I spoke with various Bush supporters in the runup to the 2004 election. Several of them said something that perplexed me. After running through the litany of ways in which Bush has screwed up, lied to the public, lined the pockets of his friends, increased global enmity towards the US and a greater threat of terrorism, broken the fundamental norms of civilized society, etc., I would be told by the Bush-supporter that the support was a matter of "faith." Reason vs. faith.
What to make of this? Lots of catapulted propaganda, for sure. Lots of misunderestimation too. Maybe even a dose of public faith in peeance, freeance. We don't have a philosopher king in politics and, frankly, it wouldn't be a very good idea if we did. Politics is only partially a matter of reason. Faith -- whatever is meant by that -- certainly plays a role. Or let's say emotional tugs and intuitions, even vague inklings. But much of what I think won that election was a conviction that faith was involved in a deeper way with Bush. Since much of religion functions on authority demanding faith, a fuller analysis of this presidency would have to take up the discussion of faith both genuine and "catapulted." There's good reason to think that this presidency is indeed a cult -- the party as religious denomination, the president as Dear Leader.
This reminds me of a trip years ago to China. I stayed with a pro-Mao professor in Beijing who took me north of Beijing to Outer Mongolia to a dam built during the Great Leap Forward. We looked at the massive stone dam, visited the museum there filled with photos of smiling comrades carrying huge boulders, shovels, picks, heard the stories of how many died while building this great project that would bring fresh water to an arid area. Then I climbed the dam and peeked over the other side. Desert as far as the eye could see.
As a political matter, there's a lot the opposition can learn here -- not that some alternative cult ought to be pushed, but that there is a large part of the population that seeks a greater meaning for the country's direction, one that's been lost with the wholesale sale of the US. Something to believe in.
"Catapulting the propaganda," below from Tom Engelhardt:
As his poll figures continue on a downward spiral, he has found it necessary to put extra effort into "catapulting the propaganda." Though he struck a new note or two in each speech, these were exceedingly familiar, crush-the-terrorists, stay-the-course, path-to-victory speeches. That's hardly surprising, since his advisors and speechwriters have been wizards of repetition. No one has been publicly less spontaneous or more -- effectively -- repetitious than our President; but sometimes, as he says, you "keep repeating things over and over and over again" and what sinks in really is the truth rather than the propaganda. Sometimes, just that extra bit of repetition under less than perfect circumstances, and words that once struck fear or offered hope, that once explained well enough for most the nature of the world they faced, suddenly sound hollow. They begin to sound... well, repetitious, and so, false. Your message, which worked like a dream for so long, goes off-message, and then what do you do?
This is, I suspect, exactly what growing numbers of Americans are experiencing in relation to our President. It's a mysterious process really -- like leaving a dream world or perhaps deprogramming from a cult. Once you step outside the bubble, statements that only yesterday seemed heartfelt or powerful or fearful or resolute truths suddenly look like themselves, threadbare and impoverished. In due course, because the repetitious worldview in the President's speeches is clearly a believed one (for him, if not all of his advisors) and because it increasingly reads like a bad movie script for a fictional planet, he himself is likely to look no less threadbare and impoverished, no less -- to use a word not often associated with him -- pathetic and out of touch with reality to some of those who not so long ago supported him or his policies.