Looking Back on the Election: A Pagan Perspective

Looking Back on the Election: A Pagan Perspective December 4, 2012

Editor’s note: To give Gus more posting flexibility, we’ve moved Pointedly Pagan to a new format! Please update your RSS feeds, or subscribe via e-mail (link on the right-hand sidebar). And now, here’s Gus…

Having enthusiastically urged Pagans to vote a straight Democratic ticket in every case where Republicans were competitive, it is fitting I describe how I think the election’s outcome affects our community. I think it will be profoundly for the good.

My book on the culture war and the divine feminine, Faultlines, will be published in 2013.  Among other things, I will argue the American right wing, far from being conservative in any coherent sense of that word, is an American variant of the right-wing nihilism that convulsed European politics beginning after WWI and culminating in WWII.

Today’s American rightwingers are not generally fascists: they are individualistic whereas fascism was collectivistic. But they share some of fascism’s emphases: the power of will over reason; the denigration of women and the feminine, while praising a strutting version of masculinity; a preference for hierarchy over equality; and a desire for domination rather than democratic decision-making.

These traits appear in various forms on the American right. Today’s dominant faction, however, grew from that Christian variant that turned its back on the religion of the North to defend and identify with the slave-holding South. (A good discussion of this topic is Kevin Phillips’ American Theocracy.) Along with other authoritarian forms of Christianity, this faction of the rightwing declared “culture war” on the rest of the country. They made impressive inroads in many states, influenced the Supreme Court, and by dominating the Republican base, also controlled the House of Representatives.  Had Romney won, they would likely have dominated any government policy that could be harmonized with plutocracy.

The election of 2012 was their high-water mark.  Their candidates prevailed in the Republican primaries and their influence forced Mitt Romney, who seems truly to believe in nothing but his right to power over us, to adopt their rhetoric. Paul Ryan, one of their own, was the Vice Presidential candidate.

Their War on Women backfired, however: younger women in particular pushed back at the voting booth.  A record 20 women will now serve in the new Senate, including Tammy Baldwin, who is publicly gay. Same-sex marriage was also legalized by popular vote in three states, while an effort to enshrine heterosexual marriage in Minnesota’s constitution failed, the first failure for measures of this kind.

Obama and Joe Biden demonstrated that one needn’t be a preening alpha male to be strong in debate.  Indeed, the Republican ideal of strutting self-important males like Romney and Ryan only disguised empty suits, rather than identifying men of substance.  This has often been the case in the American right, and in fact the failure of right-wing men to walk their talk first intrigued me into probing the deeper currents within the right wing.  But happily, this time style did not prevail over substance.

The 2012 election was a victory of women and feminine values. Balanced masculinity won over the caricatures of male strength that have characterized the Republican ideal. This popular choice for feminine-friendly values over hierarchical, one-sidedly masculine ones has spiritual consequences.

I doubt any religious community is more sexually diverse than Pagans, or finds that diversity less of a problem than we do.  The right wing attacked sexuality except when used for reproduction and for enforcing male dominance. But as Pagans, we have always honored sexuality in all people as sacred and worthy of celebration. I believe this is ultimately the difference  between seeing spirituality as transcendent or immanent, as belittling or affirming the world.

Similarly, our spirituality embraces religious diversity, and the new American majority is definitely diverse.  I attended a large Day of the Dead celebration in Santa Rosa, CA and was delighted when one of the Hispanic groups, the spectacular Danca Azteca, conducted a spiral dance for all who wished to participate. A Pomo Indian drumming ceremony added to the celebration of indigenous spirituality.  I am talking with some Hispanic people about organizing a joint public Day of the Dead/Samhain celebration here next year, and they are very interested.  I think the dynamics of this time are in favor of spiritualities of immanence and the feminine, and our community is well situated to prosper accordingly.

On a more secular level, public debate is already shifting from the War on Women to a renewed and hopefully timely focus on global warming and ecological sustainability. These contrasting emphases are inherent within these two spiritual models: the right-wing culture warriors versus the pluralists who embrace tolerance and acceptance of differences. I know I am emphasizing a dichotomy where reality is more nuanced, but even if I exaggerate the polarization, I find it more useful than papering these differences over by looking for similarities.

Make no mistake: the difference is deep.

This fundamental shift in American culture was demonstrated by the one-sidedness of the election on cultural issues, as well as the electoral failure of the Republican Party. Americans crossed a cultural divide.  The culture warriors know it, and the irrational Republican response to their defeat demonstrates it.  Public Policy Polling reports that a full 25% of registered Republicans now want their states to secede.  They know they have lost.

No matter what your politics are on major issues, much remains to be done, and many disappointments as well as (hopefully!) successes lie ahead.  We are hardly entering utopia. But suddenly, it has become much more possible to start discussing the other major problems that our country faces. I think the election of 2012 has ended the threat of right-wing domination for many years to come.

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