Thursday, December 31, 2009

Max Blumenthal's Republican Gomorrah: A Review

Max Blumenthal's Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party is a brilliant analysis of the psychological disorders that inform the actions and beliefs of the fundamentalist wing of the Republican party. Blumenthal defines this faction of the Repubicans as "almost exclusively white, overwhelmingly evangelical, fixated on abortion, homosexuality, and abstinence education; resentful and angry; and unable to discuss how and why it had become this way." The author attempts to figure out precisely this: why and how the moderate sector of the Republicans has been taken over by the Bible-thumping, scary freaks.
Blumenthal arrives at the conclusion that in order to recruit people for their movement, evangelical fundamentalists rely on the culture of trauma. The author analyzes the "culture of personal crisis undergirding the Christian right" and discovers that all prominent fundamentalists come to their radical beliefs from the background of problematic families, sexual and physical abuse. The evangelicals are often so insistent on the correctness of corporal punishment for children precisely because abused kids later form a pool of possible new converts: "Many of those raised on a steady diet of corporal punishment demonstrate a tendency later in life to reenact the painful experiences familiar to their childhoods, through either radical-right political activism or cruel interpersonal behavior, or both. The appeal of illicit, even macabre sexual behavior to some social conservatives—a trend that has produced no end of colorful scandals—further reflects their sadomasochistic tendencies. The sadomasochism that is latent in so many figures of the new radical right is often activated by a traumatic personal crisis." Blumenthal analyzes the lives of a striking number of famous evangelical fundamentalists and discovers just how much their actions follow the pattern exhibited by sadomasochistic personalities.

Among other kinds of trauma that the fanatical evangelicals bent on overtaking this country welcome, the recession is the one that has made them really happy and has driven crowds of desperate people to their ugly megachurches and hateful sermons: "As most people agonized and even panicked over the sudden economic collapse, the Christian right’s peddlers of crisis lifted their hands to the heavens. They had a whole new world of trauma to exploit, more desperate and embittered followers to manipulate, and maybe—just maybe—another chance at power." Behind the rhetoric of exaggerated, screaming patriotism, the evangelicals conceal their readiness to rejoice over every kind of suffering experienced by the American people. This suffering is their best hope of finding new converts traumatized enough to buy into the cannibalistic beliefs of the Christian right.

We all know that prominent evangelicals have a tendency to be besieged by scandal at every turn. Blumenthal analyzes the connection between these people's tortured backgrounds and insane ideology on the one hand and the nature of the sexual scandals they are involved in on the other. Brought together, these stories of hatred informed by depravity and hypocrisy make a daunting impression. How come we allow these decidedly unhealthy individuals play such an important role in this country's politics?

In the secod half of his book, Blumenthal demonstrates how the Christian right set out to hijack McCain's presidential campaign from the start. According to the journalist, McCain was forced to accept the fiercely fanatical Sarah Palin as his running mate in order to pacify the fundamentalists. We all know, of course, where that led him.

Blumenthal writes extremely well. Even though he discusses a significant number of stories in his book, he manages to avoid confusing the reader with an abundance of dates, names, and details. The book is structured extremely well and is written in a lucid, beautiful prose style. This is decidedly not a holiday type of reading. It is unlikely to make you feel very hopeful for the political future of the country that allows a crowd of truly sick individuals to acquire such an incredible prominence. However, everybody who cares about this country has to understand that there is no greater threat to the United States than these fanatics.

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