Get out of your political doomsday cult

Fearing that the earth was about to be “recycled,” 39 Heaven’s Gate cultists ceremoniously killed themselves in 1997 hoping their souls might hitch a ride on a spacecraft following the Hale-Bopp comet. They left a suicide press release encouraging others to follow their deadly example in the “West or Southwest of the United States” in order to catch the passing spacecraft.

If suicide as a boarding pass to a UFO isn’t a bridge too far, then details of the most convenient location for aliens to beam up souls seem completely reasonable. 

Our modern-day political doomsday cults are uncomfortably similar to Heaven’s Gate whether we admit it or not. 

Like the threat of planetary recycling, prophetic politicians lead with a high stakes gambit for the future of America. 

According to California Governor Gavin Newsome, the wildfires engulfing California are “coming to (communities) all across the United States of America unless we get our act together on climate change.” 

President Donald Trump warned, “Your vote will decide whether we protect law abiding Americans, or whether we give free rein to violent anarchists, agitators and criminals who threaten our citizens.” 

“We have the most dangerous person in the history of our country sitting in the White House,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed of Trump.

The drama was at a fever pitch leading into the November election. Countless social media posts predicted America would become either a socialist or fascist country overnight depending on the results.

Cult leaders use that exact type of apocalyptic language to gain traction. The choice between a politician and imminent destruction may be a no-brainer, but we need our brains to avoid being manipulated.

Unfortunately, we don’t expect much or bother with the details once we buy the apocalyptic partisan pitch. According to a Pew Research Center survey from September of 2016, only about half of voters (48%) claimed to know “a lot” about where Clinton stood on important issues, while even fewer (41%) knew Trump’s positions. Think about that. Less than half the voters really know the positions of the main party candidates. 

If you believe there’s a big difference between the Heaven’s Gate cult and loyalty to a political figure or party, answer this: Is there anything that could possibly make you turn away from your current political preferences?  

What if President Joe Biden encouraged you to slather your body in grape jelly to prevent COVID-19, would you slowly back away or be one of the purple people? 

When we pledge loyalty and subsequently reshape reality to defend our choice, we’re no different than the Heaven’s Gate cultist who thought it was reasonable for a former chorale instructor at the University of Alabama to have an interpretation of the Bible that involved spacecraft and matching black Nikes. 

Questioning the political authority of the British crown led to our nation’s founding. Americans have long held a healthy suspicion of the political class regardless of whether we support a specific politician. We need to regain that confidence to shake off the cultist mentality.

That begins by deconstructing the doomsday political narrative. 

Yes, every election has consequences, but the next one won’t cause America to fail if we get it “wrong.” Roughly half of the country will feel like we made an incorrect choice regardless of the outcome. Almost none of those voters will leave the country, relinquish their values, or stop participating in political life. 

Americans don’t give up on America over elections. 

Rather than pledging fealty to any politician, we should learn more about the policies and ideas we want to advance, question elected officials, and expect them to actually work for our support. 

If the reason for your vote has more to do with preventing the immediate death of America than thoughtful support of a leader, you might just be in another doomsday cult without the matching Nikes. 

Cameron Smith is CEO of the Triptych Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit. The Triptych Foundation promotes a virtuous society through investments in socially impactful media and business. He was recently executive director of the Republican Policy Committee in the United States House of Representatives. You can reach him at cameron@triptychfoundation.org.

 

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