Among those comments (I didn’t read them all) may be some that got it right, but most talked about things like ‘declining world view,’ ‘fear of coming defeat,’ ‘fragile egos,’ ‘lack of principle,’ ‘loss of illusion,’ and the like. These, I suspect, are more along the lines of wish fulfillment and self-congratulations than they are serious comment on what’s going on rightward.
What we’re seeing on the seething right has more to do with flexibility and basic systems of belief than it does with fear or fragility. When “truth” precedes “experience” and is not shaped by it, no failure can be attributed to mistakes about “truth.” In fact, in such a universe, failure should be impossible—on its own.
In other words, the right is seeing that it has failed in numerous ways and is wrong on quite a few issues—but it cannot accept this. Its basic principles, in the view of the believers, are true on the face of them. So, failure cannot be based on anything they are doing; treachery and opposition must be the causes. With all the “successes” for the right over the past years, things should be a whole lot “better” in these here United States. Yet they aren’t. And a “myth” like global warming, instead of becoming daily more clearly the state of earth affairs, should now be scoffed at as a flat-earth belief.
“Principles and truths precede the man.” That’s how many on the right view the world. Hence, if somethings seems wrong with the principles and truths, it must be that someone has set out to make that happen. A devil. A tempter. Or “them.” Blame it on the “IslamoFascists” or the liberals; certainly, it cannot be that the beliefs are wrong.
Last year, Kevin Baker wrote an article for Harper’s entitled “Stabbed in the Back!: The Past and Future of a Right-Wing Myth.” In it, he traces the right’s blame-game back to Hitler’s Germany and before, the anger to others coming from unwillingness to accept responsibility for failure—or to allow that it might be a failure of principle and “truth.” As the failure cannot be one’s own, it must be the result of nefarious conspiracy:
Not just Nancy Pelosi or Dick Durbin but all Democrats and all liberals were now firmly established as traitors, and it was not possible that they had made some honest gaffes; instead, their very motives were sinister.
Convinced that they are stymied by the sinister, the right reacts, of course, with anger.
This is the classic problem faced by the totalitarian true believer. Out of power, he or she has no opportunity to “prove” any belief (and doesn’t believe she or he needs to, anyway). In power, when the beliefs start to fail them, they are unable to accept that they may have been wrong, so begin to cast about for the villain who gummed up the works. They find them, destroy them—but the problems continue. New villains are identified, found, and destroyed. But things still don’t get better. If anything, they get worse. In this manner, the true believers begin to eat away at themselves, finally, destroying themselves through their very inability to confront the possibility that they may be wrong.
And that makes them very, very angry.