The 2020 Election: Reality Meets the Shared Pathological Fantasies of the Right

Removing God From Hallin’s Sphere of Deviance

Illustration of  a theory of media objectivity posited by journalism historian Daniel C. Hallin in his book The Uncensored War. (Wikipedia)

A new piece of the puzzle I’ve been writing about since before the 2016 election came to me last night as I watched CNN’s Dana Bash and Abby Phillip try to explain the pathetic speech of Donald Trump on Thursday. Ms. Bash and other news commentators failed to make an effective argument — other than to state that he was lying — because they don’t believe anybody could sincerely believe the way Trump does.

And that’s a coverage problem, because the entire MAGA camp is living their own pathological fantasies. They sincerely believe that they are God’s messengers, that Trump is a key player in their end times theology, and that THEIR heretical gospel (The Gospel of Self, The Prosperity Gospel) is the “real” reality. The press tends to see only Elmer Gantry when it views the Christian Right, and there’s certainly elements of that in play. However, that perspective can only present followers as deceived idiots — can you say “deplorables?” I know these people, some of them extremely well, and I can honestly report that this observation completely misses the mark.

This is why my book wasn’t always reviewed favorably, because I stated my view that Pat Robertson was sincere in his beliefs. When he told us in 1985 that God had called him to run for President and that he would win, we had no reason to doubt him. We were all living within this shared pathological faith fantasy that we had been chosen by God for the task of restoring the country to its rightful place under God. A competent argument to the contrary was never presented, because the press simply has been ignorant and therefore unable to accurately describe the events of the past five years.

This is a shared pathological fantasy, and any observation to the contrary simply doesn’t reflect the reality of what’s occurring around us. Arguments presented from outside this fantasy will be automatically blocked by the people from within, and therein lies both the absence of trust to influence them and the big divide that we now see in the U.S. It’s not nearly as much about politics as it is about faith, and I guarantee you the American press doesn’t speak of such matters, because they “belong” in what Daniel C. Hallin called the “sphere of deviance” in his book about the Vietnam War and what influences the press. I promise these people do not believe they are deviant thinkers, and ANY attempt to put them there is automatically rejected.

What difference does that coverage make? To not acknowledge the pathological nature of this shared fantasy, the press has consistently instead tried to make sense of it, and there is no making sense of it outside the fantasy. We’re talking about people’s faith, and that requires a level of understanding not found in the contemporary press. Fox News doesn’t really acknowledge it either, but their conservative political point-of-view doesn’t have to; all that’s necessary is for them to visibly parrot their fallacies. Fox News is much more the Elmer Gantry role than those Christians who are very happy to have some media outlet reflect their own words and deeds. Another point it highlights is that their back room strategies and tactics flow from this pathological fantasy. Blend that with the wants and needs of the wealthy white hierarchy in the country, and you have The Council for National Policy (CNP), a real world governor within the shared fantasy. In this context, the CNP’s efforts can clearly be viewed as a serious attempt to overthrow the government of the United States in 2020.

The question is where do we go from here? The serious Democratic Party weakness revealed by this election is the failure of local and statewide candidates — despite massive investments in advertising — to transform a Biden victory into local victories. Pollsters will be agonizing over this for years, but as a former executive in local news, the answer is pretty simple. It’s a fool’s errand for local media units to disrespect the people making up its audience, and the more hyperlocal this becomes, the greater the difficulty in challenging those local beliefs. After all, local advertisers wouldn’t stand for it, because it would be THEIR customers being snubbed. The symbiotic relationship between local news organizations — especially today — and their advertisers cannot be overlooked, and it’s going to take a serious reformation in the way Democrats speak to this group.

Their messaging is all wrong. Local candidates especially need to feel competent in arguing within the shared fantasy, not outside of it. There IS a way to speak to this group, but it’s going to take a ton of education if the Democratic Party truly wants to reach everybody.

As I’ve said a hundred times, the shared fantasy will throw Trump (and his pathological fantasy) under the bus as being a man with deep personal flaws, because he doesn’t really accept their God. This will allow them to explain what happened in their terms and thereby still judge Trump the President as a God-appointed leader. It was his weaknesses that kept him from reelection, the thinking will go, and that God knew it was time to let him go. In this way, the CNP and its base, the Christian Right, will continue to plague elections until the IRS steps in and punishes them severely for violating tax exemption laws, even removing tax exemptions entirely from some of the CNP’s most important base.

Press attempts to explain all this as a cult does a disservice to the truth, for Donald Trump simply doesn’t have the intelligence to actually run such a group. That his pathological fantasy blended so well with the Christian Right’s ought to be the foundation of subsequent studies of what happened in America in the first quarter of the 21st Century.

We’ve no choice but to talk truthfully about God and religion in the years ahead.

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