I know I've written about this before, but it's time once again to plumb the Jungian depths of the fear of the other, or maybe I should capitalize that: The Other. I'm referring to the virulently angry protesters at the various Congressional town hall meetings over the past few weeks. Of course, much of these protests are of the “Astroturf” variety (i.e., fake grass roots), and right-wing bloviators are responsible for stirring up much of the vitriol on display. However, there are some genuinely angry, genuinely afraid people out there.
What are they afraid of? Are they really afraid of reforms to the health insurance industry? Are they afraid of a public option for health care, or of losing tax deductibility for employer-provided health insurance benefits? If they are, these aren't the issues they're articulating (and I use the word generously), at least not in most of the news clips I've seen of the protests. Speaking of which, Barney Frank delivered a fine smackdown of a nutty protester at a recent town hall meeting, as shown on this YouTube clip.
No, what they're afraid of, quite specifically, is President Obama and his plans to implement a “Nazi” government. That's right, it's apparently Summertime for Hitler and America. Protesters are feverishly brandishing posters of Obama with a Hitler-esque mustache (I suppose they chose Nazis instead of Communists because a Stalin mustache just looks too silly on anyone) and chanting all manner of nonsensical anti-reform slogans. Oh yeah, and they're starting to bring guns to the protests too.
Now, last I checked, the Nazis didn't offer universal health coverage. Neither did they make many attempts to rein in pharmaceutical costs. So the Nazi comparisons aren't meant to be point-by-point accurate historical parallels. What the protesters are trying to say, as best as I can figure out, is that just as Hitler was evil, Obama also is evil, and he's trying to turn America into some sort of evil shell of its former self. If you listen to the protesters, you'll hear them say things like “This isn't the America I know and love”.
What is the America they know and love? Perhaps the growing popularity of the AMC series Mad Men might help explain this. The America these folks know and love is the pre-Woodstock, pre-Stonewall America, the Eisenhower Happy Days years, when men were men and women were women and blacks knew their place and gays were firmly locked in their closets.
To put it another way, these folks are afraid of Obama because he's not like them. And I don't mean because he's Harvard-educated, or because he has a hot wife. He's not like them because he's a black guy. That's it, plain and simple, and if you know me at all you know I hate simplifying complex issues down to simple charges like “racism”, but in this case, I think that's at least what's at the root of all this. Have you noticed that every single one of the protesters featured on the news just happens to be white? But don't believe me – check out the most trusted man in news for yourself on this point.
Back to Hitler - if it's Summertime for Hitler and America, is the heartland happy and gay? Well, maybe in Iowa, and in a few New England states that have recently legalized gay marriage. Aside from the health care reform debate, however, nothing stirs up the vitriol of some parts of the populace like the gay marriage debate. This is another one in which opponents of reform decry the destruction of our society, the end of America, etc. etc. if the reformers get their way. The legalization of gay marriage would supposedly crumble the entire foundation of our country. How this would happen (outside of the presumed wrath of a vengeful, homophobic Divine Being), I'm not sure. Since I don't believe in a vengeful, homophobic Divine Being, I'm not too worried about that outcome. I am, however, deeply troubled by the discrimination against a whole lot of people in our country simply because they love certain other people and want to spend a lifetime together in a committed, loving partnership. What's so scary about that?
What's so scary about gays, and blacks, and Hispanic immigrants, and all the rest of the bogeymen conjured up by these protesters, is that they're NOT LIKE US. That is to say, they're THE OTHER. According to depth psychology, we fear that which is different from us - or alternatively that which represents some shadow aspect of our true selves, and then we find an out-group, an other or set of others, and then we project all of our fears and hatred onto that group. It really doesn't matter what that Other group is, as long as we can clearly identify and in turn vilify that group. I've written about this before on this blog so I won't go on too long about it now. Just realize that this is what's really at work in these seemingly irrational protests – the fear of the other. Do we really need to fear that which is different from ourselves? No, what we need to fear is that element within ourselves that we in turn project onto the other. As Carl Jung wisely noted, "The best political, social, and spiritual work we can do is to withdraw the projection of our shadow onto others."