A couple of weeks ago, Newsweek magazine published a photograph of Republican Presidential Candidate-hopeful Michelle Bachmann. The photo, captioned "The Queen of Rage", stirred a controversy. Critics complained that the photo made her look crazed, and did not reflect her true nature.
I am not so sure...
It is so easy to satirize these presumptive leaders, to turn them into parodies of themselves, to marginalize them and insist that they are simply eating at the children's table of politics, and can never emerge as leaders of the Free World.
(Besides...I think I would prefer to have snarling dogs running our government...At least they are honest about their feelings, and you always know where you stand with them.)
But we need to pay attention to these figures, and what they stand for, in order to understand their unlikely appeal, and to work around the irrationality and misplaced anger of their disenchanted, disenfranchised, and some of them unfortunately ignorant, followers.
Otherwise, the rest of us might soon have to dance, reluctantly, to their tune.
The main point is that Michelle Bachmann, and her closest current rival Rick Perry, would not in themselves be prominent, threatening, nor even worthy of serious discussion, unless they happened to represent the ideas of a significant number of American citizens.
And that is frightening, unnerving, and sad.
Among other things, I have lately read and heard a lot about the political-religious doctrine called Dominionism, to which both Bachmann and Perry and others, especially among Tea Partiers, are connected. (It is cynically uncertain whether these political hopefuls actually believe in this idea. Of course, they use it to their advantage.)
Dominionism is a radical Christian sect that is gaining strength. In a nutshell, it states that their followers are entitled to hold dominion over the world, and will do this by infiltrating political systems, and expel the "demonic" ideas of abortion, homosexuality, and all non-Christian beliefs. Dominionists believe they must do this to bring about the end-times as prophecied in the Bible, to exorcise non-believers and prepare believers for the end of the world.
For more about this idea that is shaping American politics in an ominous way, check out the article by Michelle Goldberg in The Daily Beast.
NPR's Fresh Air Interview from last week with Rachel Tabachnick, who researches the impact of the religious right and end-time narratives on American politics, was informative (if ominous). Check out also Tabachnick's writing on the web site, Talk To Action.
Best of all, I highly recommend the writing of Religious Historian and Theorist Karen Armstrong. I found Armstrong's books, and read them immediately following the 9/11 tragedy. She helped guide me out of the darkness of my own ignorance to gain a better understanding of religion, conflict, fundamentalism, and politics. Her book, "The Battle for God", is a lucid and comprehensive piece of work, well-researched, about why religious fundamentalism takes hold in societies, and why it is a major political force in today's world. (Read her interview on Faith L. Justice's blog HERE)
Armstrong, a former nun and self-proclaimed "freelance monotheist", goes deep but retains a conversational, commonsense approach to her vast and complex subject.
According to Armstrong, pre-industrial societies held to the notions of "mythos" and "logos". "Logos" were practical , rational, scientific, and logical bases to run societies. "Mythos" was a concept similar to a primitive form of psychology, in which common stories, or "myths" were used to give meaning to peoples' lives. Religion was one form of mythos. As science grew in spectacular fashion in industrial societies, myths lost their power, and those who clung to them became frightened, and needed some guiding force to comfort them or put meaning into their lives. Their very existence was threatened until they were able to look up to leaders who assuaged their fears and created new myths.
Soon myths began to replace the rational and scientific bases for a reasonable society...and the battle rages on our political stage today. Abortion and homosexuality are seen as just the most prominent symbols of a threatening, modern scientific existence.
I highly recommend Karen Armstrong's books, especially "Battle for God".
The rise of the Rick Perrys and the Michelle Bachmanns, by legitimizing and reinforcing the most irrational fears of the citizens who look up to them to lead them out of a world that terrifies them, is similar to the rise of religious fundamentalism.
Perry and Bachmann and their ilk are successful because people are scared, and the way these political-religious figures exploit that fear is nothing short of demonic. And these frightened people are also vocal, and also easily led---to the polls. That's the most frightening of all.