Most of the extremist people I know, left or right, have troubled backgrounds. There is no other way to say it. Today I am going to use a dear troubled friend as an example. Of course, the name has been changed. Some will argue that this is mere anecdotal reasoning and thus not comprehensive enough to draw conclusions. They are correct in that I have not done scientific statistical studies – but I am an old man with a vast experience in people, politics, and religion.
My friend Bob has deep wounds from a life of terror at the hands of an angry alcoholic father. I’ll give a few examples. Bob’s family had a small lap dog, loved by all but the father. One day Bob’s mother was sitting on the couch holding the dog. The father came home in a drunken rage and grabbed a gun, then grabbed the dog, and took the dog out into the yard and shot it. Bob was eight years old. Bob ran to his closet – the closet equipped by his mother with a dead bolt lock on the inside – a safe place for Bob to hide from the storm.
Bob’s older brother molested him when he was young. Bob later told his mother and she killed herself. Are you getting the picture yet? Bob’s entire life was in the context of anger – anger that was very dangerous and anger that succeeded in accomplishing the goal of managing others. This is an important note – young children learn that anger is dangerous and that anger works. It is not a stretch to imagine that the grown child will resort to anger when any sense of threat emerges. Anger will keep the boogeyman away.
The chaos of a young life in poverty and/or domestic abuse becomes a way of life. Anger abounds. Children raised in the world of chaos most often take one of two tracks in life. They either live a life of chaos or they live a very structured life of certainty.
Fast forward to the 21st century. What are the perceived threats to Americans: Muslims? Terrorists? No God? The wrong God? Job security? Uncertainty abounds. When trouble or danger enters Bob’s life he reacts with anger. The anger serves to push the threat away. The problem is that Bob is unable to distinguish real trouble from an actual threat. His self-image is so damaged that just about anything can be perceived as a threat.
Any innocent question, like “Hey Bob, do you want to go to the grocery store?” Bob is out of money and feels the probe into his personal life to be a threat and responds with something like, “Who the f**k are you to question me????” Then he goes on a tear through social media blasting Muslims and democrats and Christians (on this day Bob is an avowed atheist, tomorrow he might be a fundamentalist Christian).
Fundamentalist Christianity offers a great deal to those raised with the anger of chaos. Most importantly rigid Christianity offers clear rules. Every thing in the Bible has a clear meaning and can only be interpreted one way – thus the certainty of being on the side of God – what more assurance might a person get? Ironically, the people who are most fundamental in their faith are the people who are most afraid. Faith, for these folks, offers clarity – and clarity is predictable.
Some people raised in chaos find solace in the military. Clear rules to the extent of how to fold you socks grants the safety of predictability. The military also affirms the notion of people being either ‘more’ or less’ There is a hierarchy that is clearly defined. The person raised in chaos already sees themselves as being ‘less than” – so the idea of an ordered hierarchy is very appealing – it affirms an already held view but lets the person know exactly where they are in the hierarchy.
Politicians who argue against any change in the social fabric are very appealing to the person of repressed anger. Bob seeks stability. Any politician who speaks of change is a threat – a real and personal threat to be met with absolutes. Guns are seen as useful tools in maintaining order.
Okay – so all of know there are people who have suffered in poverty and chaos and anger. About ten years ago I joined a counselor-in-training program at the local community mental health center and became a substance-abuse Counselor. I was in my fifties and felt confident that I understood the worlds. I knew there were abused children, abused by poverty, by anger, by chaos, and by sexual brutality. I knew there were homeless people. I knew there was a food shortage for the poor. One would have to be a complete fool to deny any of these social ills. What astounded me was the depth and the breadth of the trauma in society.
The local homeless shelters are full. There are waiting lists for substance abuse treatment. The local food bank struggles to keep the shelves stocked. Even in a small town like St. Joseph the United Way raises over three million dollars each year and it is not enough. The lobby is packed at the local free health clinic. The local community mental center is overloaded with clients. Case workers are spread thin.
And the most telling social ill demonstrating the fear and pain of the populace is the rise of Donal Trump and Ted Cruz. These men essentially say, “Vote for me and I will protect you from the Muslims and the Mexicans and I will make sure we don’t change any rules and you will be safe from unexpected changes.”
Our country is sick and we deny dollars to health care.