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Who Knows What Evil Lurks --Another Tale of the Liberal Resistance to Facing the Dark Side

By Andrew Bard Schmookler  Posted by Rob Kall (about the submitter)     Permalink
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I recently had an interesting experience with a piece I wrote for an American newspaper that 's published me over the years.

In my piece, I addressed the puzzle of why it is that some of the most remarkably decent people I know have supported an American leadership that 's itself remarkable precisely for lacking such decency. This is the piece that appears on this site at

How Can They Not See?

To that puzzle, I proposed an answer in two parts.

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For one thing, I suggested, these good people have been seduced by leaders expert in displaying the trappings of righteousness --leaders good at using the flag and the postures of faith to distract from the lying and bullying and arrogance they also enact right before our eyes.

But my story really arises from the second part of the answer I proposed in my commentary.

Part of why these good people can be seduced by a bad leader, I said, is that there 's a part of them that welcomes the seduction. A leader can give people an opportunity to express vicariously, in the name of the glorious "Us " -- forbidden impulses that they 'd never allow themselves to act on as a "Me " in their individual lives.

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And it is precisely those people who are most extraordinary in their hewing to the straight-and-narrow path who are likely to be most vulnerable to the temptation presented by a leader who can disguise the forbidden in the garb of virtue. The same strict upbringing that can produce exceptionally impeccable conduct can also make a person a stranger to those parts of themselves they 're required to suppress.

What 's not integrated into the personality does not disappear, I continued, but instead becomes a point of vulnerability. History has shown that among the most dangerous leaders are those adept at giving hidden expression to people 's forbidden desires.

The op/ed-page editor scheduled my piece for publication. But then, to his surprise and mine, a higher-up spiked it: it 's not appropriate, said the newspaper honcho, to allege any moral or psychological shortcomings to any of this president 's supporters.

Now, if it were just this newspaper man, I wouldn 't think this reticence to publish such an argument signified much. After all, prudence might lead someone in the business of selling newspapers to hesitate to offend a constituency that, these days, seems animated by an angry and vengeful spirit.

But I also heard some of this from my own circle of colleagues who customarily vet my writings before I go public. These colleagues have generally been cheering me on, over this past more than a year, as I 've been taking on the ruling powers they also oppose. But, with this piece I wrote to explain the appeal of the Bushites to many very decent people, several of my colleagues balked at the idea that there might be anything dark in our fellow Americans to which these dark powers might be giving expression.

That 's what I find interesting here. It seems to me another sign of that inability of many liberals in today 's America to confront the dark dimension of human affairs.

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The idea that confining the human creature in too tight a case might produce subterranean feelings of vengeful rage would have been no news to Nietzsche, or Freud, or Jung. Why is it not credible to us?

We 've lived our whole lives in the shadow of that terrible discovery --made shortly before the middle of the twentieth century-- that decent people in a civilized society might be willingly complicit in terrible atrocities. Why should it be so surprising that Americans, too, might have their dark sides?

We 've seen normal people -- summoned by destructive leaders to supposedly righteous causes-- slaughter their neighbors in Bosnia and Rwanda,. Why should it be out of bounds to imagine that an American leader could bring out of his followers, collectively, the worst of their potentialities?

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