Ive wondered in particular how it is that a disproportionate number of the most remarkably decent people I know voted to re-elect a president whose administration has been remarkable precisely for its lack of such decency.
One fellow I know where I used to live, for example, is so reliably fair and honest that hes the one I entrusted to handle some important business for me in my absence. I know I can rely on him. Hes as good a specimen of the upright man as Ive met.
He was brought up in a strict home with similarly upright parents, church-going folks with a successful small business. From an early age he committed himself to the straight-and-narrow path of right conduct, aligning himself with his parents strict teachings and then shaping himself to fit well into other traditional molders of righteousness. Through his activities with church groups and civic associations, hes given back to the community. Hes a faithful husband and devoted father. Pretty tightly wound, he runs his business with impeccable integrity.
The answer, I believe, has two parts. One is that the way he got molded gave him some moral blind spots.
All his life hes respected and given his unquestioning allegiance to a certain set of authorities. His decent parents made him a decent man, but not in a way that equipped him to spot indecency in an authority who displays the right badges of righteousness.
My friends habit of attributing rectitude to cultural forms that look like those that taught him to be righteous and responsible has made him prey to a certain kind of seduction.
But the other part of the answer is that theres a part of him that wants to be seduced. If you drive nature out with a pitchfork, said the Roman satirist Horace, shell find a way back. And so it can be with an upbringing straight-and-narrow enough to produce the most remarkably straight of straight arrows.
So fully and early did my friend give himself over to rectitude, I suspect, that hes never really had a chance to become acquainted with his own darker side. Some of his feelings and needs were of no interest to his strict parents, except to make sure they were suppressed. And the cost of such suppression is to make a persons dark impulses darker still with the energies of anger.
Righteousness, Id wager, is not all that my friend contains. Theres also whats become of those forbidden, long-imprisoned impulses whose suppression the straight-and-narrow path required: perhaps someone glad to be able vicariouslyto act the part of the ruthless and arrogant bully; perhaps someone grateful for a chance to exactcovertly-- revenge for being confined in so tight a cage.
And so, like all seductions, President Bushs seduction of good and decent people like my friend fulfills also a need in the seduced. The French political philosopher Denis de Rougement has said about patriotism, What nobody would dare say of his me, he has the sacred duty of saying for his us. Not just duty, but gratification.
Thus a president who struts the world and flaunts his power, who disregards the established rules and never admits error, who creates enemies and antagonizes friends all in the name of the nation and its sacred idealsoffers his followers a legitimized collective way to enact the forbidden.
This is what draws people who are perfectly upright in their own lives to embrace a leader who, under the cloak of a false righteousness, manifests qualities they would never allow themselves to express individually.
How can they not see? In part, theyve been blinded. In part, it meets their needs to close their eyes.