Conservatives and the Cult of John Frum

John Frum Ceremonial Cross

“Do you think we’re stupid???” demanded Rudy Giuliani. As he addressed a gaggle of onlookers in front of Four Seasons Total Landscaping, which his gang had mistaken for the Four Seasons Hotel. This glorious stand of defiance in a parking lot between a crematorium and a dildo shop was just one in an interminable series of publicity stunts and denialist manifestos that he and his co-conspirators have mounted in an effort to pretend the election never happened.

The White House Occupant himself continued to ramble about his “paths to victory”, long after the election outcome was settled. His Second-in-Evil Mike Pence messaged his GOP colleagues in the Senate to the effect that he had enjoyed presiding over them, and looked forward to continuing. The White House’s hired liar, Kayleigh McEnany, when asked if her overlord would be attending the inauguration in January, replied that, of course, he would be attending his own inauguration. When asked about the prospects for a smooth transition, Mike Pompeo replied, “There will be a smooth transition to a second T—p administration”. White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said, “We are moving forward here at the White House under the assumption that there will be a second (45) administration… we believe he won that election, and any speculation about what Joe Biden might do (in office) is moot at this point.” A full month after the election, the Washington Post polled all 249 Republican members of Congress; only 27 acknowledged that Biden won. Whereupon the White House Occupant promptly demanded to know their names.

It’s questionable how many of these people actually believe their own LSD-inspired claims or truly believe in the promised miracle that will keep themselves in power. It’s quite possible that they are selling this snake oil merely for political and financial profit. (One very strong indication: when they were in court — i.e., under oath — Rudy and company admitted there was no fraud. It was only in the wild, where there are no consequences for perjury, that they repeatedly discharged the conspiracy theory cannon.) But what’s certain is that many of the cult followers buy it wholesale, demanding “Stop the Steal”, and promising “civil war” if they don’t get their way.

GOP surrogates have been a big help in pouring fuel on the fire. Fringe-right network OAN ran little “reports” about how voting irregularities “falsely” indicated Biden won. On Fox “News”, Tucker Carlson declared: “The 2020 election was not fair. No honest person would say it was.” There was also a great deal of cheerleading from the pulpit. (Churches during the past few years have routinely thumbed their noses at IRS guidelines prohibiting political activity by tax-exempt organizations. Nobody even bats an eyelash anymore.) Far-right pastor Kenneth Copeland, for example, led his congregation in ritual laughter at the news that Joe Biden was going to be president, and added, “Yeah, and Mickey Mouse is gonna be king.” In fairness, he was coaching them to laugh as a way of coping with pain; but that makes it only marginally less kooky, because the “pain” in this case was the electoral defeat of their favorite fascist.

Copeland’s son-in-law, pastor George Pearsons, told his flock that “people in Heaven” and even “the ballot itself” are “crying out” about supposed voter fraud. He also showed them a picture of poll workers who were engaged in the Satanic activity of (gasp) counting ballots, and proclaimed that God had shown him in a vision that they would be stopped, and to illustrate his point, he did his Jesus impersonation and literally overturned a table loaded with papers and promised the ballots would be overturned in the same way, to the hysterical cheers of his rapt throng. Good old Pat Robertson insisted that “We will not give up this great country, and Satan, you cannot have it.” Dang, I was just getting fitted for new horns.

We really shouldn’t be surprised at any of this, because it’s the same kind of behavior they’ve always exhibited. A big part of it is simply living in a parallel dimension, a fantasyland of “alternative facts”. (The states that tried to get the Supreme Court to overturn the election were joined in their suit by the mythical “states” of New California and New Nevada.) And along with the aversion to inconvenient truths is the delusional hope that those fantasies ultimately will be vindicated. It isn’t just hoping for a miracle; it’s arrogantly assuming that miracles will happen, and that they will always be tailor-made to one’s own wishes.

This kind of magical thinking is the very backbone of conservatism, which promotes tragically failed policies, practices and beliefs on the arrogant assumption that they’re going to pay off in spades somehow soon just because conservatives want them to, and dang it they deserve to have their way, always. Conservatism, in essence, is the unwavering conviction that what has never worked in the past will somehow go on working in the future. Pampering the rich will somehow induce them to share their wealth. Waging aggressive warfare will somehow lead to lasting peace. Killing killers will stop other killers from killing. Allowing corporations to indulge unfettered in rapacious behavior will cause them to act responsibly. Ignoring racism will cause it to magically disappear. Banning abortion will end it this time, even though that’s always failed miserably and horribly in the past. Pumping more guns into the population will somehow stop people from using them so much. No need to worry about our trashing of the environment, because any day now, Jesus will arrive on the scene to end it all. And any day now, we heard for four years, the White House Occupant is going to make an abrupt “pivot” and suddenly start behaving like an adult for the first time in his life. Any day. Just trust us.

This attitude brings to mind the “cargo cults” of certain Pacific islanders, and especially on the island of Tanna, built around a mythical (or quasi-mythical) figure known as John Frum. This cult, which apparently originated in the 1930s, is based upon the legend that the island was once visited by a westerner (perhaps an American serviceman) who brought the natives lots of goodies. (The name John Frum may have originated as “John from America”, which then became “John Frum from American”, and then just John Frum.) And now the people live in the hope and fervent certainty that someday he will return and transform their little enclave into a paradise. They have special festivals and ceremonies to honor him, with priests dressed in military-style uniforms and devotees marching in formation with bamboo “rifles”, and with pictures of anchors or the letters “USA” painted on their chests. Does this remind you of other cults and fanatical religious sects?

At the bottom of the food chain, adherents of these cults believe with all their minds and hearts and souls in the doctrines they’re being fed. But the farther up you go, the less likely it is that they buy their own bull, and the more likely it is that they are simply exploiting the suckers who follow them. Republicans who are ranting about a “stolen election” may or may not really believe it; but you’d better believe they know what a profitable con it is.

Whether in politics, religion or any other ideology, the message that the leaders of fanatical factions give their devotees is the same: “Things are going to magically swing in our favor any day now. Trust me. And the more money you give me, the sooner it will happen.”

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