They’ve got us all by the short and curlies

Lost souls are driving the train

Let’s get one thing clear: Donald Trump isn’t driving the MAGA revolution, nor is he turning Republicans into conspiracy nuts.  We’ve got it backward.  For generations, politicians and preachers have been reading polling data, realizing how ignorant and reactionary most Americans really are, and letting the market shape the message. 

Trump just does it better than most.

He does it so well, in fact, that his shameless repetition of the Big Lie is changing public opinion.  But that’s only because, once again, the ex-president is telling people exactly what they want to hear.

In late August, when Trump told a campaign-like rally in Alabama that they should consider vaccination, he was practically booed off the stage. He quickly backed down.  To maintain his hold over the Republican Party, Trump must parrot the right talking points.

The same, wag-the-dog phenomenon is visible in the religious world.  Suppose a pastor is a political centrist and a theological conservative.  What’s he going to do when over half his congregants believe things that, in his view, are patently false.  He shuts up and prays nobody notices the gulf twixt his views and theirs.

Many Republican politicians, conservative to the core, have announced they won’t be running for re-election.  They know a challenge is coming from a conspiracy nut who is more than happy to cater to the new orthodoxy.  When Liz Chaney (a hard right Republican if ever there was one) refused to adapt to the zeitgeist, she was censured by Wyoming Republicans.

Even more distressing, to me at least, is the secular backlash on the left.  Disgusted by the weird confluence of QAnon-like conspiracy theories, evangelical Christianity and reactionary politics, once-devout progressives are abandoning their churches in record numbers. 

At first, no one could understand why so many Americans were suddenly identifying as religiously unaffiliated.  A Five-Thirty-eight article from 2019 provides the best explanation I have run across thus far. In a paper published in 2002, Michael Hout and Claude Fischer concluded that “Distaste for the Christian right’s involvement in politics was prompting some left-leaning American to walk away from religion.”

Lyndon Johnson famously quipped: “If I get ’em by the short and curlies, the hearts and minds will follow.”  The MAGA revolution has conservative preachers and politicians by the short and curlies, but it doesn’t end there.  Conspiracy driven fanatics have created an equal and opposite reaction in progressive circles.

On both sides of the ideological divide, compassion and compromise are fast becoming dirty words.  The bad guys are so evil, folks on both sides reason, that they must be annihilated.  MAGA madness has no positive program.  It doesn’t build; it just breaks things.  Whatever the left proposes, will be opposed on principle.  It is evil by definition. 

Even a no-brainer like getting a poke to protect yourself from a deadly plague goes down in flames.

If you want to get really depressed, check out Marion Renault’s piece in the New Republic: “Red America’s Compassion Fatigue: A Report From Mobile, Alabama.”  Renault is primarily concerned with the 30% of Alabamans who have been vaccinated, especially the frontline care givers.  These good people are surrounded by doubters and critics on every hand.  This quote from the latter part of the article will give you a feel for the atmosphere:

A young woman one table over interrupted us with a shaking voice. “I’m unvaccinated,” she said, “and there is not anything, jail or death, that would make me do it.” (A few minutes later, she repeated this shocking perceived martyrdom a second time: “I would gladly die.”) We sat stunned as she launched into a breathless spectacle of paranoia and pain. She knew people who’ve been injured and maimed by the shot. She knew that the vaccine research used aborted fetal cells. She knew that pharmaceutical companies own and operate both the media and the Food and Drug Administration, neither of which could be trusted to tell the truth or serve the public’s best interests. She knew that her vaccination status didn’t prevent the Covid-19’s spread—and that, actually, the vaccine was driving mutations in the virus. And above all, she knew that she felt the vaccine posed a greater risk to her health than Covid-19. “You can’t say, ‘Set yourself on fire to keep me safe,’” she told us.

Lost souls like this woman are currently driving the train, folks. We’re picking up speed and heading for a tight corner.  Brothers and sisters, I wish I had a magic bullet to offer.  I don’t.  My best advice is, hang on tight and pray like hell.

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