I've often heard it said that the people in the Republican base, who believe the patent falsehoods purveyed by their leaders, are "stupid." But I don't think that's how they're to be understood. I've known too many people who buy the almost transparent lies nonetheless show real intelligence in other areas of their lives.
Here's what I think we're looking at that may look like "stupidity."
A person's consciousness --- the form their awareness takes --- is not all of a piece, not identical in every situation. We tend to operate differently in different contexts, to have different capacities that get engaged in different aspects of our lives. We might think of people as having different "modules" of consciousness that kick in depending on what "programs" they've learned to apply in each realm of their lives.
With the people on the right, in our times, what I believe is that they've been taught over time to bring a far-from-best self into the specifically political realm. Part of the teaching has been from the deep, long-established culture, which inculcates in those who grow up in it certain ways of dealing with issues of power and authority and rage and pain. But, most recently and most visibly, they've been systematically taught -- for a full generation now by skilled and completely unprincipled propagandists, like Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and Karl Rove -- how to be members in good standing in the right-wing political culture.
Mistaking the evil for the good is surely a manifestation of profound brokenness. And the error is built upon brokenness.
Among the various components of that political module the right has cultivated -- rage, resentment, feelings of victimhood, compensatory feelings of superiority, etc. -- one essential component involves shutting off the kind of intelligence that they'd apply to other circumstances. Going into crazy, broken, destructive pictures of the world generally requires parking one's intelligence at the door. People can be taught to be stupid. (Indeed, a famous psychological work once defined neurosis as a form of "learned stupidity.")
Turning off their intelligence with the Political Module is necessary. They'd never be as easy to deceive and manipulate if they brought to their political decisions the kinds of intelligence they'd use in making their business decisions.
A certain amount of the division of consciousness in human life into different modules is probably natural and inevitable. But the more that brokenness is dominating the scene, the more pronounced this "modulization" of consciousness will be. And that's certainly true about the scene being enacted on the right today.
Two levels of brokenness are relevant here: 1) the brokenness that is at the heart of the spirit that animates the right; and 2) the brokenness that was already there in the psyche of those people who have been rendered, by their socialization, most vulnerable to being misled and misdirected by the Limbaughs etc. of the world.
Brokenness works through brokenness.
I've heard that sometimes people with Multiple Personality Disorder can be so split that it's possible for one of the personae of an "individual" to have an allergy that another of their personae does not. If that's true, then it should not be inconceivable that in people who are not that fractured, but who still have unsolved issues impeding real integration and integrity, there would be a consciousness module (a persona, if you prefer) that is intelligent, and another in which the faculty for intelligent critical thinking and the spotting of nonsense as been blocked.
Perhaps such an understanding of the problem -- smart people with their intelligence turned off, not stupid people -- will suggest more effective strategies for bringing our fellow Americans back into alignment with reality. Perhaps ways can be found to help them switch their intelligence back on for use in the political context.