American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. In using the expression “paranoid style” I am not speaking in a clinical sense, but borrowing a clinical term for other purposes. I have neither the competence nor the desire to classify any figures of the past or present as certifiable lunatics. In fact, the idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant. […]
Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated - if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand for total triumph leads to the formulation of hopelessly unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s sense of frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.
That’s from a 1964 essay that could be written today about Trumpism and its Evangelical base.
“Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish” strongly evokes the spiritual warfare and apocalyptic eschatology of dominionism and evangelicalism.
Charismatic beliefs and practices and Calvinist theology seem to be mixing more and more these days, and it’s important to note that most Christians who could be described as evangelicals believe in spiritual warfare. They believe there are literal demons exerting influence over particular places and particular people, and that prayer and exorcism are important Christian practices, because, whether we want to be or not, all of us are caught up in this supposed spiritual battle that is ostensibly discernible for those who, thanks to the Holy Spirit, “have eyes to see.”
This is related to what I have elsewhere described as a politics of Providentialism, which entails reading spiritual realities into real-world events and which certainly contributes to real-world violence. While this is certainly the case in North America, it is also important to note the extent to which Pentecostalism and other radical charismatic Christians, and with them charismatic forms of dominionist politics, have been sweeping the global South in the wake of decades of right-wing missionary efforts.
Even now, in the Trump era, we often hear “spiritual warfare” rhetoric used by people who support the president such as Paula White-Cain, in her reference to “satanic pregnancies” or her “warfare” prayers at Trump rallies and other events.
People can believe what they want, but such a worldview becomes a problem when it espouses and promotes ideas that are a threat to public health and safety. We’ve seen how some Neocharismatic-Pentecostal preachers challenged confinement regulations due to COVID-19, putting their own church members and the general public at risk. When people attribute illnesses to demons, seeking to heal people through “deliverance” and “spiritual warfare” techniques, the general public and media have serious reasons to be concerned.
We’re also noticing how such a worldview now bleeds into the political sphere, when some demonize their political adversaries and define the next U.S. election in terms of “spiritual warfare.” As we approach the 2020 U.S. elections, expect more polarization and references to the “demonic” on the part of “spiritual warfare” warriors. Another good reason for all who embrace pluralism to be alarmed.
In 1964, as now, the politics of paranoia and providentialism are a popular appeal that ruin things for the rest of us.
… “existential fear” in the form of paranoia has always characterized the right-wing evangelical ethos, regardless of the level of actual external threat.
Then, as now, reactionary Christians allowed themselves to be driven by fear of change, fear of modernization, fear of any knowledge that challenged their understanding of their faith.
Unfortunately, until they are defeated politically, we are stuck with the devastating social consequences of their political externalization and projection.
The Politics of Paranoia
The Politics of Providentialism
The Politics of Resentment
I grew up amidst them, quietly rejected them as a kid, and loudly reject them now. A dishearteningly huge chunk of the USA is drunk off this toxic cocktail.
Under Trump, the Republican identity is defined not by a set of policy beliefs but by a paranoid mind-set.
What to do? You can’t argue people out of paranoia.