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The patriot cults

April 5, 2021

It is an old kind of joke, that the soi disant patriot loves America. He just hates its east coast, its left coast, its large cities, its elites, its big businesses, its universities, and its media. The cartoon telling of that joke shown below is from Mad Magazine in 1969. Someone at the time might have hoped that kind of patriotism was part of a cultural moment, soon to die. Yet a half century on, it is more problem now than then. Perhaps the notion of patriot only makes sense in some kind of opposition:

Given all of these confused loyalties, perhaps the real meaning of “patriot,” what really fuels the sense of attachment it carries, is not the various positive meanings it is occasionally given, but its opposite: not “love of country,” in other words, but hatred of the “traitor.”

David Frum confronts a similar tension in how conservative politicians toss aside long proclaimed conservative principles, to appease the patriots:

DeSantis surely does not agree with those Republicans who dismiss COVID-19 as a hoax, the COVID-19 vaccines as a menace, and vaccine certificates as the mark of the anti-Christ. He has repeatedly said that he will take the vaccine when it’s his turn. But he must reckon with a party in which anti-vaccination has joined pro-gun as an indispensable cultural marker — and as a potential veto bloc for anyone aspiring to a future Republican presidential nomination. To appease those cultural blocs, Republican politicians must be willing to sacrifice everything, including what used to be the party’s foundational principles. To protect the gun, or to avoid contradicting the delusions of anti-vaccine paranoiacs, property rights must give way, freedom to operate a business must yield. The QAnon-curious Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene expressed the new mentality when she took to Facebook to denounce vaccine passports as “corporate communism.” It sounded crazy. But if you understand that she interprets communism to mean “any interference in the right of people like me to do whatever we want, regardless of the rights of others” — then, yeah, the property rights of corporations will indeed look to her like a force of communism.

What Frum describes is the result of cultish thinking, once on the fringe, now become the main stream of a political party. Trump showed how to ride that. DeSantis is trying to copy the pattern.

MadMagazine_1969And the patriots? As with all cults, they are targets for grift. Nothing but grist to their leaders. Groups like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys and Three Percenters have some of the characteristics of prison gangs, and may evolve into that as some of their membership find their natural residence. I haven’t read that Texas real estate agent Jenna Ryan belongs to any well-known group. But she did follow Infowars and Gateway Pundit, and seemingly had her cell, some of whose other members also have been arrested. She now regrets buying into Trump’s lies. Well, of course. Many who take such actions are late to the realization that it’s better to reject a cult leader’s bullshit before committing crimes for him. The amazing thing about such movements how far their adherents will go to maintain their loyalty. Even those who exit such groups relatively unscathed will find in their future that such experience wears badly.

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