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What are Cargo Cult Republicans? Cargo Cult Republicans are those whose behavior and beliefs have devolved into a quasi-religious mindset towards Modern American Conservatism revolving around the 1980’s and Ronald Reagan in an
idealized, ritualized and unrealistic way. The influence of this aspect of modern American Conservatism is palpable yet there has been very little discussion of it.
The classic historical Cargo Cult refers to a quasi-religious phenomenon that arose on the isolated pacific islands used as bases by various militaries during the Second World War. The native islanders in places like Papua, New Guinea had not had much contact with the outside world. Their ways of viewing the day to day world included a good dose of the paranormal. If someone got sick, perhaps a curse had been put upon them. Flood? Famine? Perhaps the villagers aren’t living up to the standards of their pantheon of deities. A thumbnail description would be that they fed the Volcano to pacify the gods,
who were surely a bit crazy.
After the Second World War began in the Pacific the lives of the native islanders were subject to massive culture shock. Literally overnight and literally out of the sky in the form of shiny silver airplanes as well as great iron beasts from the sea came the mid-20th century. None of the previous limited contacts with outsiders provided a frame of reference for what transpired on their islands, their very world, as emerged over the weeks following arrival of troops from both sides of the conflict. To these isolated natives the idea that an internal combustion engine would spin gears and operate pistons to spin a propeller to power a vehicle capable of carrying goods or people was inconceivable. Imagine and bringing a flashlight, cigarette lighter and .9mm pistol via time traveling helicopter to Dark Ages Europe to get any sort of grip on this.
To the natives of islands such as those of New Guinea the planes were not machines but great beasts akin to hollow metal dragons. They were summoned from the sky by rituals at a holy temple, or as we would call it, a Military Airfield. The “rituals” were the day to day operations of the base. Waiving in incoming planes with flags and lighting runways. Groups of identically clad men marching in formation, sometimes firing their bang sticks!!
In the wake of the Second World War these isolated bases were mostly abandoned and life, for the natives, returned to ‘normal’. But it was a ‘New Normal’. They had become accustomed to the gleaming aluminum dragons regularly summoned by the clergy (read: US Navy Sea Bees) with the sacred relics (read: radios, landing lights and parades). No longer were the great beasts from the air and sea disgorging the cargo they desired. Gone was the supply of canned goods, textiles and the giant crates that had seemed like enormous wooden eggs that birthed the coveted “cargo”.
In a turn of events still being studied by sociologists and historians, the Cargo Cults emerged. The natives formed into cults of sorts and imitated in ritualistic fashion the actions of the men who had summoned the great beats and cargo from the sky. Coconuts were fashioned into radio headsets, bamboo control towers were created. Uniformly dressed men marched in ritual manners similar to
the military drills they had seen under the mistaken belief that by simply doing so they themselves would please the gods of the sky and bring down the shiny metal beasts filled with goodies. These beliefs were personified in the form of an image of an American World War 2 Sailor, frequently portrayed as African American, known as “John Frum”. Think of him as a sort of Santa-Jesus type. British occupied areas developed similar cults based on an idealized perception of Prince Phillip.
The John Frumm Movement and Prince Phillip Movement still exist today in New Guinea. Despite the fact that these places slowly became less isolated and were slowly but steadily overtaken by rational explanations of the outside world some still cling to the Cargo Cult beliefs. In the case of the Prince Phillip society egotistical detachment from reality is shared by the object of their affection. Prince Phillip perhaps unwittingly endorses the cult’s beliefs by sending gifts and autographs. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that what is really needed, by the prince and his worshipers, is some help handling a brutal but needed dose of reality. This need also applies to early 21st Century Tea party Republicans. Ritualized Reaganistic Worldview has become a meme accepted by most Republicans, albeit for the most part unknowingly.
The featured in the Original Star Trek Episode “A Piece of the Action” is an illustration of a classic “Cargo Cult”. One of the shows most popular episodes and most Americans only glimpse at Cargo Cults;
where an isolated planet had been exposed to 23rd century technology by earlier space travelers. When the Enterprise arrives a generation later they find an entire culture influenced by a book the first contactor’s left behind about 1920’s gangster culture in places like Chicago and New York. By looking, dressing and acting like the gangsters they read about the natives of Sigma Iota IV were attempting to make a great leap forward by throwing themselves feet first into imitating a society that had been outlined in book that to them seemed a blue print to the “cargo” they had seen accompanying the first earthmen they met, technology and abilities that would provide for worry free prosperity.
How does this apply to early 21st century American Conservatism? The Republican Party is now packed with under qualified ideologues, who espouse an unrealistic image of a worry free past, in this case, the Go Go 1980’s.
The images of John Frum (a bastardization of “John From America”) and Prince Phillip associated with the Cargo Cults of the South Pacific have been replaced by an idealized, unrealistic image of Ronald Reagan. Like John Frumm, Ritual Reagan is a demi god who summoned “Cargo” (read: Worry free prosperity) through rituals that included sparring with the Russians, bellicose military threats and a somewhat narrow social view and an overemphasis on an extreme interpretation of “Christian” thought.
To one degree or another every single modern conservative is a member of a Reagan oriented Cargo Cult. The Cargo Cult mentality has threaded its way into every aspect of current Republican narrative.
The Cargo Cult Volcano God demands certain sacrifices be made lest it grow angry and erupt. Among other things, it demands ritual.
Repeated mawkish Ritualistic displays by Romney during the 2012 Election and other leading Republicans have so far done nothing to dispel the validity of the Cargo Cult Assertion.
A right wing politician politician in the mold of Mitt Romney seizes upon every perceived advantage and this is no exception. It’s not a difficult role in its Ritualistic Form. There’s some passing physical resemblance, both coincidental and contrived between Romney and Reagan. Among these are their hair, approximate build and hypomanic personalities. Romney seems to be smugly emitting what he seemingly thinks is a subliminal puppet show where he plays Ritualized Reagan. Pushing on the physical he layers on a veneer of the cold warrior aspect of Reagan by strapping on the coconut headphones of some sort of bamboo transmitter and sending pugilistic messages to the Russians, who are clearly not a threat to the United States in 2012. Another Ritual Reagan rain dance is over emphasizing the level of danger posed by Iran. While an outlaw nation and a sponsor of terrorism, the current sanctions and global shunning seem to be worth sticking worth for a while to most Americans who are leery of another American Ground War in an unstable part of the world.