|Anonymous miniature, 1496-99, from an incunable print in the Biblioteca Nazionale, Turin, via Wikipedia.|
David Brooks asks ("The Siege Mentality Problem"):
The siege mentality ends up displacing whatever creed the group started with. Evangelical Christians, for example, had a humane model for leadership — servant leadership — but, feeling besieged, they swapped it for Donald Trump, for gladiator pagan leadership.
Why is this mind-set so prevalent now?Noah Rothman was just wondering about that too:
Conservatives, and Republicans to a lesser extent, are wrestling with a siege mentality. It is a common condition that occurs when one party soundly loses a national election. The right feels beset on all sides by enemies, both within and without the walls of the conservative citadel.Wait, no, that was in 2013. I meant Wayne Slater in The Dallas News:
In an interview, Cornyn said it's understandable that conservatives might see themselves encircled and besieged by forces they cannot control.
"The biggest sense of unease is as it relates to spending and the debt," he said. "And the feeling that on national security issues, this is a dangerous world and America is not presenting the kind of leadership people would hope for."No, that's back in 2010. Tom Edsall?
On a Steve King move of 2008.
NEWS & POLITICS
The Right's Siege Mentality
Wasn't I thinking of Michael Bowen?
Mark Wahlgren Summers?
Etc. You see what I'm saying. The barbarians are at the gates! The "siege mentality" is just an elegant synonym for conservatism (there's a ritual bothsiderist gesture in the list, "also among the campus social justice warriors and the gun lobbyists, in North Korea and Iran, and in the populist movements across Europe," but it's a pathetically small-scale case, and he never gets back to it), the ruling-class fear of the mobs, also kmown as democracy, and always has been.
Brooks has a lot to say about what "we" should do when trying to deal with people suffering from a siege mentality, which starts off sounding like something I might say if I'm trying to be a nice person, but moves quickly into unpleasant territory:
How should one respond to the siege mentality, to the Alabamians now rallying around Roy Moore? Well, it’s right to be disgusted, and it feels good to be contemptuous. But contempt only breeds contempt....
It should be met with confident pluralism. We have a shared moral culture, and some things are beyond the boundaries, like tolerating sexual harassment. But within the boundaries of our liberal polity, we’re going to give one another the benefit of the doubt.
Suppose America’s leaders had gone to conservative evangelicals a decade ago and said: Look, we understand that changing attitudes about gay marriage put you in a tough position. We’re not going to stop doing what we think is right, but we’re going to try to work out some accommodation with you on religious liberty so you can feel at home here and practice your faith.
That might have felt more like a conversation than a siege..."A decade ago" same-sex marriage was legal in a single state, Massachusetts, George W. Bush was president, and the leading Democratic presidential candidates publicly said they themselves weren't ready for marriage equality. "America's leaders" were going to the gay community and offering them a chance to be second-class citizens instead of third-class. I too thought, I'm sorry to say, that Democrats shouldn't talk about it, because it would detract from the economic message. How quickly we forget. But that "religious liberty" canard made me mad even then, applied to the abortion issue and the "school choice" canard, and waa only going to keep making me madder when it came to contraception under the ACA for employees of "Christian" institutions, their "liberty" to beat up on defenseless women.
As late as 2012, when President Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage during his reelection campaign, it was legal in just nine states. Marriage equality became the law of the land in 2015!
I try to imagine the Supreme Court in all its confident pluralism addressing Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore as he then was, determined that no county clerk in Alabama would ever sign a marriage certificate to two women or two men, to convey their understanding that the Obergefell decision put him in a tough position, but they were going to try to work out some accommodation with him on religious liberty. What would they have had in mind that would have comforted him and kept him from adopting a siege mentality? Let them eat evangelical no-homo wedding cake!
I'm personally for accommodations of the weak and marginal—Haredim or Amish, for instance, in their exotic costumes and self-ghettoization—and I think bakers and photographers and so on ought to be allowed exceptions to state anti-discrimination consumer laws as long as they make it publicly clear in their shopwindows and advertising and websites that they are that kind of business; the way some liberal churches hang out the rainbow flag and a sign calling themselves "open and affirming", you could have wedding planners billing themselves as a "closed and negating business" or a "biblical business" or whatever homophobic code they want to use, so that not only will gay couples be spared the embarrassment and humiliation of being denied but their straight friends as well will be able to avoid patronizing such places. As long as it's clear that they are marginal, and they can't dictate the lives of the majority. (And I can never accept employer discrimination against employees as in the Hobby Lobby or Little Sisters of the Poor cases.)
One thing Brooks does, and it's the only somewhat interesting thing about the column, is typical and infuriating, and I'm not sure we ever give it the attention it deserves: tacitly divides the world into a "we", the "confidently plural", and a "they", the gladiator pagan worshipers, he himself is not addressing at all, with or without contempt, as if they didn't know how to read. But we should be nice to them. Under the assumption that the phenomenon he's talking about is completely alien to him and his readers, an entirely Other thing.
It never occurs to him that he or anybody he knows is in any danger of showing a siege mentality, and while he's lecturing us on how we should be gentle with those primitive-minded gladiator pagans, he's not acknowledging that he's spent most of his life as one of them, from Mr. Buckley's dinner table to the war-fever dreams of the Weekly Standard of 2002, and still shows signs of it, as with that code reference to "religious liberty", or affectionate references to the permanently besieged social circle of people like Rod Dreher, in which he's still very much at home. He just maintains that tone of effortless superiority, but I don't think he's even yet confident in his pluralism at all, merely extra-alienated.
It would be a lot more useful if Brooks would tell us from personal experience about what it's like to live inside a siege mentality, and how you can defend yourself from that intellectual walling off of your mind. But he never will, and his mind remains walled off, though his manners are so nice.