Ronald Reagan was famous for saying that government is the problem. What is so ironic about him as a politician saying that, is that his actions helped to make government, or the lack thereof, dysfunctional and thus much more of a problem than it otherwise would have been. The problems with government that the Reagan administration helped create, are still with us even now. In fact, they are now worse than ever before.
Thus, if we flash forward to the present day, we see government dysfunction in action, especially within the Republican Party. Not only do we have political gridlock and widespread distrust of government and politicians – again, driven by conservative messaging – but now, the paranoia about government that was given voice by Reagan in an early manifestation, has devolved into whacky political conspiracy theories which represent the worst fears of loyal conservatives and MAGA believers.
To me, this is a predictable consequence of the path that the conservative movement has followed in the United States since sometime before Reagan became president. A consequence of paranoia is that it will inevitably lead to confirmation-seeking behavior. Paranoid people – such as people who have an irrational fear of government, democratic socialism, or Democrats – will look for signs that their fears are justified. In so doing, and in taking action in attempts to counteract imaginary threats, they will create conditions which will make it more difficult for them to adequately function, or for that matter, more difficult for the government that they fear, to adequately function.
This is a rather strong assertion regarding the self-fulfilling nature of political paranoia. Is there scientific evidence that this is true? In a sense, the real-life, historical information provides abundant evidence of this, although there is no scientific research that I can find which directly addresses this topic. What I did find, however, is that there is some research which indicates that paranoia on a personal level, becomes self-fulfilling.
As described in The Atlantic by Lindsay Abrams, a study of business workers found that those who showed higher levels of paranoia toward their co-workers, tended to be shunned by them, as well as provoking anger from their colleagues (Study: Paranoia is Self-Fulfilling – The Atlantic). After all, who would want to befriend or collaborate with someone who distrusts you from the beginning? The paranoid create their own climate of distrust. (By the way, there is also research which shows that overconfidence is also self-fulfilling to some extent – for instance, by creating a false sense of competence.)
Politics has different dynamics from a workplace, but similar conclusions apply. Politicians cannot shun their voters, or express anger at their constituents, if they want to keep their jobs; however, paranoid people often do vote, and they usually vote for the most paranoid available candidates. Ultimately, powerful factions consisting of relatively paranoid voters, and the politicians for whom they vote, develop if enough people believe that “the government” or “socialism,” or “Democrats,” are the problem. Unfortunately, there are enough such people in the United States, nurtured by right-wing media, that they have become an inordinately powerful faction within politics. And of course, their effect on politics is to create stumbling blocks to any sort of progress, while continuing to broadcast memes which nurture distrust of their opponents. The politically paranoid have found like-minded people with whom to plot the destruction of government and how to “own the libs.” It’s only natural that any person with liberal and/or progressive inclinations would come to shun these people, and be angry at them, especially as we witness them devolve further and further into political nihilism and ludicrous right-wing conspiracy theories in their present condition.
Where we are now, is a direct consequence of the Republican Party failing to ever correct its original paranoia-promoting sin of promoting the idea that government is inherently bad (and thus, people who benefit from government intervention are also considered to be bad by Republicans – except when the beneficiaries are themselves, Republicans.)
The good news in all of this (yes, there is good news after all), is that the state of political paranoia which infests the Republican Party currently, is politically unsustainable. It is another “dog catches the car” situation. To say that one wants to govern in order to get rid of government is a paradox. Of course, when elected, Republicans don’t exactly do that, even now, but what they do instead, is to move in the direction of anti-democratic authoritarianism, which is ultimately, totally unfeasible in a society that is ostensibly based upon democratic principles. One reason, in my opinion, that Republicans are losing voters, is their turn toward authoritarianism and their skepticism regarding fair elections and voting practices. This does not go over well with voters at all (in addition to the contradiction that autocracy confronts voters with, to the idea of small government), and I think is one of the main reasons for the better-than-expected showing of Democrats in last year’s midterm elections. Fortunately, I do not see any way that Republicans can ultimately win the ideological war to reshape the United States into their image of an authoritarian society (yet with supposedly small government) run like a dictatorship by Republican strongmen the likes of Donald Trump.
Rather, what I see is the grip of paranoid politics on our nation, weakening over time, as more young liberals enter the political system, and even Republicans grow disenchanted with the direction that their party has gone. What I don’t know, is how long this process will take, how much damage Republicans will do, or how far down the rabbit hole the paranoid faction in our politics will go before they come back to reality. However, I suspect that it can’t feasibly go much further than it already has.
You know we can’t let you go without HOMEWORK!