Recently, I read about group psychology and came across the chapter on cults. The book went into detail about the specific characteristics of all cults and as I read them over, I was struck by how accurately these characteristics described our current political environment. Here are the top seven characteristics of cults.
1. The group displays excessively
zealous and unquestioning commitment to its belief system, ideology, and practices as the only truth, as law.
2. The group is elitist,
claiming a special, exalted status for itself and members (for example, the group is on a special mission to save humanity).
3. The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary.
Doesn’t this seem to match the actions of the Tea Party and radical right-wing Republicans? Their uncompromising position on the recent government shutdown and impending debt ceiling debate is almost a crusade quest to them in which they believe they will save all of America’s future generations from a terrible fate and lift the burden of the government from the backs of every American. They were willing to let the government stay shut down and have stated that they are prepared to force the government to default on its debt. The bipartisan Congressional Budget Office has stated that either action would deepen the recession and set back the recovery by years.
The GOP has distributed a political playbook that advises their party on how to oppose Obama and all his programs, especially ObamaCare. It promotes these offensive actions by any means necessary because the end justifies the means in all cases.
4. Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
The Tea Party regards their ideology with such fervor that the 27 Republicans who recently compromised and helped pass the federal budget so the government shutdown would end, have been targeted for replacement by the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund — two of several major contributors to the campaigns of staunch conservatives. The backlash against these 27 Republicans has already resulted in a significant shift in campaign funds and political backing away from them and toward what are deemed to be “more conservative” Republicans.
5. The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which often causes conflict with the wider society.
When you hear them make speeches, the Republicans make every issue sound like they are on a divine mission to save the nation and that they are the only ones who can see what is needed to be done. It is disconcerting to witness such deeply held beliefs and ideology coming from politicians whose job it is to compromise across divergent perspectives in order to make progress. Members of this kind of political cult thinking would seem to be unable to implement the ideals of a democracy and unable to support progress in any subject or area other than their own interests.
6. Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members and to read and share only the information sanctioned by the group.
In the you-can’t-make-up-this-stuff department, the Republican Party of Texas wrote into its party platform the following: “We oppose the teaching of higher order thinking skills (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs … which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.” The party opposes teaching students to think because it may allow them to discover some other perspective on the world. Their party platform also opposes, among other things, early childhood education, sex education, and multicultural education. Unfortunately, this contempt for objective thinking isn’t limited to the GOP in Texas but is more commonly being seen across the country by some of the most strident of conservative reformers.
7. The group is preoccupied with making money.
It has always struck me as ironic that the Tea Party and many of the more radical Republicans seemed to be totally preoccupied with issues related to money. On the one hand, they want to limit government and reduce taxes but they want to give more to defense contractors and drop all regulations on Wall Street. They profess to want to limit government controls and programs but almost all of what they propose will cut benefits, safety nets and safeguards for the lower and middle class while increasing the income, profits and lowering taxes for rich people and corporations. All this, as they also proclaim that it is the Democrats that are spend crazy.
A surprising graphic by the magazine Mother Jones shows that from 1975 to 2006, the net increase in the national debt from all Democratic presidents is a negative number (mostly because of Clinton), however, the net increase from the four Republican presidents is a whopping 709 percent. To take another perspective, the growth in government spending under Bush in his four years in office was 15.9 percent. So far, in Obama’s six years, he has a 1.4 percent growth in government spending.
Using authoritative references and accepted scientific analysis of the sociology and psychology of cults, we would have to conclude that the actions of the Tea Party and much of the Republican party is in full compliance with the actions of a classic cult and, by that definition, properly belongs to the same category as the Branch Davidians, Scientology and other classic and dangerous cults. Unfortunately, much of this can be ascribed to the Democrats also.
Tom Watkins lives in Montpelier. He can be reached at TomW@21VT.US.
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