Eschatology and Discourse


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The Federal Reserve is conspiring to rob this country of all its true wealth; President Obama is getting ready to take our guns and declare martial law; China will cash in our debt any moment now, leaving us a broken nation; and this entire presidency has been one long Manchurian puppet show.

To hear the cries of the political spin artists, you’d think it was the end of the world — or America, at least. This apocalypticism is not unique to the Obama presidency; Naomi Wolf’s The End of America was a New York Times bestseller in the Bush years even as it described an apparently inevitable slide into fascism. But lately, the eschatological wailing has hit a crescendo, and attempts to label it a backwater relic ignore the truth: Paranoid apocalypticism, stoked so irresponsibly by politicos, damages to our public debate to a horrific degree.

Admittedly progressive-leaning journalist Will Bunch’s 2010 book, The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama, describes the kind of desperado ideal that holds our nation captive: the government is an overwhelming force plotting the downfall of the ordinary American, who can resist only with the kind of plucky, frontiersman grit so immortalized in our cinema. And guns, of course, which makes the perceived threats to the Second Amendment so beguiling.

Of course, there is no threat to the Second Amendment; that did not prevent ammunition prices from skyrocketing in the year after Obama’s inauguration, feverishly stockpiled by the right-wing echo-chamber crowd. We are not on the march towards socialism — “Obamacare” is a far cry from an anti-industry bill. Yesteryear’s bogeyman, the FEMA concentration camp, has been forgotten.

It’s tempting to write off the current model of paranoia as silly fantasy, but cavalier dismissal of irrational beliefs ignores the grievous damage they do to our political culture. As a religious-studies major, irrational beliefs and stirring narratives make up the bulk of my study; their political mirror images are no less enthralling.

Take Jared Lee Loughner, allegedly the attempted assassin of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Within hours of the shooting, dedicated Internet detectives had uncovered Loughner’s YouTube channel; while his rambling, often syllogistic commentary does not represent a partisan affiliation, it expresses a bizarre paranoia: Grammar is being used as mind control, and the paper dollar is illegal. Loughner undoubtedly crosses over into sheer insanity, but he is a splinter cultist to the mainstream priests of American eschatology on both left and right.

All of this panic, of course, ignores the slow, gradual harm done to our country: increasing socioeconomic inequality, wars bleeding our wallets dry, the decay of our weary cities, and the attempted erosion of our civil liberties.

So I propose to you this: It’s not the end of the world, John Boehner is not the Antichrist, and Obama is in no way equitable with Osama. Better to focus on the creeping things, the incremental changes that make this a worse place to live. Better to fight what you can see, make a practical difference, instead of wrestling with smoke.

Not because we’re the last bastion of hope against an evil future but because it’s the right thing to do.

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