So this is how it goes: Historically speaking, a rising group first finds the Devil in its specific opponents; as it expands, the group next finds the Devil in where its converts and new members are coming from; established, the group begins searching for and attempting to purge the Devil in its own ranks.
One of the great human narratives in which this occurs is the Bible: a rising Jewish sect invested the personification of evil in the Romans and the Jewish abettors who oppressed them. As it gained converts from the various paganistic religions of the day, the Devil became a personification of their former gods and goddesses. When Christianity achieved political power, it began finding the Devil within itself.α
The archetype emerges in other contexts; consider the Tea Party:
As most Republicans were taking a victory lap the morning after the elections, a group of conservatives huddled anxiously in a conference room not far from Capitol Hill and agreed that now is the time for confrontation, not compromise and conciliation.
Despite Republicans’ ascension to Senate control and an expanded House majority, many conservatives from the party’s activist wing fear that congressional leaders are already being too timid with President Obama.
They do not want to hear that government shutdowns are off the table or that repealing the Affordable Care Act is impossible — two things Republican leaders have said in recent days.
“If the new Republican leadership in the Senate is only talking about what they can’t do, that’s going to be very demoralizing,” said Thomas J. Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative advocacy group that convenes a regular gathering called Groundswell. Any sense of triumph at its meeting last week was fleeting.
“I think the members of the leadership need to decide what they’re willing to shut down the government over,” Mr. Fitton said.
The Tea Party appears to be in a transition between the second and third phases. They rose to prominence complaining about Democrats (2010); turned to challenge Republicans, gaining converts in doing so (2012); in the wake of the 2014 midterm, they would appear poised to attempt to purge the Congressional GOP of moderation. The only real question is whether they have the political power to do so. If they succeed, they might be setting up a 2016 “blue wave” to hand the White House and Senate to Democrats while demolishing the numbers advantage in the House. Then again, the House numbers are a little more secure; Republicans can continue sending exorcists to legislatures as long as they want, it seems.
And while that might suffice for, say, Colorado Springs, the rest of the country is starting to weary of the proposition that we must always, always, always slow progress, and even take a few regressive steps, in order to be fair to delusional bigots.
Remember the states and districts in play this year. The next two years of discord and gridlock that can only be broken by “compromising” with extremists who are only satisfied with a 100:0 compromise ratio—“We tell you what to do, you do it; see? compromise, we all have a role to play.”—are entirely on states like Iowa, Kansas, and Colorado.
And remember, it’s not like voters couldn’t see this coming; They were told.
α cf, Pagels, Elaine. The Origin of Satan. 1995. New York: Vantage, 1996.
Peters, Jeremy W. “With Fear of Being Sidelined, Tea Party Sees the Republican Rise as New Threat”. The New York Times. 8 November 2014.