Both Sides Drink the Kool-Aid
Blind loyalty strips away individuality and rationality
February 29, 2016
One of the greatest benefits to living in a free society is the right to choose our leaders. With more than 300 million citizens in our country, there are bound to be differences of opinions. We would like to believe those opinions are based on thoughtful analysis, yet all too often they are formed by raw emotion.
Invariably during political arguments today, someone is accused of “drinking the Kool-Aid.” It refers to blind loyalty, based on emotion, not reason, and originated from the 1978 murder/suicide of 900 people living in a commune in Guyana. They were all fiercely loyal to their cult leader, Jim Jones, and on his orders, took their own lives by drinking a fruit beverage laced with cyanide. That incident showed how blind loyalty can deprive otherwise rational individuals of free will and common sense.
Conservatives have long applied that term to the liberal thought process. After all, liberals pride themselves on their emotional capacity, and they are better than anyone else at circling the wagons. Once they get behind a champion, they defend him (or her) to the bitter end. They become blind to the scandals, blind to all derogatory allegations, no matter how numerous or well-substantiated. Their allegiance is based on pure emotion, and whenever their loyalty is challenged, it only grows stronger. They thrive on Kool-Aid and wishful thinking.
So say conservative critics.
Now we’re in the middle of a truly historic, and some would say, surreal presidential election, one in which emotions may be higher than ever before. Half of the Democrats staunchly support Hillary Clinton, firmly convinced that she is honest and trustworthy. The other half are fiercely loyal to socialist Bernie Sanders, convinced that he can give them a utopian society by redistributing the wealth others have earned.
If that’s not blind allegiance, based on emotion, and void of logic, what is? But many on the right are also sipping the Kool-Aid.
When Donald Trump began his campaign, his nationalistic rhetoric inspired countless Americans, disgusted with the direction our country has taken. They immediately embraced him as an uncompromising warrior in the fight to restore America’s greatness. Their enthusiasm reflected raw emotion, the kind that comes with an abiding love of country.
But many of them have allowed that emotion to compromise their reason. They’re ignoring the questions they should be asking. How do Trump’s contradictory positions over the years make him any different from other disingenuous politicians? Even if he means what he says, can he deliver on his promises without ignoring Congress and the Constitution? Does he offer rational solutions to our problems, or just vague assurances? Most importantly, considering his negative numbers and his divisiveness, would he be defeated in the general election?
His supporters are also blind to other troubling signs, like Trump’s petty compulsion to lash out at anyone who criticizes him. They ignore those adolescent and vile comments he made about a female debate moderator after she asked a question he didn’t like. They don’t care that he publicly mocked a handicapped reporter because the reporter failed to back-up his claims. They even overlook Trump’s wild and unfounded accusation that the Bush administration lied to launch the Iraq war.
If there are still any doubts about their commitment to this man, Trump, himself, certainly has none. He recently boasted that he could shoot someone in the middle of Manhattan without losing support. Even Jim Jones could not have made that claim.
Trump’s supporters argue instead that his talents as a businessman uniquely qualify him for the presidency. It’s a flawed analogy. Those things that make a billionaire real estate tycoon successful don’t guarantee success in the White House. Cunning, ruthlessness, and blind ambition contributed to Trump’s success in the business world. Though we expect strong leadership in a President, shouldn’t it be tempered with some shred of humility? Shouldn’t we at least expect him to understand that the presidency is not a dictatorship, and that all men and women are equal in the eyes of God?
Trump’s followers, like the rest of us, know that ISIS is a dangerous threat that must be destroyed. They know that uncontrolled illegal immigration strains our social programs and imports crime. They want to bring jobs back to our country, and they want to make America great again. Their support of Trump is based on emotion, a passionate love of country. But does Donald Trump truly share that passion, or is he just using it to manipulate his following?
We can’t know what’s in his heart. But rational voters got a clue when Trump recently demeaned John McCain’s prison of war status, exclaiming, “I like people who weren’t captured.” Would anyone who truly appreciates the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform have ever made a comment like that? It was an insult to our military and an unforgivable insult to anyone who has ever suffered at the hands of our enemies. To dismiss it, suggests the complete absence of reason.
Blind loyalty does more than just deprive us of our common sense and sound judgment. It can be truly dangerous. Throughout history, it has killed far more than those 900 Jonestown victims. We only have to look back to see the potentially catastrophic outcome of blindly entrusting the wrong person with unconstrained power.
Peter Lemiska has spent more than 28 years in government service. He is a former Senior Special Agent of the U.S. Secret Service and an Air Force veteran. His political commentaries have been widely published online and in print.