THE BLOG

5 Reasons the Republican Party Might Be a Cult

02/17/2015 10:56 am ET | Updated Apr 18, 2015

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Are Republicans and many conservatives in a cult? The thought arose from a letter to the editor of the Scranton Times-Tribune by Mr. William Lewis, an 89-year-old World War II veteran:

The situation in our country right now makes me wonder what my two close friends would think of what has become of this great country -- if they are still alive.

People are prevented from voting through restrictive laws. Money has purchased the soul of the country. Veterans with disabilities beg for money on television. Members of Congress have been bought and paid for and the Supreme Court is under suspicion.

His friends were from Tennessee and California. I have talked to World War II veterans all over the globe; their most common personal trait is pragmatism. They, more than many, would rail against communism and our government, but when you really talked to them up close over a beer or after a meeting, they wanted things to work. They had little time for grandiose statements or quick judgments. This generation knew they were a nation and had to work together. The World War II G.I. Bill was a classic example.

The largest social welfare program in U.S. history, the G.I. Bill actually paid people to go to school. It was massively expensive and opposed by conservatives as stupid and socialist. This investment in our people paid for itself many, many times over through increased tax receipts alone. Do not say the troops "earned it"; the legislation's main purpose was to avoid a post-World War Ii recession and keep all the returning soldiers busy and employed. It worked.

Congress identified a problem and addressed it. On June 10, 1944, a joint congressional committee vote, expected to be settled by only a single vote, passed easily out of committee when the American Legion flew in a possible deciding congressional conferee vote. The once bitterly fought bill passed unanimously and solved the pending challenge of large numbers of unemployed veterans and changed America's future. Today, this pragmatism is missing. Politicians cling to beliefs proven to hurt both their constituents and the nation. Are you in a cult when any hint of pragmatism or reality is excluded? The Republican Party might be a cult:

1. Fear

In many cults, a doomsday looms if extraordinary precautions are not taken and ritual beliefs not followed. No matter if it is an Iranian nuke or your neighbor next door, Republican believers are told to beware and be afraid. Heavy taxation and preparations are required to cope in this increasingly dangerous world. Spend ever more on the military and stockpile and carry ever more deadly personal weaponry. Be afraid.

2. Conformity

A solid core of beliefs, unfettered by facts, that seems akin to "The flying saucer people are coming to take us to heaven" supports the cult and serves to isolate members from society, safe from confusion. The last Republican presidential primary saw every leading candidate deny human evolution. This presidential primary looks to be little different, since the governor of Wisconsin recently told foreign press that he would take a pass on the reality of evolution.

These core beliefs support seemingly contrary demands and needs -- for example, the hysteria over Ebola, where some parties wanted to imprison those heroes treating the sick in Africa, followed shortly afterwards by providing support for the right to selfishly not vaccinate themselves or their children, endangering pregnant women, infants and others.

3. Modified existing religion

In this case, taking mainstream Christian beliefs and twisting and turning them from beliefs in a better life and care for the less fortunate to a judgmental, fear-filled medieval version seeking to punish sinners in this life and creating a special, better status for true believers.

One example is their vicious opposition toward anything that could possibly be called abortion. However, they exhibit the same opposition toward policies proven to reduce abortion, as shown in Colorado. Apparently, these polices counter their need to punish the "sinner" with a baby or a disease.

4. Powerful leadership

As in most cults, Republicans and conservatives worship their leaders. While specific cult leader styles may differ, the avid cult member abhors uncertainty. Their leaders must book no doubts and paint every issue as black or white. Grey is seldom allowed. When coupled with their gospel of fear, we find cult members gushing over foreign despots like Putin or the king of Jordan.

No subtlety but rather just brute force to correct what they view as wrongs. When coupled with their fear of others, we see their most timid and frightened join groups like the NRA, lugging firearms around wherever they go believing that it makes them strong. After decades of failure, war remains their highest sacrament.

5. Avoidance of strangers and unbelievers

Isolation from others and their ideas is necessary to avoid confusion in the flock of believers lest competitors poach members or contaminate the purity of core beliefs. Here is where the faithful must avoid "lamestream media" and listen to only "approved" news sources. The isolation serves two purposes. First purpose is to stoke the fires of rage against unbelievers attacking core beliefs by their statements of fact. Second, to disseminate "studies" by "experts" to reassure the faithful and cloud reality much as tobacco companies did with their expert studies proving cigarette smoking was harmless.

If the Republican Party is not a cult, it certainly acts like one.

Correction: The blog was changed to reflect that an expected close vote on the legislation was in a joint congressional committee. Further, that vote was not close when the American Legion flew in a possibly deciding vote. Details can be found in 'Conferees Accept GI Bill of Rights', June 11, 1944, New York Times.