Not Racism; Projection

A reader offers this psychological interpretation of the more ad hominem tea-party protestors:

A common meme on the left is that racism is driving the hatred of Obama. I think the root is deeper and scarier: it is shadow projection.

Our ego wants to believe we are wonderful, and so cannot tolerate evidence to the Obama-joker contrary. Consider America. As good as we are, we have a dark side and our actions often have dark consequences. We are large and cast a large shadow. If we were a more mature people we would simply own our dark side, integrate it into part of our self knowledge, and act accordingly. However American mythology says that we are the good country, and to maintain that the pure version of that belief, we are willfully ignorant of our faults. In the minds of many “patriotic” Americans, we have no dark side. Unwilling to own our dark side, we project our shadow onto others.

The Cold War gave us a long period as “the good country” as the Soviet Union gave us a steady (and objectively evil) force onto which we could project our shadow. After the fall of communism we finally found Saddam Hussein to play that role, which clouded our perceptions of the real Saddam (and again, he was objectively evil). Since the Iraq war we’ve looked for a new target onto which to project our shadow. Perennial candidates China, North Korea, and Iran don’t quite suit our needs, and “the terrorists” finally wore thin. I have wondered who our next victim would be. Now we know.

It is Obama.

The right is projecting its shadow onto Obama. The same qualities that make him a saint to the left make him the devil to the right - he is easy to project onto.

That is why he is the out of control spender when they sat on their hands through all of Bush's malfeasance. That is why his talking to schoolchildren is dangerous when our government wiretapping its citizens wasn’t. That is why saving the financial system from years of Republican regulation is taking away our future. The more evil revealed about the right’s excesses on torture, or wars of choice, or nearly destroying the economy, the more evil Obama will look in their eyes, as they cannot tolerate owning responsibility, because in their own minds they are only good.

That is why he is the Fascist/Communist/Socialist/Muslim… that is the list of our shadow projections over the last 60 years. In their minds he is now the USSR ("my grandchildren will have to stand in line for toilet paper!") or even the Anti-Christ. The Obama they see is a projection of their own psyche, not that actual man in the White House. Missing birth certificates, death panels, indoctrinating children, these are all the projections running in their own heads, not things happening in the real world.

Racism makes Obama the Other, but shadow projection is an even more powerful (if interrelated) force than simple racism, and it is very susceptible to the mob mentality – think Goldberg in Orwell’s 1984. This will not end well. Now that Obama is carrying their shadow, only a dramatic event from outside could change it. (Or, they could gain awareness of their disowned dark side, and tolerating the inevitable pain of that experience, integrate into a healthy whole. This would require white, middle-class, middle-aged Americans - the primary protesters - to acknowledge that white middle class Americans are not all goodness and light and start taking responsibility for white privilege, their environmental choices, effects of class on economic status, etc. Don’t hold your breath.) The more those on the right deny their own failings, the more their internal unease will increase, the more the hatred to Obama will grow, and the more the need to do something will increase.

No wonder the far right is going bat shit crazy. In the movie playing in their minds, the enemy is within the gates.

I should say I'm not endorsing this view by publishing it; I think the opposition to healthcare reform is perfectly legitimate and may well be an entirely logical position for many enraged at Obama. But the rage itself, the spluttering ire directed at this young president who inherited one of the worst legacies in modern times? I can't explain it myself. But I'm happy to air theories.

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