The previous piece here –“An Ugly Intrusion of Republicanness into My 50th High School Reunion”– was also published on Daily Kos, where it stirred up a real firestorm: an unusually high number of “recommendations,” and an unusually large number of people attacking me.
One of the supportive comments asked, “Did anyone stand up to this asshole?”
I responded, with the subject line, “I do not see this fellow as a bad guy,” in the following way:
“I was never close with this fellow, but we played football together for three years, and shared cafeteria time and so forth. Over the years, we’ve exchanged brief pleasantries at reunions. Also, I have it from other people that he’s generally a decent fellow.
“So I do not see what happened here as necessarily indicative of something deep and core about who he is.
“It’s part of who he is, of course. But I’m more inclined to see this as being a kind of module that’s been inserted into his personality.
“I speculate that it’s a place where a degree of arrogance and ambition in the young man evolved into something that could be exploited. When we were in school, he worked very hard to fulfill his ambition to be a big winner as an athlete. I further speculate that that part of him might have gotten bruised a bit when he found, as a grown man, that he could not maintain that status he enjoyed in high school as the all-conference star player in three of the biggest sports. And then came the political force to which he gave his allegiance to exploit that part for its purposes.
“(I’ve studied what happened in Germany in the years from, say, 1918 through 1945, and one can see these kinds of moldings of modules to bring what were apparently good people into service of a power whose spirit was anything but good.)
“In the case of today’s Republican rank and file — the people who get their news from Fox News, or from Limbaugh — the vulnerable parts of them have been hijacked and exploited. They’ve been taught to bring some of the worst parts of themselves into the political realm. they now operate in the political world from their worst selves.
“I say ‘political world’ because in the rest of the world they can be the nicest, most decent folks you meet.
“That’s the nature of the module. When they enter a particular space, they adopt the self that was entrained by the manipulative force.
“Up there with a microphone, as I imagine it, this basically decent fellow just naturally, conceivably even reflexively, allowed this module to kick in.
“The Manchurian Candidate is but an extreme version of what happens all the time to people in social universes dominated by manipulators.