I began this analysis in 2013 when attempting to understand why someone like Senator Ted Cruz and like-minded Republicans would allow the United States to default on its debt obligation and thereby precipitate a financial crisis that would hurt the country they purported to love. Why would they do that? Their hatred of President Obama and dislike of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was not a sufficient answer. It had to be something deeper.
At the time, I could not conceive of a political group that would allow the United States to default on its financial obligations, with the shutdown of the federal government serving merely as prologue to the main event. This was naive on my part and reflected only a superficial analysis of the political dynamics. I underestimated the power of cultural (and eventual, religious) identity.
It seemed as if the ultra-conservative part of the Republican Party wanted to secede from the Union but had no where to go. This was my view before I looked deeper into the issues and the surrounding psychology, but was more accurate than I realized.
But I made an analytical mistake -- viewing the phenomenon from the outside, attempting to understand using rational norms, attempting to force positions taken by ultra-conservative Republicans into a logical framework. This ultimately failed and led to my frustration: "Who can I talk to? Is there a person, an office, or a website? Is there a manual?" I now have that manual, or at least part of it.
Leading to what I hoped would be a better understanding, I studied the relevant laws, revisited the United States Constitution, and pondered what moral precepts might apply -- wasted effort. All these have only tangential relevance.
I then developed my "Gone With the Wind" theory:
If you see slipping away at an accelerating pace all that you hold most cherished, the fundamental principles that form the foundation of your beliefs, your first thoughts are not of logic. Not of reason. You instinctively strike out against the threat. You vow to do what is necessary to protect the tenets of your philosophy, your culture, your way of life.
If the philosophical fundamentals of a person's life are threatened, extreme defensive actions do not seem unreasonable. Logic and reason become luxuries easily abandoned when cultural survival is at stake. This is what I failed to grasp. I failed to comprehend that those threatened do not perceive that they have jettisoned logic and reason. In a survival mode these tools are not necessary.
And, a way of life is indeed under attack. A culture is being destroyed. The majority is becoming the minority. Those of the political right are becoming marginalized, and they are afraid. Fear has triggered a survival mechanism that from the outside appears irrational. It did so to me.
Rather than lose their way of life, the ultra-conservative Republicans are willing to destroy the democratic umbrella under which they live. To them, their cultural principles are more important. While some may find this difficult to accept, I believe it is central to an understanding of the current political dynamics. It is eerily similar to the psychology that precipitated secession of the southern states before the Civil War.
The ultra-conservative Republicans will not prevail, as the Confederate States did not prevail. However, do not be surprised if they hold on to the bitter end and sacrifice everything to a "dream remembered."
While this analysis helped me to an extent understand what appeared to be irrational behavior, it eventually proved inadequate. There must be another step. What are the underlying cultural principles that make the ultra-conservatives in our midst willing to destroy the United States?
When I merged "Gone With the Wind" (seeing it all slip away) and "Inherit the Wind" (religion), the landscape became easier to navigate.
"Inherit the Wind"
I had to adjust my research and included religion as a possible explanation for seemingly irrational behavior. This worked. I cannot explain fully what is happening other than with respect to Christian religious concepts. In particular, the Apocalypse.
I know this may sound a bit extreme. However, I believe there is a reason behind human actions. The Apocalypse as set forth in the Christian Bible has emerged as the best underpinning for positions that otherwise have no rational explanation.
To believe the world is rapidly moving to its end affects how you vote, how you structure your education, how you understand the economy, how you treat global events, and how you view organizations like the US Federal Government and the United Nations.
Apocalyptic theology has led radical evangelicals to the conclusion that all nations will concede their power in the "end times" to a totalitarian political leader who will be the Antichrist. If you believe you are living in the last days and you believe you are moving towards that event, you will be very suspicious and skeptical of anything that seems to undermine individual rights and individual liberties, and anything that gives more power to the state.
Thus, instead of funding Obamacare (a centralization of heathcare), you are willing to allow the United States to default on its financial obligations. This is small potatoes when you believe the end is near. You are willing to attempt at least fifty-six times to overturn Obamacare.
Far more than many other Christians, the far-right evangelicals believe they have a responsibility to act as vehemently, as radically, as urgently as possible.The conviction that Jesus is coming back very very soon creates a sense of urgency, or anxiety or excitement that means there is no time to spare, because the clock is ticking and they are almost out of time.
Thus, the Apocalypse helps explain the otherwise seemingly irrational behavior of the Christian far-right evangelicals.
Sources: Christian Bible (King James Version); Sutton, Matthew Avery. "American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism." Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 2014. Print.