Why and how authoritarian evangelicals threaten Democracy

Preface.

This is a book review of “Conservatives without Conscience” by John Dean.

It is the best book I’ve read in explaining the history of conservatism and leaders like Newt Gingrich on the increasing authoritarianism of Republicans, It also explains why authoritarian Republicans, who tend to have been selected and voted in by evangelicals, have no morals and act against the nation’s best interests.  And why they don’t criticize Trump’s racist, sexist, war mongering tweets.

Republicans are not all like that. There are plenty of decent, honorable, moral Republicans, but this explains how the authoritarian faction has gained so much power. Historically, there were at least 9 types of Republicans who disagreed about a lot of stuff. But they were united over their hatred of Communism.  Now they are united in kowtowing to evangelicals and fundamentalists who tend to be racist (when the KKK returned in the 1920s, most of them were evangelicals as revealed in “The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition“. Back then too their goal was gaining political power and they threw their weight behind racist candidates).

Right-wing evangelicals, fundamentalists, and pentecostals ARE the Republican party and the majority of their voters. Despite there being far more moderates, liberals, and mainstream church Republicans, they have an out-sized influence on elections because they are foot soldiers who turn out in great numbers long before the election to get their candidates in office, and at the voting booth.  Dean considers them to be conservatives without conscience, some would say sociopaths, and the root problem of America’s potential loss of democracy and becoming a fascist state.

John W. Dean was a former attorney on the White House Counsel for President Nixon from 1970 to 1973, but left politics after that. But when G. Gordon Liddy wrote a book in 1991 accusing him of being the mastermind of Watergate, he became so alarmed about the danger of the right-wing fascism and end of Democracy that he became on expert on authoritarianism to try to understand what they were thinking. This book is based on a great deal of scientific research on authoritarianism the past 40 years. It may sound politically partisan, but it isn’t.

Take the authoritarian quiz — does this sound like anyone you know?

  • Here are traits typically found in social dominators and right-wing authoritarian leaders based on extensive testing. To fall within this definition, you must have these traits: Dominating, oppose equality, wants personal power, amoral. Other traits that most, but not all leaders have are: typically men, intimidating and bullying, faintly hedonistic, vengeful, pitiless, exploitive, manipulative, dishonest, cheats to win, highly prejudiced, mean-spirited, militant, nationalistic, tells others what they want to hear, takes advantage of “suckers”, specializes in creating false images to sell self.
  • Right-wing authoritarian followers have these traits: submissive to authority, aggressive on behalf of authority, and conventional. They are likely to have the following traits: highly religious, moderate to little education, trust untrustworthy authorities, prejudiced (particularly against homosexuals, women, and followers of religions other than their own), mean-spirited, narrow-minded, intolerant, bullying, zealous, dogmatic, uncritical of chosen authority, hypocritical, inconsistent and contradictory, prone to panic easily, highly self-righteous, moralistic, strict disciplinarian, severely punitive, demands loyalty and returns it, little self-awareness, usually politically and economically conservative/Republican.

Social conservatives, whose core members are Christian conservatives, comprise the largest and most cohesive faction of conservatism and typical right-wing authoritarian followers.

They cannot be stopped because their behavior is simply a function of the way they are and how they think, their dispositions, and the way they deal with the world.

And why does nothing seem to change their follower’s minds? The followers of authoritarian leaders crave submission to a powerful authority as a means of alleviating their fears of ambiguity, uncertainty, and complexity. The exaggerated hostility of leaders and talk-show hosts also satisfies a psychological need for antagonism toward the “out group,” reinforces the self-esteem of the conservative base, and increases solidarity within the ranks.

Dean is also an expert on the history of conservatism and its ideas.  He lists eight kinds of conservatives and they have different values and goals.

Given the very different beliefs of the various conservative factions, how have conservatives succeeded in coalescing as a political force? The simple answer is through the power of negative thinking, and the ability to find common enemies. The adherents of early conservatism agreed that communism was the enemy, a fact that united them for decades—and hid their differences. Today’s conservatives—especially social conservatives, as opposed to intellectuals and the more thoughtful politicians—define themselves by what they oppose, which is anything and everything they perceive to be liberal. That category includes everyone from Democrats to anyone with whom they disagree, and can, therefore, automatically be labeled a liberal.

The root of the problem of authoritarian leaders and erosion of democracy are Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists, who are somewhere between a quarter and a third of the electorate and 58% of all Republicans.  They are the foot soldiers of authoritarian leaders and turn out in great numbers at the polls. Their influence is felt at every level of government.

Without the support of Christian conservatives Republicans cannot even get nominated to local, state, and national offices, because they have become the filter through which all Republicans must pass today.  Christian conservatives have a virtual lock on state and local Republican politics, and have totally outmaneuvered their opposition. “In American politics,” wrote Joel Rogers of the University of Wisconsin, “who controls the states controls the nation. The right understands this, and for a generation has waged an unrelenting war to take over state government in America. It has succeeded, in large part because it hasn’t faced any serious progressive counter effort.

Their ultimate goal is to pack federal courts with judges who will do God’s work and stop the right of women to have abortions, stop the teaching of safe sex and evolution in schools, encourage home schooling, ban contraceptives, halt stem cell research with human embryos, ban gay marriage, eliminate the separation of church and state, control the sexual content of cable and network TV, radio, and the internet.

And you can’t get rid of them, their children will become authoritarian too: Authoritarian parents transfer their beliefs to children through religious instruction. Christian conservatives tend to come from strict religious backgrounds, and often prevent their children from being exposed to broader and different views by sending them to schools with like-thinking children, or by home schooling them. This, in turn, results in an authoritarian outlook that remains strong during adolescence—the period when authoritarian personalities are formed and then taken into adult life.

To me this is a Twilight Zone show. Evangelicals are not letting the next generation know anything about anything but the Church and the Bible and racism and hatred of liberals. My god, this is the only time in history when 80 to 90% of people didn’t do back-breaking farming all day and have the luxury of learning about the Universe. To deny your children the wonder and amazement of all that’s around us should be criminal.

This is a long preface because no one reads long posts.  I was going to break it up into several posts. But hey, this is a 20 page summary of a 209 page book. If you find it at all interesting, buy the book, I had to leave a lot of good stuff out.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report

John W. Dean. 2006. Conservatives without conscience. Penguin Books.

My finding, simply stated, is the growing presence of conservative authoritarianism. Conservatism has noticeably regressed to its earliest authoritarian roots. Authoritarianism is not well understood and seldom discussed in the context of American government and politics, yet it now constitutes the prevailing thinking and behavior among conservatives. Regrettably, empirical studies reveal, however, that authoritarians are frequently enemies of freedom, antidemocratic, anti-equality, highly prejudiced, mean-spirited, power hungry, Machiavellian, and amoral.

They are also often conservatives without conscience who are capable of plunging this nation into disasters the likes of which we have never known.

I was familiar with the personality type from my years in the Nixon White House. We had plenty of authoritarians in the Nixon administration, from the president on down. In fact, authoritarian thinking was the principal force behind almost everything that went wrong with Nixon’s presidency.

Dean kept a low profile after Watergate and was not involved in politics.  So he was quite surprised and dismayed when Wallace of 60 minutes called Dean in 1991, he found out that St. Martin’s Press was about to publish a book titled “Silent Coup” by Colodny and Gettlin, saying that Dean was the real mastermind of the Watergate break-ins, and ordered these break-ins because he was seeking sexual dirt on the Democrats, which he’d learned about from wife Maureen.  Dean replied, “that makes no sense at all. It’s pure bullshit. How could I have ordered the Watergate break-ins and kept it secret for the last 20 years?”  Wallace said that the book claimed I arranged the break-ins through my secret relationship with former White House consultant E. Howard Hunt—Hunt, who along with Gordon Liddy, had been convicted two decades earlier of plotting the Watergate break-ins.

60 minutes did not cover this story, but it wouldn’t die, because St. Martin’s had a lot of money tied up in it, and was determined to make it a best seller. Their plan was to sell the book to Nixon apologists and right-wingers, giving them a new history of Nixon’s downfall in which Bob Woodward, Al Haig, and I were the villains.

Who better to peddle this tale than uber-conservative Gordon Liddy, who had been a behind-the-scenes collaborator with Colodny in developing, sourcing, and writing Silent Coup? Without Liddy’s support St. Martin’s might well have abandoned the project.

Liddy’s involvement in this baseless attack did not surprise me. He had once planned to kill both Howard Hunt and me, he had said in his book “Will: The autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy”, but his orders to do so had never come—although he did not say who he expected would send them. He wanted to kill Howard Hunt because he had become an informer and when Hunt agreed to testify he became “a betrayer of his friends, and to me there is nothing lower on earth. . . . Hunt deserved to die.” About me, Liddy wrote that the “difference between Hunt and Dean is the difference between a POW who breaks under torture and aids the enemy, and Judas Iscariot.” The subtext of Liddy’s statement is that the U.S. government had become his enemy and that Richard Nixon had become something of a Christ figure for him. Attacking Howard Hunt and me was consistent with both his conservative politics and his personality. He sought to resurrect Nixon for conservatives and blame others for his destroyed presidency.

My former colleague Chuck Colson’s appearance on national television to endorse Silent Coup truly surprised me. Chuck and I had crossed swords at the Nixon White House only once, and even then we had not communicated directly. I had had virtually nothing to do with his office, or its nefarious activities, except for the time Chuck had wanted to firebomb and burglarize the Brookings Institution, convinced that this Washington think tank had copies of documents the president wanted. When I learned of his insane plan I flew to California (where the president and senior staff were staying at the Western White House) to plead my case to John Ehrlichman, a titular superior to both Chuck and me. By pointing out, with some outrage, that if anyone died it would involve a capital crime that might be traced back to the White House, I was able to shut down Colson’s scheme. As a result, over the next several months I was told nothing about Colson’s shenanigans, such as his financing the infamous burglary by Liddy and Hunt of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office after Ellsberg released the so-called Pentagon Papers, which was a precursor to the later Watergate break-ins.

Why, of all people, would Chuck Colson promote Silent Coup’s conspicuously phony account of Watergate? Where was his conscience? How could he call himself a Christian?

The promotion campaign to sell the book to conservatives worked, thanks to Liddy’s nationwide tour, in which he appeared on countless right-wing talk-radio shows. By July 7, 1991, Silent Coup had peaked at number three on the New York Times best-seller list.

Liddy tried to get Dean to sue him to gain publicity.  Eventually he would get his lawsuit, but on our terms.  We didn’t bring the lawsuit until we’d done 8 months of collecting evidence.  For eight years our lawsuit made its way through the federal courts, and St. Martin’s tried every possible ploy to prevent its going to trial.

While St. Martin’s and the other defendants were spending over $14 million of insurance company money trying to make us go away, it eventually became clear to them that we were prepared to go whatever distance necessary to make fools of them all, and that we had the evidence to do it. By the fall of 1998 we had also accomplished our underlying goal of gathering the information necessary to show that Silent Coup was bogus history. Ultimately, it seems, they had hoped to win the lawsuit by simply outspending us, but when that strategy failed, they made a generous settlement to Dean, and thelitigation ended.

Despite most of the news media’s fitting dismissal of Silent Coup’s baseless claims, the protracted litigation provided time for the book to gather a following, including an almost cultlike collection of high-profile right-wingers.

The lawsuit made me realize that during the years I had been focused on business the Republican Party and conservatism had undergone drastic changes. The Republican Party had shifted to the extreme right, resulting in longtime hard-right conservatives like Liddy and Colson, who had once been at the fringe, finding themselves in vogue.

These right-wing extremists were not good losers. So when they lost the White House in 1992 they began what would be an unrelenting and extended series of attacks on the Clinton presidency. It was clear to me that the First Lady was correct in her contention that there was a vast right-wing conspiracy attempting to destroy the Clintons, for I still had a number of knowledgeable conservative contacts.

I learned  that Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and majority leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) were both exerting enormous control over the GOP. Some Republicans told me that Gingrich was betting his Speaker’s seat on the impeachment drive’s adding additional Republican members to the House. DeLay, it was clear, had influence because the rank-and-file House Republicans feared his wrath, and he was determined to impeach Clinton. Several Republicans told me that this was payback to the Democrats for what had been done to Nixon.

Washington Post public opinion poll showed that 62% of Republicans disapproved of impeaching the president. Knowledgeable Republicans passing through the MSNBC green room privately explained that House Republicans would pursue the impeachment anyway, on behalf of the 31% who wanted Clinton removed.

The motive of the GOP leaders was simply to please the party’s “base composed primarily of Christian conservatives, in particular evangelicals.

 

What was even more stunning was that the election results did not stop these hard-core conservative Republicans from continuing to push for Bill Clinton’s impeachment and, at the same time, issue increasingly stern demands for party loyalty. As someone who had previously spent over 20 years in Washington observing Congress up close, I found this new level of party discipline remarkable. I understood that DeLay scared them, but so badly that they would vote against their consciences?

So-called conservatives who controlled the House of Representatives had pushed the process for political spite and cheapened an extremely important constitutional check by using impeachment solely to attack a president of whom they did not approve. Their behavior was certainly more threatening to the democratic process than anything the president had done.

I asked Senator Goldwater why they behaved this way.  He replied that “It’s these so-called social or cultural conservatives. And I don’t know what in hell possesses them. I’d like to find out.

I asked the senator for his thoughts on Christian conservatives like Colson, and their increasing presence in Republican politics, and he minced no words. “Goddamn it, John,” he began, with a combination of anger, frustration, and sorrow, “the Republicans are selling their soul to win elections.” He saw trouble coming. “Mark my word,” he said, “if and when these preachers get control of the party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. The government won’t work without it. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” He had absolutely no doubt that these people had made Washington more divisive than it had ever been, and he was concerned that their divisiveness was spreading throughout the country.

My conversations with Senator Goldwater evolved into a plan to write a book together about so-called social conservatives. We would attempt to understand their strident and intolerant politics by talking with people like Chuck Colson, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell. We would learn more about their thinking, and try to determine whether they appreciated what they were doing to conservatism and to Republican politics. We would title our book Conservatives Without Conscience. The serious deterioration and disintegration of conservative principles under Bush and Cheney, in all branches of the federal government, with the striking shift toward a very un-American-type of authoritarianism, compelled me to complete the project I had begun with Senator Goldwater.

Nearly every question Senator Goldwater and I had discussed about the religious right has been answered in other works—all but one. That remaining question is rather basic: Why do those in the religious right act as they do? Are they motivated by religion or conservatism? Stated a little differently, is this what happens when Christians become politically active? Or do their actions simply reflect one type of person who is drawn to conservatism?

Authoritarians

The authoritarian leader’s use of misleading information to gain control is a consistently successful technique for them.

Many conservatives, particularly those who are clearly authoritarians, are not aware of their illogical, contradictory, and hypocritical thinking. If made cognizant of it, they rationalize it away, neglect to care, or attack those who reveal their human weaknesses.

Conservatives without conscience do not have horns and tails; if they did they would be easier to identify. Many of them can be quite pleasant, but at heart they are tough, cold-blooded, ruthless authoritarians. They are limited in their ability to see the world from any point of view other than their own, and they are narrow in their outlook.

I believe that one can reasonably conclude that how they think, their policies, and their style of governing are based to an alarming extent on their own authoritarian personalities, which tolerate no dissent, use dissembling as their standard modus operandi, and have pushed their governing authority beyond the law and the Constitution.

“Authoritarian governments are identified by ready government access to information about the activities of citizens and by extensive limitations on the ability of citizens to obtain information about the government. In contrast, democratic governments are marked by significant restrictions on the ability of government to acquire information about its citizens and by ready access by citizens to information about the activities of government.” I did not use that quote when writing about Bush and Cheney’s insistence on secrecy because I did not then really understand the true nature of authoritarianism, yet I was struck time and again by the authoritarian nature of the Bush/Cheney administration.

Now I realize that Bush and Cheney have given authoritarianism a new legitimacy in Washington, and it is taking us where we should not want to go.

Conservatism is not inherently moralistic, negative, arrogant, condescending, and self-righteous. Nor is it authoritarian. Yet all of these are adjectives that best describe the political outlook of contemporary conservatism. I make these observations not as an outsider, but as a conservative who is deeply troubled by what has become of a treasured philosophy. Conservatism has been co-opted by authoritarians, a most dangerous type of political animal. How do people—particularly those who have never put their life on the line for their country—engage in, or condone, attacks on Senator John McCain’s life-defining experiences as a Vietnam POW or question Senator Max Cleland’s courage in building a new life after his loss of three limbs in Vietnam? What causes them to dispute Senator John Kerry’s valor during voluntary combat duty in Vietnam or to contest Representative Jack Murtha’s war record in Vietnam? Do they believe that by belittling the competence of White House counsel Harriet Miers, by forcing her to withdraw as a nominee for the Supreme Court, they are engaged in legitimate political debate? Why do they remain silent, or even defend, a president who has shamed the nation forever by endorsing an unprecedented and unnecessary use of torture?

They cannot be stopped because their behavior is simply a function of the way they are and how they think, their dispositions, and the way they deal with the world.

It is very hard to define conservatism.  Here are a few definitions.

  • Conservative scholar Russell Kirk said “the essence of social conservatism is preservation of the ancient moral traditions of humanity.” He also liked to quote Abraham Lincoln’s rhetorical question about conservatism: “Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried?
  • Michael Okeshott wrote “conservatism is not so much an ideology as it is a disposition to enjoy the fruits of the past and to distrust novelty.
  • Senator Goldwater defined conservatism as the belief that “the solutions to the problems of today can be found in the proven values of the past.

Types of conservatives:

  • Austriocons: Paleoconservatives (paleos) who are followers of the “Austrian” school of economics such as free-trade libertarians who honor Ludwig von Mises.
  • Buchanocons: Paleos who have rebelled against free trade and the unaccountable global bureaucracies that they believe it is producing. Their political leader is Patrick Buchanan.
  • Neocons: Intellectuals who drifted from the far left to the center to the right, carrying their flagship magazine, Commentary, with them. They are mostly Jewish, and mostly New York based. Neocons tend to be militant internationalists. They publish their own inside-the-Beltway weekly, The Weekly Standard.
  • Radiocons: talk-radio conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, Gordon Liddy, Mike Reagan, Blanquita Cullum, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, and other popularizers of the political and cultural right and their enormous middle America audiences.
  • Sociocons: Often lumped with the religious right, these social conservatives advance secular arguments for curbing abortion, divorce, illegitimacy, rights of homosexuals, and drugs. Its leading lights are the Family Research Council, the Institute for American Values, and columnist Cal Thomas.
  • Theocons: Conservatives who actually favor a more or less theocratic application of biblical law.
  • Republicons: Young people who learned their conservative theory back in college and since have given themselves over to activism, either as Republican campaign strategists or as policy advocates. Newt Gingrich is their hero, and Grover Norquist (of the Americans for Tax Reform) is their leader.
  • Catocons: Hard-core libertarians who recognize that even if your goal is to dismantle government, you have to play the Washington policy-wonk game to change things. Their leading think tank is the Cato Institute.

Given the very different beliefs of the various conservative factions, which have only grown more complex with time, how have conservatives succeeded in coalescing as a political force? The simple answer is through the power of negative thinking, and specifically, the ability to find common enemies. The adherents of early conservatism—economic conservatives, traditional conservatives, and libertarians—agreed that communism was the enemy, a fact that united them for decades—and hid their differences. Today’s conservatives—especially social conservatives, as opposed to intellectuals and the more thoughtful politicians—define themselves by what they oppose, which is anything and everything they perceive to be liberal. That category includes everyone from Democrats to anyone with whom they disagree, and can, therefore, automatically be labeled a liberal.

The followers of authoritarian leaders crave submission to a powerful authority as a means of alleviating their fears of ambiguity, uncertainty, and complexity.

Sidney Blumenthal, when he was a staff writer at the Washington Post, concluded that “conservatism requires liberalism for its meaning, for without the enemy of liberalism to serve as nemesis and model, conservative politics would lack its organizing principle.” Blumenthal’s observation, made two decades ago, is even more valid today. Leading conservative web sites, including well-funded think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the right-leaning libertarian Cato Institute, spend a lot of time and money criticizing or complaining with varying degrees of contempt about all matters perceived to be “liberal.” Important conservative opinion journals, like the National Review and Human Events, see the world as bipolar: conservative versus liberal.

Right-wing talk radio could not survive without its endless bloviating about the horrors of liberalism. Trashing liberals is nothing short of a cottage industry for conservative authors. Conservatives attack liberals, or those they label or perceive as liberal, for several reasons. It is, of course, a handy means to rally the troops, for the conservative base enjoys it when their leaders and prominent voices attack those who do not share their views. It is also a means to raise money; fund-raising letters and drives regularly recount the horrors of liberalism. Many conservatives, however, are simply entertained by reading conservative authors or hearing conservative talk-show hosts rant about liberals. The exaggerated hostility also satisfies a psychological need for antagonism toward the “out group,” reinforces the self-esteem of the conservative base, and increases solidarity within the ranks.

Conservatives also find cohesion in their efforts to pack the federal judiciary with judges who will work at recovering the original understanding of the Constitution—one that recognized the scope of federal power over matters truly national, such as national security.

Not surprisingly, the very conservatives who love to hurl invective against the ranks of their enemies prove to have the thinnest of skins when the same is done to them. Many of the examples are familiar: Ann Coulter, who can trash perceived liberals on national television but has been known to walk offstage when booed,

Rush Limbaugh, who also makes his living saying unkind things about those with whom he disagrees, thought it unfair, as did his followers, when his addiction to OxyContin was reported, along with the dubious means he serviced his habit, despite his own attacks on others who use drugs.

Conservative columnist George Will wrote in 2005 that the “president’s authorization of domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency [that] contravened a statute’s clear language” was a striking indication that conservatives had forgotten their roots. “For more than 500 years since the rise of nation-states and parliaments, a preoccupation of Western political thought has been the problem of defining and confining executive power.” He invoked history as a reminder to other conservatives willing to listen. “Modern American conservatism grew in reaction against the New Deal’s creation of the regulatory state and the enlargement of the executive branch power that such a state entails. The intellectual vigor of conservatism was quickened by reaction against the Great Society and

Here’s is Dean’s account of the history of conservatism: No factor did more to stimulate the growth of modern conservatism than the election of Franklin Roosevelt. He is the man conservatives most dislike, for he embodies the big-government ideology they most fear. Modern conservatism was cobbled together and contrived by a small group of intellectuals in the late 1940s and early 1950s, brought into elective politics in the 1950s, joined with Southern politicians in the 1960s, and began flirting with evangelical Christians in the 1970s. Conservatism’s many factions were consolidated under Ronald Reagan’s Republican Party in the 1980s. Less than satisfied with their lot under Reagan, however, evangelical Christians increased their religiously motivated political zealotry in the late 1980s, throughout the 1990s, and into the new century.

Republicans are trying to rewrite history.

For example, take their interpretation of the American Revolution. Revolution is the antithesis of conservatism, the French revolution a cataclysmic upheaval, whereas the American revolution was a

“limited war for independence” fought by colonialists to obtain the traditional rights of their forefathers. They stress that the “American Revolution was a moderate and prudent affair—hardly a revolution at all.

But that’s not what historians say! The war for independence was America’s longest war (lasting eight years) and its deadliest until the Civil War. To call it a “moderate” or “limited” war borders on the absurd. McCullough wrote in 1776 “The war was a longer, far more arduous and far more painful struggle than later generations would understand or sufficiently appreciate.”

Conservatives are also trying to reinterpret the U.S. Constitution. Madison, the father of the Constitution, clearly saw his work as the opposite of conservatism. Far from venerating the principles of the past, or feeling bound by custom, our nation’s founders relied on reason, which is anathema for many of today’s conservatives.

Why so many conservatives are hostile and mean-spirited, and why they embrace false history, are not found in any traditional conservative philosophy. I am not referring here to their practice of defaming perceived enemies, or to the corruption that has infected the K Street to Congress corridor. Rather, I have in mind more consequential activities, like taking America to war in Iraq on false pretenses, and the blatant law breaking by countless executive branch departments and agencies that, directed by the president or with his approval, torture our perceived enemies or spy on millions of Americans to look for terrorists. These activities have been acquiesced to by the Republican-controlled Congress, and by millions of conservatives who are tolerating, if not encouraging, this behavior.

Evangelical Christian conservatives speak of their belief in a “culture of life,” a concept drawn from the teaching of the Catholic Church that underlies the evangelicals’ opposition to abortion. But for the Catholic Church, the culture of life also means opposition to the death penalty, which evangelical Christian conservatives fully support and strongly encourage. They are untroubled by the inconsistency of their beliefs, and when this is pointed out they explain it away.

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited prayer in public schools, Christian conservatives have been up in arms, with the most vocal being Christians who believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God.

Scholarly studies of conservatives

Jost (2003) found that people become or remain political conservatives because they have a “heightened psychological need to manage uncertainty and threat.” The psychological factors associated with political include fear, intolerance of ambiguity, need for certainty or structure in life, overreaction to threats, and a disposition to dominate others.  These characteristics typically cannot be ascribed to liberals. This study used data from 44 years of studies investigating conservatism using 8 different techniques and 22,000 participants.

Right-wing talk-radio hosts, conservative columnists, and conservative bloggers dismissed Jost’s study, though few if any of them had actually read it. After being hammered by conservatives for several months, Jost responded with a Washington Post op-ed piece, noting that their critics were not familiar with the actual contents of their study and that they had not implied that conservatism was “abnormal, pathological or the result of mental illness.” Nor had they claimed that conservatives themselves were insane, sick, or strange.

Block (2005) confirmed these findings. It is an unprecedented survey of nursery school children, commenced in 1969, that revealed the personalities of three- and four-year-olds to be indicative of their future political orientation. Little girls who are indecisive, inhibited, shy, neat, compliant, distressed by life’s ambiguity, and fearful will likely become conservative women. Little boys who are unadventurous, uncomfortable with uncertainty, conformist, moralistic, and regularly telling others how to run their lives will become conservatives as adults.

Milgram (1969) believes that obedience is the psychological mechanism that links individual action to political purposes, the dispositional cement that binds men to systems of authority. Without it many organizations simply would not work; with it, they could also run amuck.

Hannah Arendt’s book Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963) on Nazi Eichmann described him as an uninspired bureaucrat who simply sat at his desk and did his job, a compliant cog who had set aside his conscience.  Evil is banal and committed by the average person, not madmen.

Feldman (2003) did extensive research, and overwhelming evidence showed “that authoritarianism is consistently associated with right-wing but not left-wing ideology.” There are few, if any left-wing authoritarians.  In the US, people who score highly in my authoritarianism test tend to favor right-wing political parties and have “conservative” economic philosophies and religious sentiments. To put it in a nutshell: Authoritarianism was conceptualized to involve submission to established authorities, who could be anyone. But it turns out that people who have “conservative” leanings tend to be more authoritarian than anyone else.

Bob Altemeyer has written many books about authoritarians, and has a test he administers to find them for further interviews. Authoritarians, especially social and Christian conservatives, would agree or strongly agree with the following statements on the test:

  • Our country desperately needs a mighty leader who will do what has to be done to destroy the radical new ways and sinfulness that are ruining us.
  • The only way our country can get through the crisis ahead is to get back to our traditional values, put some tough leaders in power, and silence the troublemakers who are spreading bad ideas.
  • “Old-fashioned ways” and “old-fashioned values” are the best guide for the way to live.
  • God’s laws about abortion, pornography, and marriage must be strictly followed before it is too late, and those who break them must be strongly punished.
  • Once our government leaders give us the “go-ahead,” it will be the duty of every patriotic citizen to help stomp out the rot that is poisoning our country from within.

Altemeyer characterizes right-wing authoritarians as “especially submissive to established authority”; as showing “general aggressiveness” toward others when such behavior “is perceived to be sanctioned” by established authorities; and as highly compliant with “social conventions” endorsed by society and established authorities.  These people accept almost without question the statements and actions of established authorities, and they comply with such instructions without further ado.

Some other characteristics of high-scoring right-wing authoritarians

  1. They are intolerant of criticism of their authorities, because they believe the authority is unassailably correct.
  2. Authoritarian aggression is “a predisposition to cause harm to” others when such behavior is believed to be sanctioned by an authority. This harm can be physical, psychological, financial, and social, or “some other negative state which people would usually avoid. Their aggression is fueled by fear and encouraged by remarkable self-righteousness, which frees aggressive impulses.
  3. They are inclined to control the behavior of others, particularly children and criminals through punishment.
  4. They accept and follow the traditional norms of society. In religious matters they tend to be fundamentalist. Because authorities have already determined what is right and wrong, they reject moral relativism.
  5. They embrace the ideal of the traditional family, with the woman serving as child rearer and subservient wife. They are “straight and narrow” in their dress and behavior, and believe themselves the country’s true patriots.
  6. They travel in tight circles of likeminded people.
  7. Their thinking is more likely based on what authorities have told them rather than on their own critical judgment, which results in their beliefs being filled with inconsistencies.
  8. They harbor numerous double standards and hypocrisies.
  9. They are hostile toward so many minorities they seem to be equal-opportunity bigots, yet they are generally unaware of their prejudices.
  10. They see the world as a dangerous place, with society teetering on the brink of self-destruction from evil and violence, and when their fear conflates with their self-righteousness, they appoint themselves guardians of public morality, or God’s Designated Hitters.
  11. They think of themselves as far more moral and upstanding than others—a self-deception aided by their religiosity (many are “born again”) and their ability to “evaporate guilt” (such as by going to confession).
  12. They have never been troubled by the execution of a prisoner, and there has never been a war in which the United States engaged that they did not support.
  13. If they work inside the Beltway, you can recognize them by the American flag pins on their suit lapels or dresses, and you can be relatively certain they are carrying a copy of the U.S. Constitution in their pocket or pocketbook.
  14. Authoritarian followers formed the rock core of the millions who marched to the polls in November 2004, often at the instruction of their church, and reelected George Bush and Donald Trump.

A person with an authoritarian leader personality has a worldview that is similar to but different from a right-wing authoritarian follower. Authoritarian leaders see the world as a competitive jungle in which the fittest survive; authoritarian followers see the world as dangerous and threatening. They’re nearly all men. Testing shows that they believe equality is “a sucker word in which only fools believe.” They  see themselves as realists, maintaining that “complete equality is probably impossible; that natural forces inevitably govern the worth of individuals; and that people should have to earn their place in society.

Their typical arguments against greater equality are a cover for much baser, selfish motivations. They are prepared to “proceed with relatively little moral restraint,” for they agree with statements like “There really is no such thing as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’; it all boils down to what you can get away with,” and “basically, people are objects to be quietly and coolly manipulated for your own benefit.

Other social scientists have similarly found that high-scoring social authoritarians are “potentially ruthless in their pursuit or maintenance of their desires” and they do not believe that their “actions should never cause harm to others.” And they believe “that the end does justify the means.” Today it is recognized that such authoritarians are attracted to “status-inequality-enforcing occupations,” like prosecuting attorney or a job in law enforcement, and that they are over-represented in positions of political power.

Empirical data bears out such qualities as “relatively power hungry, domineering, mean, Machiavellian and amoral, and holding ‘conservative’ economic and political outlooks.

Authoritarians with a social dominance orientation seize opportunities and enjoy having power over others.  They possess “extra-extra unfair” natures, and they can be ranked as the most racially prejudiced of all groups. It seems that two authoritarian streams converge in them to produce a river of hostility, particularly regarding rights for homosexuals and women. They tend to be Christian fundamentalists, but don’t attend church out of any sense of religious commitment. They may think of themselves as being religious and they go to church more than most people do, but they believe in lying, cheating, and manipulating much more than the rest of the congregation does.  They agree with statements like “The best reason for belonging to a church is to project a good image and have contact with some of the important people in your community.”

In a series of games on researcher had them play, they engaged in nuclear blackmail, made themselves wealthy by dubious means, provoked a worldwide crisis by destroying the ozone layer, allowed 1.9 billion people to die of starvation and disease, and sent the poor regions of the world down the tubes.

If they controlled school prayer, or anti-homosexual, or anti-immigration, or anti-feminist, or anti-abortion, or anti-gun-control movement—not to mention a military force, they could pose a serious threat. This is not only because of their ideology and nature, but because they lead people who are uninclined to think for themselves—submissive, gullible right-wing authoritarian followers, who are brimming with self-righteousness and zeal, and are gladly give dictatorship a chance.  Their traits are similar to those of Hitler and others most likely to mobilize and lead extremist right-wing movements in the United States.

They freely admit on tests that measure moral issues of right and wrong behavior that such matters are irrelevant to them, and that a really good skill to develop is the ability to look someone straight in the face and lie convincingly.

“Whether the issue is divorce, materialism, sexual promiscuity, racism, physical abuse in marriage, or neglect of a biblical world view,” wrote evangelical theologian Ronald J. Sider in The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, “the polling data point to widespread, blatant disobedience of clear biblical moral demands on the part of people who allegedly are evangelical, born-again Christians. The statistics are devastating.

They employ a number of psychological tricks and defenses that enable them to act fairly beastly, and yet think they are “the good people.” To begin with, they have relatively little self-understanding: They do not realize they are more prejudiced and hostile than most people. In fact, they do not realize any of the many undesirable things that research has discovered about them. They also have very compartmentalized minds, and “they can just pull off a Scarlett O’Hara (’I’m not going to think about it!’) whenever they want. If they do something wrong, they shed their guilt easily by turning to God for forgiveness, and feel completely forgiven afterwards.  Many who are ‘born-again’ believe that if you confess your sins and accept Jesus as your personal savior you will go to heaven—no matter what else you do afterwards.

So why are right-wingers often malicious, mean-spirited, and disrespectful of even the basic codes of civility?  Researchers believe that it is for the pure pleasure of it.

It is difficult for most right-wingers to talk about any subject about which they felt strongly without attacking others.

The factor that makes right-wingers faster than most people to attack, and keeps them living in an “attack mode,” is their remarkable self-righteousness. They are so sure they are not only right, but holy and pure, that they are bursting with indignation and a desire to smite down their enemies.

Here are traits typically found in social dominators and right-wing authoritarian leaders based on extensive testing. To fall within this definition, you must have these traits: Dominating, oppose equality, wants personal power, amoral. Other traits that most, but not all leaders have are: typically men, intimidating and bullying, faintly hedonistic, vengeful, pitiless, exploitive, manipulative, dishonest, cheats to win, highly prejudiced, mean-spirited, militant, nationalistic, tells others what they want to hear, takes advantage of “suckers”, specializes in creating false images to sell self.

Right-wing authoritarian followers have these traits: submissive to authority, aggressive on behalf of authority, and conventional.  They are likely to have the following traits: highly religious, moderate to little education, trust untrustworthy authorities, prejudiced (particularly against homosexuals, women, and followers of religions other than their own), mean-spirited, narrow-minded, intolerant, bullying, zealous, dogmatic, uncritical of chosen authority, hypocritical, inconsistent and contradictory, prone to panic easily, highly self-righteous, moralistic, strict disciplinarian, severely punitive, demands loyalty and returns it, little self-awareness, usually politically and economically conservative/Republican.

Social conservatives, whose core members are Christian conservatives, comprise the largest and most cohesive faction of conservatism and typical right-wing authoritarian followers.

Neoconservatives

Gold, a former Georgetown University professor, described neoconservative foreign policy wonks as “a new aristocracy of aggression that combines 19th-century Prussian pigheadedness with a most un-Prussian inability to read a man or a ledger book, and a near total lack of military—let alone combat—experience. What distinguishes neoconservatives from other conservatives is their desire for militarily imposed nation building. They believe the United States should “use its unrivaled power—forcefully if necessary—to promote its values around the world.

Libby worked with Cheney when he was Secretary of Defense under Bush I, and while at the Defense Department he assisted his former Yale professor Paul Wolfowitz in drafting a defense policy guidance paper calling for unilaterally preemptive wars and the invasion of Iraq—a decade before the 9/11 terror attacks.

Neoconservatism’s authoritarian strategies and its militarism have taken us into a preemptive war in Iraq, have encouraged us to wage war in Iran and North Korea as well, and have been the foundation for a foreign policy that has made America loathed all over the world. Thus, when the Bush/Cheney presidency adopted neoconservative policies and made them their own, they also became the policies subscribed to by their unquestioning authoritarian followers, especially Christian conservatives.

A few descriptions of conservative history that led to what is happening today

Former FBI directors Hoover’s legacy is and insidious, for it was he with his fanaticism who planted the seeds from which contemporary social and cultural conservatism has grown. Hoover’s focus on the American family and Christianity attracted an earlier generation of adamant anticommunists, who have become today’s zealous social conservatives.

In the fall of 1969, the war was escalated, and Agnew became the first high-profile conservative to go after the mainstream news media. For a half hour the vice president tore into the unaccountable power of the unelected news people, who decided what 40 to 50 million Americans would learn of the day’s events. Agnew’s avowed aim was “dividing the American people,” which he called “positive polarization.

With miraculous managerial skills, Schlafly assembled and trained women in key remaining states to block ratification of the ERA. In a standard authoritarian ploy, she relied on fear, claiming that the ERA would deny women the right to support by their husbands, that it would eliminate privacy rights and result in unisex public toilets, that it would mean that women would be drafted into the military and sent into combat, and that it would fully protect abortion rights and homosexual marriages. None of this was true,

Weyrich is a master of the art of direct-mail fund-raising and is best known as the “funding father” of modern conservatism. He believed conservatives needed a Washington-based think tank comparable to the once liberal (now moderate) Brookings Institution, so along with a colleague from Capitol Hill, Edwin Feuler, Weyrich established the Heritage Foundation in 1973. Weyrich’s also helped organize the religious right. In a profile that recognized his authoritarian influence, the Washington Times noted that Weyrich “helped bring [conservatism] structure, discipline and, gradually, dominance” over the Republican Party. His most significant influence on conservatism was the role he played in bringing fundamentalist Protestants and conservative Catholics into the political arena.

These organizations have become the marketing arms of contemporary conservatism, providing various factions an imprimatur of scholarship, and none more than social conservatives. Much of their “thinking” supports their particular “authority,” and in this sense they are efficient authoritarian tools. They devote significant resources, and intellectual firepower, to demolishing policies and programs on the liberal agenda.

By 1978 increasingly politically active evangelicals had grown disenchanted with Jimmy Carter, whom they had helped put in office. They did not like his progressive Democrat policies, in general, but, in particular, they were offended by a proposal by the Internal Revenue Service to deny tax-deductible status to all private schools, including private Christian ones.

“God, we have got to get this man out of the White House and get someone in here who will be aggressive about bringing back traditional moral values.” That is exactly what conservative Christians did. They worked like bees—literally millions of them devoted themselves to this task—and by 1981 they had significantly helped to put Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office.

Today evangelicals comprise the core of the religious right, and white Protestant evangelicals, depending on the poll, range from a quarter to a third of the electorate. A Zogby poll reported that conservative Christians account for an astounding 58% of all Republicans. In 2000, 68% of white Protestant evangelicals voted for Bush and Cheney. In 2004 that statistic rose to 78%. But it is not at the presidential level that conservative Christians have their greatest impact. “The religious right’s power lies in the lower parts of the Republican machinery, in precinct meetings and the like,” the Economist reported.

The root of the problem of authoritarian leaders and erosion of democracy are Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists, who are somewhere between a quarter and a third of the electorate and 58% of all Republicans.  They are the foot soldiers of authoritarian leaders and turn out in great numbers at the polls. Their influence is felt at every level of government.

Without the support of Christian conservatives Republicans cannot even get nominated to local, state, and national offices, because they have become the filter through which all Republicans must pass today.  Christian conservatives have a virtual lock on state and local Republican politics, and have totally outmaneuvered their opposition. “In American politics,” wrote Joel Rogers of the University of Wisconsin, “who controls the states controls the nation. The right understands this, and for a generation has waged an unrelenting war to take over state government in America. It has succeeded, in large part because it hasn’t faced any serious progressive counter effort.

Roe v. Wade was the tipping point. After Roe, self-appointed leaders within the evangelical movement became militant activists. Baptist ministers Jerry Falwell and Timothy LaHaye, and the lay psychologist James Dobson, entered politics with a vengeance during the 1970s and 1980s. They created the new religious right and have made conservative evangelical support so important for the Republican Party since the campaigns of Ronald Reagan. Pat Robertson’s 1988 presidential campaign, albeit unsuccessful in even coming close to getting the Republican nomination, further politicized a large segment of the evangelical community,

Religious historian Mark Noll, an evangelical who has written many books on evangelicals, candidly acknowledged their authoritarian nature. Speaking as an evangelical and a historian of evangelicalism, he noted it’s incompatible with the give-and-take of politics because of the rigidity of its beliefs.

Evangelical Christianity is an intolerant religion, unable to say “your religion is fine with you; my religion is fine with me.” Rather “evangelical religion is offensive. It claims forthrightly that there is one, and only one, way to God,” and that is their way. When fund-raising, “they identify an enemy: homosexuals, abortionists, Democrats, or ‘liberals’ in general,” he explained. Then, these enemies are accused, falsely, of being out to “get us” or “impose their morality on the rest of us or destroy the country.” An action plan is offered—“We will oppose the enemies and ensure that they do not take over America”—and a plea for funds follows. The focus is inevitably negative, and often the claims are outrageous.

Cal Thomas, who once served as vice president of communications for Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, noted that evangelist ministers like Pat Robertson “must constantly have enemies, conspiracies, and opponents as well as play the role of righteous victim in order to get people to send in money.” He is troubled by the irony that the Bible calls on Christians to love their enemies, “whether they be homosexuals, abortionists, Democrats, or liberals.”

Former president Jimmy Carter described religious fundamentalists based on his personal observations and experiences. Invariably, “fundamentalist movements are led by authoritarian males who consider themselves to be superior to others and, within religious groups, have an overwhelming commitment to subjugate women and to dominate their fellow believers.” He found that these people believe the past is better than the present; they draw clear distinctions between themselves, as true believers, and others; they are “militant in fighting against any challenges to their beliefs”; and they are “often angry” and sometimes resort “to verbal or even physical abuse against those who interfere with the implementation of their agenda. Carter summarized the characteristics of fundamentalism as “rigidity, domination, and exclusion.

Senator John Danforth of Missouri (who served from 1976 until 1995) wrote an op-ed for the New York Times on how conservative Christians operate and the impact they are having at the national level:

  • Conservative Christians have presented themselves as representing the one authentic Christian perspective on politics . . . when equally devout mainstream Christians come to very different conclusions.
  • Many conservative Christians approach politics with a certainty that they know God’s truth, and that they can advance the kingdom of God through governmental action. So they have developed a political agenda that they believe advances God’s kingdom.
  • In the [past] decade . . . American politics has been characterized by two phenomena: the increased activism of the Christian right, especially in the Republican Party, and the collapse of bipartisan collegiality. [It is not] a stretch to suggest a relationship between the two.
  • Mainstream Christians reject the notion that religion should present a series of wedge issues useful at election time for energizing a political base. Rather they believe it is God’s work to practice humility, to wear tolerance on our sleeves, to reach out to those with whom we disagree, and to overcome the meanness we see in today’s politics.

Religious Authoritarianism

Studies have shown that “acceptance of traditional religious beliefs appear to have more to do with having a personality rich in authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, and conventionalism, than with the beliefs per se.

Bob Altemeyer offers a convincing explanation for why right-wing authoritarians are characteristically religious. Authoritarian parents transfer their beliefs to children through religious instruction. Christian conservatives tend to emanate from strict religious backgrounds, and often prevent their children from being exposed to broader and different views by sending them to schools with like-thinking children, or by home schooling them. This, in turn, results in an authoritarian outlook that remains strong during adolescence—the period when authoritarian personalities are formed and then taken into adult life.

Christian conservative religious leader Pat Robertson

Christian conservatives’ primary tool in reinforcing authoritarianism is preaching fear, and no one does so more consistently than the head of the Christian Coalition, Pat Robertson. He once issued a fund-raising letter declaring that the “feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians. He has an unequivocal view of a woman’s true role: “The woman should be in submission to the man,” he declared flatly.

Robertson’s desire for personal power has never waned, and with the Christian Coalition claiming millions of members and almost 2,000 state and local branches, he now has a chokehold on the Republican Party. Although Robertson has long supported Israel, he has a history of making anti-Semitic remarks. “In Robertson’s evangelical end-time scenario, Jews are simply pawns who help usher in the second coming of Christ,” Robert Boston wrote. Robertson “believes that a mass conversion of Jews to Christianity will occur before Jesus returns to usher in the end of the world.

Robertson’s anti-Semitism surfaced in his New World Order book and he has never disavowed the book’s contents. It is a bizarre tale of conspiracy, in which Robertson claims there is a secret plot afoot by the Freemasons, the Illuminati, the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Affairs, the Federal Reserve, and unidentified European bankers to create a world government under the United Nations. This new government will be taken over by the Antichrist, resulting in Armageddon, with half the world’s population being eliminated. Joe Queenan in the Wall Street Journal wrote: The New World Order is a predictable compendium of the lunatic fringe’s greatest hits. . . . Mr. Robertson weaves a wild tale of international and extraterrestrial conspiracies, involving everyone from deposed Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza to Alger Hiss to Woodrow Wilson—an unwitting tool of Satan, whose role in the establishment of the Federal Reserve eventually resulted in the nation’s abdication to the most Machiavellian creature of all time: Paul Volcker. . . . It is a bizarre tale of conspiracy, in which Robertson claims there is a secret plot afoot by the Freemasons, the Illuminati, the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Affairs, the Federal Reserve, and unidentified European bankers to create a world government under the United Nations. This new government will be taken over by the Antichrist, resulting in Armageddon, with half the world’s population eliminated. The book made the New York Times best-seller list.

Bitter that he’ll never be president or control a president he exert he still influences elections by having his followers block candidates for Republican nominations at the local, state, and national level, and  no issue is more important than the filtering process for judicial nominations, especially at the federal level.

Packing federal courts with judges who will do God’s work

Their goal is to have judges who will stop the right of women to have abortions, stop the teaching of safe sex and evolution in schools, encourage home schooling, ban contraceptives, halt stem cell research with human embryos, ban gay marriage, eliminate the separation of church and state, control the sexual content of cable and network TV, radio, and the internet.

Because they don’t want to lose the support of evangelicals, or see them withdraw from politics as their parents or grandparents did in the 1920s, Republicans must take this agenda seriously. An unspoken quit pro quo has developed for their support – appoint justices whose views are compatible with Christian conservative goals.  So now, seven of the nine justices on the Supreme court were appointed by Republicans, though John Paul Stevens, Anthony Kennedy, and David Souter are considered liberals.  But there are no  liberals – Ruth Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer are moderates.  Though courts haven’t been this conservative since before the New Deal, lower federal courts are conservative than they’ve ever been. By the end of 2005, 60% of federal appeals courts were appointed by Republicans, and nine of the 13 circuit courts have majorities named by Republican presidents.  All of the federal appellate courts except the Second and Ninth are more conservative than the Supreme court.

Hillary Clinton observed that nobody with a contrary point of view has had a chance to present legislation or make an argument. Authoritarians led by Newt Gingrich and Tom Delay have taken over the House.

Dean describes how Gingrich treated his wife who had helped him run through graduate school. After campaigning hard for her husband he asked for a divorce while she was in the hospital recovering from a second cancer option. He left his family nearly destitute.  [talk about not having a conscience!]  His colleagues have described him as dominating, opposed to equality, desirous of personal power and amoral. He can be a bully, hedonistic, exploitive, manipulative, mean-spirited, and uses religion for political purposes.  Lee Howell, a former press secretary, said “Gingrich has a tendency to chew people up and spit them out, and when he doesn’t need you anymore he throws you away. I don’t think he has many principles except for what’s best for him.  Mary Kahn (a reporter who covered Gingrich): “He uses people and then discards them as useless. He’s like a leech. He really is a man with no conscience. He just doesn’t seem to care who he hurts of why.”  L. H. Carter, once a friend and adviser: “The important thing you have to understand about Newt Gingrich is that he is amoral. There’s only what will work best for Newt Gingrich.”  Although he’s left office, his influence lives on.

Tom DeLay is another asshole and born-again Christian in 1984. He blamed high school shootings on the availability of birth control for teens and the teaching of evolution.

Christians cross the line of the separation of church and state by recommending who to vote for to their parishioners. For instance, Pat Robertson had 33 million voting guides of who to vote for in their districts. [ This is illegal. I think that one way to lessen their influence would be to take their tax-exempt status. ]

There are many reasons why members of congress spend less time than they once did with fellow members of both parties. Now the house held meetings occur far less, and electronic voting has led to spending less time together.  This suits authoritarian Republicans, because knowing one’s colleagues makes it harder to attack them, and conservative authoritarians are constantly on the attack. They are not backslappers but rather backstabbers; they do not serve the public interest, only their own.

The goal of Republicans is to build a permanent majority in America and a one-party rule. But the ultimate targets are not Democrats, but democracy itself.   Here are some of the methods being used now:

  • Extreme centralization. The agenda in the house is controlled by the Speaker and Committee on Rules. Tom DeLay and House Speaker Dennis Hastert practically write the laws themselves. They make drastic revisions to bills approved by the committee, usually late at night, and dub them emergency measures allowing them to be considered in as little 30 minutes, not the 48 hours House rules mandate. Very often members have no idea what they’re voting for.
  • No Amendments. When the GOP took control of the House they promised they’d do better than the Democrats, and that at least 70% of bills would prohibit amendments. Now it is 76%.
  • One party conferences. Democrats have been cut out of conferences. At most members have one day to study bills over 1,000 pages, once unacceptable to both parties.
  • No legislative hearings. Many laws are literally written by the special interests the laws seek to “regulate”.
  • Appropriations Bill Abuses. These have to pass so the government doesn’t run out of money and shut down. Republicans take advantage of this and add an endless number of spending for their pet pork-barrel projects and spending has soared. In 1995 where were only 1,439 earmarked items. At the end of 2005 there were 13,998 costing $27.3 billion.

Today House seats are secure thanks to gerrymandering, but Democrats remain silent because they don’t want to be seen as whiners or raise process issues. In 2004 only 29 of 435 House races were truly competitive. The Economist said that North Korea might be proud of this incumbent re-election rate of 99%.

Republican leaders understand that some moderates can’t vote for every hard-right measure and survive in office. So GOP leadership rotates among the moderates, not forcing all of them to comply with every vote, but using them one at a time when one vote is needed for victory. This is blatantly imperious, completely undemocratic, and conspicuously authoritarian.  Barney Frank has said the House is no longer a deliberative body.

Corruption

When Republicans took control of congress in 1995, their first move was to seize control of the lobbying sector. They made sure House Republicans were getting their share of campaign dollars from K Street, and told lobbying firms and trade associations that if they wanted access to GOP leaders, they should hire Republicans to lobby.  This was all about getting the big money needed to maintain the Republican majority. It turned K street into loyal soldiers. The deal was they provide the funds to get Republicans re-elected and they’d get legislative favors.

Delay regularly engaged in pay-to-play lawmaking and flagrant abuses of power, such as taking names and making lists of who was being hired to lobby and how much money was being contributed to Republicans.

Republicans, have for all practical purposes, imposed one-party rule. Thomas Mann at the Brokkings Institution said it was the most hard-nosed effort he’d ever seen to use their current majority to enlarge and maintain that majority. Paul Krugman at the New York Times wrote that the Republicans have done this by “patronage, cronyism and corruption.”

Among the most troubling of the authoritarian and radical tactics are the politics of fear, a favorite gambit of Latin American dictators. Think of the modern presidents who have governed our nation: Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton.  In all the numerous crises they confronted—the Great Depression, WWII, Korean war, cold war, Cuban missile crisis, war in Vietnam, Iran’s taking of American hostages, the danger to American students in Grenada, Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, the 1993 terrorist bombings of the World Trade Center, and Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma. None of them resorted to fear or made the use of fear a means of governing or pursuing political goals.  On the contrary, all of them sought to avoid preying on the fears of Americans (note that Nixon isn’t on the list because he used fear in both 1968 and 1972 campaigns, and continued to do so in office).  Bush and Cheney on the other hand, have churned out fear, and the media hasn’t challenged them.  They know that the media will treat their fearmongering as news, because fear sells news; it keeps people reading, watching, and waiting for updates.

Government terrorizes us so much we’re willing to give up the ideals of democracy in exchange for reducing the fear.  Bush and Cheney have weakened the fabric of democracy, discredited the American government as never before in the eyes of the world, and caused people to wonder if terrorists have a legitimate.  Most Republicans are content to allow the Bush White House to engage in fearmongering to get re-elected.

Are we on the way to fascism? Professor Robert O. Paxton observed that “fascism in the future, resulting from an emergency response to an imagined crisis, need not resemble classical fascism perfectly in its outward signs and symbols…An authentically popular American fascism would be pious, anti-black, and anti-Islamic.

A large proportion of the public is slow to react to problems. For example, after the Watergate burglars from the Nixon reelection committee were arrested inside the offices of the Democratic National Committee on June 17, 1972, polls conducted just after the 1972 elections showed that 62% of voters dismissed the Watergate break-in and investigation as “mostly politics.” Despite the growing and hard evidence of the president’s deep involvement, public opinion was slow to change or turn against Nixon. Americans want to believe in their president and their own congress(wo)men.

In fact, it wasn’t public opinion that forced Nixon from office. Nixon resigned because his attorney had forced the disclosure of evidence so damaging that it seemed certain he would be convicted of high crimes by the Senate.  The reason Nixon did not go to trial was not his loss of support on Capitol Hill, which he might have rebuilt, but because he lost the support of his defenders, mainly on the White House Staff.  And above all, Nixon decided to honor the rule of law and resign.

It’s not clear to me that Bush and Cheney would do the same. Instead, they’d spin the facts as they always have and continue with their agenda. It appears they believe the lesson of Watergate was not to stay within the law, but not to get caught. And if you do get caught, claim that the president can do whatever he thinks necessary in the name of national security.  To protect themselves, they have structured their White House as La Cosa Nostra might have done, and surrounded themselves with men who owe their careers to their bosses. All of the key staff people close to Bush and Cheney have very long relationships with them.  They are protected by staff who will take a bullet for them.  They’re protected as well by loyal supporters (ranks of right-wing authoritarian followers).

What has driven this book is the realization that our government has become largely authoritarian. It is run by an array of authoritarian personalities, leaders who display all those traits I have listed—dominating, opposed to equality, desirous of personal power, amoral, intimidating, and bullying; some are hedonistic, most are vengeful, pitiless, exploitive, manipulative, dishonest, cheaters, prejudiced, mean-spirited, militant, nationalistic, and two-faced.

Because of our system of government, these authoritarians are still confronted with obstacles. But they seek to remove them when they can. They are able to do so because the growth of right-wing conservatism has generated countless millions of authoritarian followers, people who will not question such actions.  Probably 20 to 25% of the adult American population is so right-wing authoritarian, so scared, so self-righteous, so ill-informed, and so dogmatic that nothing you can say or do will change their minds.

The problem is that these authoritarian followers are much more active than the rest of the country. They have the mentality of ‘old-time religion’ on a crusade, and they generously give money, time, and effort to the cause. They proselytize; they lick stamps; they put pressure on loved ones; and they revel in being loyal to a cohesive group of like thinkers. And they are so submissive to their leaders that they will believe and do virtually anything they are told.  They are not going to let up and they are not going to go away.

Research shows there is a solid majority of Americans who are not right-wing authoritarians, countless millions of liberals, moderates, and conservatives with consciences, people who shudder at the prospect of giving away our hard-earned democratic principles, and who cherish our liberties. These are individuals who question their leaders and policies, and that is as it should be. Democracy is not a spectator sport that simply be observed. To the contrary, it is difficult and demanding, and its very survival depends on active participation. Take it for granted, and the authoritarians, who have already taken control, will take American democracy where to freedom-loving person would want it to go.

But time has run out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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