The Republican Party could run a master class on magical thinking. That’s a measure of their absolute expertise on the subject – from imagining it to propagating it to accepting it. In essence and in fact, magical thinking is a safe space for tender, snowflakey feelings. Facts are anathema. They simply don’t get along with the magic. Facts keep trying to burst magic’s gossamer bubble. At its core, magical thinking rests upon a wide beam of fear. Fear of death. Fear of Black people. Fear of Jews. Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. The need for magical thinking makes sense on a certain level. It provides the perception of security. Sheer faith in a story being true is all one needs to “make it” true. When that story answers the question “What happens after I die?” in a way that satisfies (regardless of its veracity), magical thinking has just claimed another adherent. And reality just got a little harder to sustain.
Magical thinking has turned the GOP into a perverse joke. They’re like characters in a Monty Python sketch racing for the ledge just to prove they’ll do anything if “an authority” tells them to. That authority can be a politician or a businessman. But the “real” magical thinking authority flows from religion, the Mother of Magical Thinking.
It’s no coincidence that Trump looked for and found fellow travelers in the evangelicals. Evangelicals are magical thinking on steroids. Virtually everything they think begins as magical thinking – whether it’s stuff they believe or only pretend to. It takes zero magical thinking to “Do unto others” or “Turn the other cheek”. It takes being in touch with your humanity. It takes having real courage and the courage of your convictions. Jesus didn’t invent Christianity. Paul did. Jesus was born, lived his whole life and died a Jew preaching Jewish messages to other Jews. While Jews do have their mythologies and magical thinking, the magical thinking doesn’t wag the dog the way it does in the other Abrahamic religions. Any Jew’s goal – per her religion’s admonitions – is to make the world a better place just for having been in it. Christianity on the other hand is built upon a complex bargain. If you believe in Jesus the exact way the church tells you to, like Jesus, you too can defeat death and live forever in a beautiful place called “Heaven” with everyone you love.
The blood libel that’s haunted Jews for almost two thousand years? Pure magical thinking. Even as a story it doesn’t make sense. If God knows all from the start (how magical!) then he knew before magically impregnating Mary with Jesus what Jesus’s fate would be. If, per the church, Jesus’s entire reason to exist is to die for humanity’s sins (caused by Eve in the Garden of Eden), then it’s not a tragedy that Jesus dies, it’s the whole trigger for salvation. And, since Jesus is spiritual rather than flesh, he can never really “die” anyway – so what’s death to Jesus? If Jesus doesn’t get betrayed by Judas (as the story says), and never gets crucified and lives to a ripe, old age and dies in his bed surrounded by loved ones, then no one gets saved. Or, if that’s how it works, it’s kinda lame having an old guy rise from his comfy death bed instead of from a cold, dark cave.
Paul, of course, was trying to align real Jesus (who he never met in person!) with the invented Jesus he needed to make his new religion work. Everyone who actually knew Jesus or heard him preach rejected Paul’s version of Jesus. That’s why Paul took his version of Jesus – and his growing bubble of magical thinking – to the Gentiles. Having lived their whole lives in a polytheistic world where the gods didn’t care about them one way or the other, Romans and Greeks were intrigued by monotheism and its “loving God” who wanted to grant humans eternal life – provided they did things his way. All they had to do? Buy, believe and proselytize what this God character was selling. Oh – and don’t forget to kick the living crap out of anyone who doesn’t buy it.
Once you’ve framed your entire worldview from magical thinking’s perspective? All magical thinking is possible including the magical thinking you think is stupid. Imagine though how you look from the non-magical thinking point of view. The irony? Magical thinkers, as a rule, never step outside their magical thinking perspective because that would suggest that theirs isn’t the only way to think. And that would burst the whole gossamer bubble.
What is The Big Lie but “magical thinking on steroids” on steroids? What is the story of Donald Trump – a man genetically predisposed to greed, corruption, incompetence, bigotry, racism, misogyny and lack of character – if not a terrifying tale of magical thinking’s potency? Trump a great businessman and master negotiator? Magical thinking. Trump a patriot? Magical thinking. Trump anything but a criminal? Say it with me: “magical thinking”.
You can’t honestly blame a rat for being a rat. You can’t blame a thief for stealing you blind if you knew he was a thief and opened your pockets to him. You can’t blame a traitor for continuing to betray the nation when all ever gets for doing it is richer. Letting this happen without actively doing something to stop it (because we think good people with power will fix it for us)? Magical thinking, I’m afraid.
Democracy is a contact sport. Self-government is entirely DIY. It’s messy by nature but better for human beings (if our goal for humans is for them to live together peacefully). Though America has yet to live up to its full promise, the more E Pluribus Unum we become, the more we prosper – there’s data that proves it. Take it from a professional writer – there’s nothing wrong with re-writes. Re-writes are where we get the message more right than the first draft got it. “All men are created equal” was good – but it wasn’t exactly perfect. Especially not in the context in which those words were written.
Marx only got it half right. Religion may be the opiate of the people, but magical thinking is its meth amphetamine. People who believe in people want to empower people and make them the future. People who believe in magic want to preserve the magic – even if that means destroying people. There is no future for magical thinking because it’s committed itself to living entirely in the past. As the white, racist Republican Party keeps demonstrating, the belief that a white, racist past trumps a diverse, open-minded, open-hearted future? Pure magical thinking.