Academic journal article The Journal of Psychohistory

2011: Year of Payback and Beyond: Monitoring Political Group-Fantasy

Academic journal article The Journal of Psychohistory

2011: Year of Payback and Beyond: Monitoring Political Group-Fantasy

Article excerpt

After tracing a disturbing trend of political and social bullying in 2010,1 began discerning different trends in 2011: call them recoils or counter-balances. Starting in the spring, I monitored these for the next two years.

At the outset, the prior tendencies held up. New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, echoing New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino's threat to take a baseball bat to Albany, instructed reporters to "please take the bat out on her," referring to a widowed grandmother who had gotten on his nerves (New York Times, 16 Apr 11, p. A14). Much to Christie's credit, however, and to the chagrin of fellow Republicans, he revealed a more humane side while touring the hurricane damage along the Jersey shore with President Obama. True to type, Donald Trump came out swinging for the presidency like a mob boss, only to collect his chits and cash out. The surprise wasn't that he soared to 40% among Republicans, but that his time at the plate was so brief. Yet if he struck out, heavy-hitter Newt Gingrich stepped into the batters' box, only to have strikes called for his flailing rhetoric and financial extravaganzas (half a mil bill on Tiffany diamonds for his wife Callista); he would rally later and attack his fellow Republican candidates in 2012 before his final swings.

Setting the stage for a no-holds-barred campaign, the Human Rights Watch and the Poverty Law Center traced a steep rise in militias and hate groups since Obama's election; that trend continues. In California, an Orange County Republican official had sent out an email with Obama's face on a baby chimpanzee (New York Times, 19 Apr 11, p. A13). On Halloween, a Virginia GOP committee email had Obama as a "zombie with part of his skull missing and a bullet through his head (Wash. Post, 1 Nov 11, p. B4). A few weeks later in November, Ramiro Ortego-Hernandez of Idaho told friends Obama was the anti-Christ and he needed to kill him; he was arrested after firing shots at White House windows (New York Times, 18 Nov 11) The country looked primed for the kind of "evangelical apocalyptism" that erupted over FDR's Statism in the 1930s, according to Matthew Avery Sutton, "but without the moderating voices that had previously held it in check and more safely channeled its energies (Int. Herald Tribune, 27 Sep 11).

Emblematic of these fractious times, a prominent figure in a neo-Nazi group was shot to death at 4 AM as he slept on his living-room couch. The alleged killer was his ten-year-old son who was being initiated into his dad's National Socialist Movement. Police were at a loss for motive. The boy had displayed pride in the hate group; however, his dad was engaged in a bitter custody battle with his ex-wife (New York Times, 11 May 11, p. Al). A comparable incident occurred a few years ago when an eight-year-old boy shot and killed his father who was also involved in a custody dispute. But even allowing for Oedipal motivations, one can ask what in the culture conspired to give the boys "permission" to resort to so violent a solution to their emotional dilemmas.

Sarah Palin's provocative lock-and-load rhetoric, which the Tea Party finds so invigorating, received a bizarre comeuppance in Tucson. One member of Congress who appeared in ads targeted in a weapon's crosshairs was Gabrielle Giffords, who was critically wounded by a seriously disturbed shooter, Jared L. Loughner, in a mass killing. He too may have been driven by delusional motives, but he had collected campaign literature on Giffords and attended her rally, singling her out for the first shot. A violence-friendly group-fantasy may have conspired to nudge him over the line. Apart from cheerleading political rallies and appearing on FOX TV, Palin had been keeping a relatively low profile until a late May testing-the-waters trip across the country; simultaneously, a member of her inner circle from 2005 to 2009 spoke of his former ideal politico as manipulative of her family, vengeful toward would-be enemies, callous toward her own staff, ill-informed and indeed indifferent to political issues beyond boosting her own career. …

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