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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 religious phenomenonthat 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 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. Group s of identically clad men marching in formation, chanting magic words (read: military cadences) and sometimes even 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 material goods they now so desired. Gone was the supply of
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 Frum Movement and Prince Phillip Societies 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 most familiar Cargo Cult known to Americans in popular culture would be the “” in the famous episode of the Original Star Trek “A Piece of the Action”,
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 explorers from Earth 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 Frumm (a bastardization of “John From America”) and Prince Phillip 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, 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 have so far done nothing to dispel the validity of the Cargo Cult Assertion.
During his chaotic and doomed 2012 campaign Romney seized upon every perceived advantage and this was 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 seemed to be smugly emitting what he seemingly thought was a subliminal puppet show where he played Ritualized Reagan. Pushing on the physical he layered 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 were clearly NOT a threat to the United States in 2012. Another Ritual Reagan rain dance was 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.
I think in the last few weeks of the 2012 election Mitt Romney became a true believer in his own Reagan-ness; operating with the Ritualized Reagan approach as a default position on everything. It was a Franken-Ronnie with none of the warmth and conviction of the original. The “Cargo” aka the Go Go 80’s, can only be delivered by putting the Ritualized Reagan, that is Mitt Romney, in the White House. He can then summon the great gleaming beasts from the sky that birth the great wooden eggs filled with the canned goods (aka-worry free prosperity).
This Shackle of Defeat for Romney was exploited. The Ritualized Reagan that he pantomimes doesn’t square with the real Reagan. Reagan was confronting a real threat from Soviet Russians. Reagan was a culture warrior, but only after being a patriotic American type who believed in some practicality, compromise and some tolerance. When Reagan spoke of Libya that country was run by an evil dictator since deceased in fantastic fashion due directly to initiatives taken by the Cargo Cults hated “Anti-Reagan”, President Obama, who realistically could be argued is a truer heir to Reagan’s positions on Libya by doing so. Ritual Reagan is at his weakest on Libya.
Despite a display of unpresidential weakness best left behind in his bumbling and inept reactions to the 9-11 attacks in Libya, Romney revisited the issue at almost every opportunity. Was he doing this because his “Inner Reagan” simply knee jerks him into having to include comments about Libya into his rhetoric? It only hurt him. If someone has a better explanation for this obviously misguided attempt to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat on what any other candidate would have rightly moved on from please leave me a comment.
The “rank and file core base republicans’, (read: formerly disavowed extremists from the Wild Wild Allen West Wing of the party) show strong and prevalent evidence of Cargo Cult behavior in social media. They promoted Romney as a Pseudo Reagan “Mitt-siah” capable of summoning the all-important cargo planes. Romney’s one unquestioned credential, ruthless and unaccountable vulture capitalism, is a direct result of the unregulated excesses of the 1980’s and increases Romney’s credibilty as a worthy successor to Reagan. This is manifested best in his regulation hating approach to managing the economy. De-personalization and detachment from reality are evident in the Hoover era bootstrap “Rugged Individualism” that has become part of a negative feedback loop that convinces many Republicans they live in Bill Clinton’s proverbial “log cabin they built themselves”.
24 days after a huge election fail the Republicans STILL can’t figure out how they lost. The Romney Campaign, reduced to a one man show, continued for a couple of days after the defeat just so he could find a way to offend and denigrate people he had overlooked insulting earlier while he still had a modicum of relevance. Campaign staff also issued repeated out of touch statements that certainly seemed delusional to the point of strapping on coconut headphones. Take this as a sign that absolutely nothing has been learned through failure analysis. All indications are that many if not most Republican truly and strongly believe that if they just rain dance longer, faster and harder in preparation for the next election they can somehow avoid losing again in 2016. Their unrealistic Hypothesis-If they had just been more extreme, suppressed the vote more and passed more insane homophobic laws they are SURE they would have won instead of getting walloped by a 3 million votes margin in an Obama cakewalk.
Though some of the cult has sheered away out of fear of losing their seats these are mostly from Blue States and there is no sign of a massive shift to more pragmatic methods of winning elections on the part of rest of the Republican.
Now that Romney has gone from Mitts-siah to whipping boy Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham from Teabagistan jumped feet first into the Ritual Reagan role. Senator Kelly Ayote also tried to get in on this, but apparently if you’re a woman Ritual Reagan
just doesn’t work. Possibly because of another Republican Cult behavior,the Cult of Domesticity, which dictates that women should be ‘kept in their place.” This means that the self hating women of the Republican party are merely tuned out as having ‘too many opinions’ and/or ‘speak a little too much of their minds.” Only Sarah Palin has had any success pretending to be Ronald Reagan. This has routinely blown up on her. When this happens she hides behind her children like they’re Human Shields, basically defaulting to the Cult of Domesticity to deflect criticism by appearing in her ridiculous gun toting Reindeer maiming “Mama Grizzly” mode where she’s beyond reproach.
The Cargo Cult will likely thrive for years to come. In fact it may outlast the GOP itself as the party has lost four of the last 5 elections.