During my nearly 64-year lifetime I’ve lived in eight states, 5 red, 3 blue, based on overall ideology. My exposure has been 77% red and 23% blue until you factor in the time living in spots that are uncharacteristic of the state they are in and then it is more like 61% red and 39% blue.
But my understanding of why red state residents seem to hate government while taking more government benefits goes back to a research project with which I was involved just before graduating from an extremely conservative college in a very conservative state the year after presidential-hopeful Mitt Romney, whom I knew also graduated.
I researched and documented a seven to nine month period from the Fall of 1969 through the Spring of 1970 when many Christians of the Mormon faith became rampantly paranoid about the ideas that Salt Lake City was going to be invaded and sacked by large groups of African Americans.
Part of the research was undercover and part was through collecting and analyzing documents such as interviews, transcripts of speeches, news clippings, pamphlets distributed by neighborhood vigilante groups, anti-Communist propaganda etc.
The intensity of that paranoia is still palpable today when re-reading the chilling details provided by many of the informants. Official statements by church and political leaders intended to quell the rumors during that short span of time did little to dampen the spread of the presumed fear which was fueled by stories that included:
- rumors of people being threatened or beaten for having the wrong license plates or school sticker as they passed through nearby states.
- rumors of beatings and threats to school children of Mormons living in other states and plots to assassinate church leaders
- rumors of internal plots and coups to take over leadership of the church because they were too lenient and of the Civil Rights movement marketing the “Last Days”
- rumors of threats and revenge including supposed plots to poison reservoirs and food supplies and blow up or burn sacred and political facilities
- rumors and writings about the counter-culture (hippies) and Black Panthers being a front for a communist take-over and the down-throw of American cultural ideals.
Change some of the labels and today such folklore is now the stuff of shock-jock talk radio. Reflecting back to that time puts a whole new perspective on today when an African American is President of the United States and Mormons are more mainstream and this requires looking through the lens of that time.
It wouldn’t be for another 10 years before the Mormon Church would change its policy of banning Black members from holding priesthood. That change came in 1978, much too late for some like me who lapsed from that culture over that issue 39 years ago while remaining accepting of, but shamed by, that part of my heritage.
The struggle among members of the church on both sides of this issue may have been cathartic but just as that issue was justly resolved, members of that church began a hard turn to the right making it today the most conservative of all faiths while during the same period, some say, purging the college I attended from the academic freedom enjoyed when I was there.
Today Mormons definitely are not racists per se but some may share the same low regard for minorities and immigrants that researches such as the authors of American Grace have found defining among individuals now defined as Tea Party members, both before and after that movement came into existence.
The Freudian explanation for what was happening during that season of paranoia that gripped Mormons in late 1969 and early 1970 is called “inversed projection.” This condition is described as when individuals or groups subconsciously rationalize a contradiction by painting themselves as the victim instead.
In folklore terms this is what researcher William Hugh Jansen coined a decade before I conducted my research as the “Esoteric-Exoteric” factor. Esoteric refers to the mystical, subjective conception we have of ourselves vs. the exoteric or objective, external conception we have of others.
Contradictions in our own self-conception often fuel an interpretive conception of others based on fear, bias and prejudice. This to me also explains the apparent hypocrisy among residents of red states when they bash government while being the highest beneficiaries.
The pejoratives about government programs often asserted by conservatives and other red state residents aren’t based on personal experience with others more distant who they may stereotype as dependent on a so-called “nanny-state,” but on an inversed projection.
The source of their fear is more personal because they see and often encourage their adult children to fraudulently take advantage of tax loop holes or maintain poor credit then take advantage of bankruptcy laws or use Medicaid for more prevalent teenage pregnancies or to start a family while in college while they themselves get far more back in benefits than they pay in taxes.
As a political Independent or unaffiliated/lapsed, as ardent Republicans and Democrats, like to term us, this may not make my choices any easier in the election this Fall, but it will help cut through the rhetoric and avalanche of negative campaign ads.
Communication like this will say more about those who utter or sponsor the attacks than it will about their intended targets.