The main thing that four years of BushCo have demonstrated to me is that the Right only functions properly when it's marginalized. They did very well at bedeviling Clinton for eight years, but they're complete failures when they're actually required to lead the country. The "paranoid style" of the Right requires opposition and victimhood; it thrives when it's forced into the shadows, but in the sunlight it grows too quickly and collapses under its own weight. Also, it's weakened by increased contact with reality: it's one thing to believe in the machinations of the International Jew when you're an out-of-work steelworker or a fundamentalist preacher, but when you're governing a country, you need a fair working grasp of reality. Paranoia and mythomania lead to bad judgment, bad decisions, and bad results.
On the Left, we often wonder how x percent of the population can believe that there was a link behind Iraq and 9/11. We'd do far better to wonder why the Right understands and exploits mass psychology so much better than we do.
To my mind, the motive powers of the mainstream Right are Christian fundamentalism and racism. What I mean by this is that many secular and nonracist right-wingers will fight battles for both groups, using weapons borrowed from them, without understanding that they're doing it. For instance, "findings" about Black intelligence by racialist pseudoscientists like J. Philippe Rushton move easily into the mainstream Right, where they're parroted by people with no conscious racial animus.
Secularized versions of Conservative Christianity's apocalyptic beliefs are even more widespread; like racialist ideas, they're attractive to people whose self-esteem is low. What distinguishes a religious struggle from a secular struggle is that in the former there can be no compromise, no lasting peace, no respite from bug-eyed, white-knuckled hypervigilance; the winnowing of souls at God's throne represents the ultimate zero-sum game. The attraction of the Day of Judgment to the Christian Right is not merely its promise of a personal reward for righteousness; it's also the thought of being able to gloat over the damnation of others...being able to say "I told you so," from the shelter of God's own bosom, to heretics and scoffers. It's the mythopoeic version of a worker's fantasies about winning the lottery and telling his or her boss off.
This vision of a cosmic struggle in which the central prize is one's own sense of self-worth exists across the board on the Right. Conservative Christianity has always relied on the naming and dramatizing of enemies, and the granting of superhuman powers to them. The more powerful the enemy, after all, the greater personal glory there is in opposing that enemy. Among secular conservatives, that sense of spiritually pure opposition to dramatized enemies remains strong even in the absence of religious belief, as does the idea of an upcoming apocalyptic confrontation with Evil. This is one reason for the emotional symbiosis between Osama bin Laden and everyday citizens on the Right; while his brand of radical Islam remains a threat, they aren't ordinary people, but participants in a mythic struggle.
This kind of self-mythologizing is a typical reaction to threats against one's physical or psychological well-being. The psychologist Paul Pruyser says:
The human mind becomes automatically mythopoetic when it has to contend with threatened or actual attack upon a person's organismic integrity.
It's this quality of thinking that the Right understands far better than we do. And they've exploited it, to a great extent, with our help; by reacting negatively to religion per se, we confirm the Christian Right in its belief that it's struggling against implacable demons, and increase its psychological need to see us tossed wholesale into the Lake of Fire. By treating terrorism as a phenomenon with a temporal and not a mythopoeic cause, we appear to the secular Right as its cheerleaders. In both cases, we increase the mythopoeic mind's sense of meaning and destiny, by giving it more "evil" to oppose. When one has spent time in this heightened state, the reality-based community seems drab and uninviting; it's full of contradictions, and complex details that make one's head hurt, and disturbing implications about one's own place in the world.
In his book Naming the Antichrist, Robert Fuller explains the real danger of apocalyptic thinking to the larger concept of religion itself:
Rather than strengthening people's own sense of responsible action, as does the prophetic core of the Judeo-Christian witness, apocalyptic imagery exacerbates the very conditions of curtailed agency that predispose people to it in the first place. It turns them away from the revelations open to the human intellect, away from community with the whole of God's creation, and away from activity designed to promote peace or good will on earth.
All of this, it seems to me, can be applied easily to the modern secular Right. Indeed, as Fuller's book demonstrates, the secular Right's hatreds, its supervillains, its well-nursed gripes and grievances, can mostly be traced back to historical dislocations visited upon premillennial Christians by modernists of one stripe and another. I'm afraid this is not something we can overcome by harping on rationality and truth and statistics; instead, perhaps there needs to be some form of syncretism, in which a new mythopoeic "story" gradually overlays these ideas. I don't have a clue how this might happen, but I'm convinced it's something we'll have to think about in coming months, because after the Right loses temporal power in this election, its mythopoeic power and sense of mission will surely increase.