evolved - or degenerated depending upon your perspective - I have regularly been awed by the rise of "true believers" in both the Sanders and Trump camps. Mostly I have kept mum about this phenomenon, deferring to silence rather than sounding my concerns about this stunning loss of perspective. But I continue to carry questions in my heart about their bold and often arrogant assertions that their candidate alone (and by implication they themselves) posses a monopoly upon truth, virtue and promise. 

I am not questioning the energy or mojo Sanders and Trump evoke for the buzz of group think born of political rallies, stadium rock concerts and worship in massive cathedrals and halls is powerful. Been there, done that at Springsteen shows, anti-war rallies and a few evangelistic events. I know how energizing and ecstatic it is to lose yourself in a mass of like-minded souls who yearn for vision, cohesion and hope in a dysfunctional world. One of the reasons I am attracted to dystopian/apocalyptic movies like "Blade Runner":  comes from a deep lament over the brokenness of the world. So I am not questioning nor judging the angst and anguish of those drawn to these candidates.

Rather, what concerns me is their zeal that too often overrides reality. At times it appears in crude or rude judgments about the ability of those with whom they disagree to discern "the truth" of any given issue:  how can you support such a crook -  if you were a real progressive (or insert independent or conservative as you like) you wouldn't stay ignorant of the true facts - oh come on you know that is a lie, etc?  At other times, a uniquely naive albeit Byzantine parsing of reality occurs - think of the histrionics about super-delegates, the remaining Democratic primaries or the hypothetical polling results of how one candidate fares against another - that is tainted with an unwillingness to honor the hand-writing on the wall. And then there is the all out assault that both denigrates the opponent's integrity while dumping an avalanche of "facts" into the conversation: it is a classic bait-and-switch.  The result is always the same: rarely is there a measure of doubt or humility expressed about the possibility that Sanders or Trump could be wrong.

Perhaps the insights of longshoreman philosopher, Eric Hoffer, have been forgotten. Or the work Erich Fromm did after WWII re: the rise of Nazism in Germany in Escape from Freedom. In Hoffer's The True Believer he makes the claim that the unwillingness to consider alternatives is a sign of inner insecurity. And the refusal to accept the possibility that we are wrong about an issue, a candidate or a movement is more a social illness than a strength. "“Propaganda ... serves more to justify ourselves than to convince others; and the more reason we have to feel guilty, the more fervent our propaganda.” 

So I am troubled.  I don't experience or discern this taking place much within the Clinton camp. I am sure it is there because that is always true during an election. But the demonizing of opposition and the scapegoating that continues to grow in both the Sanders and Trump realm worries me. Hoffer got it right when he concluded:

The enemy—the indispensable devil of every mass movement—is omnipresent. He plots both outside and inside the ranks of the faithful. It is his voice that speaks through the mouth of the dissenter, and the deviationists are his stooges. If anything goes wrong within the movement, it is his doing. It is the sacred duty of the true believer to be suspicious. He must be constantly on the lookout for saboteurs, spies and traitors.

PS - In closing, as I have revisited my political history, I recall enthusiasm for George McGovern even while I saw him as a tragically flawed idealist. I had respect but only modest expectations about Jimmy Carter and later Bill Clinton. Must be the influence of Niebuhr, the insights of Dr. King and the experience of working with Cesar Chavez: we are all broken. How does St. Paul put it:  all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. No exceptions - and that includes Bernie, Hilary and the Donald. The dynamics of the messianism of the campaign are not likely to change, right?  It feels like a Steely Dan song unfolding in real here we go to do it again.


Popular Posts