THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The GOP, Hooked on Hate: Three Traits All Toxic Political Movements Share

A friend of mine got into Bill O'Reilly some years ago. We had been friends since her sons were little guys, long before she and I morphed from really, really hot (okay, maybe just one "really") into women of the vintage marketers target when they're hawking hundred dollar face creams.

I watched. I said, "Eh."

She stayed. Now she and her husband are lost in Uptighty-Whitey-Righty-Land, going to tea parties and making vague and menacing references about Obama supporters. Something tells me since toking up on Big Bill they may have moved on to the hard stuff - Glenn Beck.

I'm feeling guilty now that I never said anything back when she first started her O'Reilly habit, as if I had idly stood by and watched her get hooked on crystal meth ( something she'd never do). I figured back then she was a consenting adult. She could handle herself. I should have known better.

My late father, a surgeon, repeatedly warned me never to follow a leader who preached hate. In fact, he spent more time warning me about hate-mongering political leaders than about sex or drugs. This made sense. It was the sixties.

Besides, if you get into drugs or unhealthy sexual habits you damage a few lives and run some risk of death. Get into hate and you partake in destroying lives by the thousands.

Dad was no wimpy kumbaya kind of guy. He was a tough-minded Cold War conservative who loved a good fight - Irish, with a quarter Jewish for extra argumentative oomph. He said his warning on hate-mongering leaders was the most important political lesson he could bestow, the distillation of what he learned from his family, from studying psychiatry under the humane and pragmatic giant of the field, Alfred Adler (a refugee from an excellent example of Adler's ruling/dominant anti-social type - Hitler), and from his experiences as a medical officer during WWII.

Republicans define themselves by their adversaries, and frankly they were a far better party during the Cold War. In fact, Murdoch could not have launched Fox News during the Reagan years. Conservative media then, epitomized by the uber-erudite William F. Buckley, prided itself on being the polar opposite of the Soviet propaganda machine. Murdoch's journalistic methods smack a bit too much of the Commies'.

Republicans in the age of Al-Qaeda have morphed into a Western, Christianist, mirror-image of their Islamist enemies. Those old Cold Warriors would be horrified.

Bad political movements, like Tolstoy's happy families, are all alike. Look for three traits.

The first is self-serving leaders, Adler's ruling/dominant types, malignant narcissists and sociopaths, with huge egos, insatiable greed and an outrageous sense of entitlement. They automatically demonize anyone who gets in their way and project all their own bad traits on their perceived enemies. I am reminded, as I was when reading Tim Wise's analysis of Ayn Rand, of two classic works on the subject, Richard Restak's The Self-Seekers, and M. Scott Peck's People of the Lie. Ayn Rand's fans in the business world provide excellent examples of the type, especially the guys who trashed the economy and still expect to be billionaires. Fundamentalist theocrats are another rich source.

The second trait is demagoguery, that toxic stew of hate, fear and disinformation. Self-serving leaders need followers to achieve their dreams and they can't afford to be honest, because their goals are totally self-serving. Both hate and fear paralyze judgment, making it much easier to palm off cooked versions of the facts, or outright lies. Political hate is particularly useful because it works like an addiction, using much of the same neural pathways, while also shutting down higher reasoning. Sarah Palin is a genius at sugar-coating the hate. Fox News excels in skillful Gestalts of Kant's "misleading truths," bits of fact artfully trimmed of context.

The third component is people willing to buy into the hate. Today's hate-addicts believe themselves to be patriots, so they must destroy the government. They believe themselves freedom's champions, so they must silence those who disagree. They fervently hate deficit spending, so they hate anyone who is honestly trying to fix it, and support the guys who paid lip-service to fiscal responsibility while spending our grandchildren into bankruptcy making their buddies billionaires out of our tax dollars and balooning public debt.

Hate is a lot like cocaine. It makes its user feel like a genius and act like an idiot. If we're lucky maybe these folks will wise up before they turn to violence.

Oh, wait. I'm too late.

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