As many pundits have predicted, I too fear that this legislative session will be fraught with turmoil, grandstanding, and escalations involving all sorts of pettiness. Even more so, it comes as no surprise that it will likely be due to in-Party fighting among our Republicans. Recently, in David Drebes’ infamous “MOSCOUT” he makes the observation that the “Missouri Freedom Caucus wants to be the Majority Leader” and its natural conclusion is the “Houseification” of the Senate. “Housefication ” implying a spiraling devolution of traditional senatorial congeniality.
Strangely, we see this same genre of confusion and cannibalism in Washington DC among both Republicans and Democrats. Namely the ousting of previous Speaker McCarthy and the scapegoating of Manchin from the Left. Even further back we can see an even larger version of this infighting across the world. Many forget Brexit happened in 2016 – completely independently of America’s “Trump” phenomena. It is as if some strange social-virus (perhaps made in a lab, perhaps not) has spread across the entire world and has infected everyone – leaving nobody untouched.
Let’s take a step back in time to recall other recent casualties of these sporadic purity spirals that keep popping up. Remember when J.K. Rowling was the feminist hero of yesteryear, and now denounced by the trans-rights mob of today? Or the reactions of how Caitlyn Jenner was the Woman of the Year, and then came out as a Republican? We have seen this infectious in-fighting leading to the same pattern of hero-worship turned to sacrificial victim with Dave Chappelle, Ellen DeGeneres, Jimmy Fallon, and “Cancel Culture” generally. The in-group fighting and social cannibalism we are witnessing may be the result of the thesis of the late French literary theorist and anthropologist Rene Girard called Mimetic Desire.
It asserts that fundamentally human desire is not innate within us, but rather a learned behavior by imitation. The natural conclusion of humans learning what to desire by imitating each other is that humans will desire the same things; resulting in conflict. We see this with toddlers. If you put two toddlers in a room filled with toys they almost always end up fighting over the same toy within minutes. There is an object of desire (the toy) which the Imitator (Toddler 1) learns to desire from the Model of Desire (Toddler 2). In short, Toddler 2 taught Toddler 1 to desire the toy merely by the act of indicating interest in it – soon the fighting and crying ensues (a precursor of what’s to come!).
I believe what we see between the once “Conservative Caucus”, now “Freedom Caucus”, and the rest of the GOP legislature, specifically GOP legislative leadership, is called “Mimetic Rivalry”, or “Mimetic Doubles”.
Girard tells us that “‘Mimetic doubles’ refers to the situation in which rivals become so obsessed with each other that they mirror each other’s emotions and actions. The doubles are alike but they mistakenly see a great difference between them. Mimetic doubles are quite dangerous to one another and to others and can be quite self-destructive.”
Think of the classic love triangle trope in literature and film. At first Lover 1 announces his intention for the Beloved. Lover 2 takes notice of this desire and then realizes he too has always been in love with the Beloved. Lover 2 begins to challenge Lover 1 for the right to wed the Beloved. Soon the Lovers escalate in a game of one-upmanship and are fighting among themselves while the Beloved cries out for both of them to stop the madness and ends up choosing neither of them. This pattern is the basis for the plots of many Taylor Swift songs, romantic comedies, and sitcoms – which the Senate has been looking like, but with more taxpayer dollars and less laughs.
Let’s apply this model to our Missouri Senate GOP. We have Senate Leadership (Model of Desire) who possesses … well… leadership (Object of Desire). The “Freedom Caucus” (Imitator) thus desiring to seize the role of leadership will engage in rivalrous and escalating behavior to possess the object of desire. Senate Leadership no doubt “returns the favor”. This may seem obvious and elementary, but therein lies the deception. It is worse than the obvious. It is deeply subconscious and possesses us without us realizing it.
“Imitation becomes intensified at the heart of the hostility, but the rivals do all they can to conceal from each other and from themselves the cause of this intensification. Unfortunately, concealment doesn’t work. In imitating my rival’s desire I give him the impression that he has good reasons to desire what he desires, to possess what he possesses, and so the intensity of his desire keeps increasing.”
Eventually persecutions and accusations against each other begin and the “persecutors think they are doing good, the right thing; they believe they are working for justice and truth; they believe they are saving their community.”
He goes on to explain that “rivalistic desires are all the more overwhelming since they reinforce one another. The principle of reciprocal escalation and one-upmanship governs this type of conflict. This phenomenon is so common, so well known to us, and so contrary to our concept of ourselves, thus so humiliating, that we prefer to remove it from consciousness and act as if it did not exist. But all the while we know it does exist.4”
And here we see the arguments that Republicans who don’t agree with “us” are RINOs, or the version on the Left we see is “assault on democracy” and being called “racist”. Political science puts it picturesquely as “Horseshoe Theory”. Self-purification and hunting down the traitors from within will remain as the only option when the enemy outside the gates are in a super-minority and no longer pose a meaningful threat. Thus to stand out to voters in the only election that matters – primaries – the super-majority Republicans must play an escalating game of conservative one-upmanship in the primaries which further intensifies the pettiness in Jefferson City.
If this pattern of desire and behavior continues, we can expect nothing to get done, donor money to dry up, and only blame to trade with each other.