Why I Left the GOP (by Nyssa McCanmore)

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Running From the Darkness/ DeantheBard, 2018

 

My friend Nyssa has a fantastic blog (Nyssa’s Hobbit Hole) that covers everything from narcissistic abuse (including her own fight against church “friends” who turned her into their scapegoat), to religion (Nyssa is an Orthodox Christian) to politics.  Her posts tend to be on the long side, but they are always intelligent and insightful, never boring, and usually written like first person stories and memoirs.

Here, Nyssa describes a childhood raised by staunch Republican parents, and part of her young adulthood spent in the clutches of highly controlling and greedy evangelical megachurches headed by filthy rich “prosperity gospel” pastors, many of them shady grifters and narcissists.  These churches seemed more concerned with bilking financially strapped believers out of their income “to glorify God” if they wanted to avoid Hell, than with saving souls by teaching the Good News of the New Testament.  These churches’  pastors became ever more wealthy, purchasing opulent homes and yachts for themselves, while many of their gullible flock still lived in near poverty.

Over time, these churches became increasingly aligned with Republicanism (and the GOP increasingly aligned with prosperity gospel and right wing evangelical churches).

 The cultlike devotion to Trump, who embodied the actual opposite of Christ’s teachings, was the last straw for her and for many like her.  They were fed up with the hypocrisy, lies, and oppression of authoritarian Christianity.

People were taught that salvation was dependent on how much they donated to the church, and how much they parroted right wing political talking points, instead of just being decent, kind human beings who tried to emulate the life of the Jesus of the Bible.

For Nyssa, the final straw was when her church began to mix far right politics into its sermons, telling parishioners who they must vote for lest they burn in hell.   The cultlike devotion to Trump, who embodied the actual opposite of Christ’s teachings, was the last straw for her and for many like her.  Thinking people became fed up with the hypocrisy, lies, and oppression of authoritarian Christianity and an increasingly authoritarian Republican Party, which seemed to be in bed with these churches (Defectors call themselves Exvangelicals).

Since leaving evangelical Christianity (her conversion story from evangelicalism to Orthodox Christianity can be found here), Nyssa has continued to pursue her spiritual development in a less toxic and oppressive environment.  She began to see how far the GOP had strayed from the Party of Lincoln and Eisenhower, a party that respected the rule of law, freedom for all and democracy, to a near fascist party that was becoming increasingly cruel, nationalistic, intolerant of “the other,” and even unAmerican. Nyssa’s politics became more liberal as she realized how much the GOP had changed from the party she remembered from her childhood.    

She has found that liberalism is actually much closer to Christ’s teachings in most ways than Tea Party/Trump style conservatism is.

Here is another post I wrote about a young man, David Weissman, who voted for and supported Trump, and finally saw the light.  In my post I linked to his original post that appeared in the online magazine for the Jewish community, Forward.  Today David is a proud liberal and Elizabeth Warren supporter, and has a large Twitter following.

The Deconversion of a Trump Troll

In both Nyssa and David’s journeys, education about the facts was the key to a change of heart.

 

 

*****

Why I Left the GOP

By Nyssa McCanmore

As a kid, I was raised Republican–but not for religious reasons.  The Democrats were stupid donkeys; the Republicans were smart elephants.  Abortion and gay rights were barely a blip on the fundie screen in those days.  Adding religion to it didn’t happen until I started watching The 700 Club around 1987 or 1988.

I watched it on and off starting around age 12, but it wasn’t until around 14 or 15 that I started watching it every day, seeing it as important as my new determination to read the Bible daily.  Pat Robertson indoctrinated me into the idea that Democrats were evil atheist liberals out to destroy all we hold dear, while the Republicans were righteous warriors saving our country from baby-killers and homosexuals and big government.  I believed everything he said because he was a Christian preacher.

And yet, even though my dad was very conservative, he still told me that voting by party when the other guy is a better candidate, is stupid.  He still said not to listen to Pat Robertson or the people who say we need to put prayer back in schools.  He said that presidents could not do anything they wanted, that the courts told Nixon he had to turn over the tapes.

In college, chinks in the wall started coming as I took classes on Persuasion and Mass Media.  I learned about logical fallacies and how words can be manipulated to bring emotional responses.  I learned that The 700 Club hadn’t always told the truth about stories in the news.  I learned that Rush Limbaugh was highly manipulative, how he cut people off when he didn’t like their comments and formed the reactions of listeners.  Pat Robertson kept saying over and over that God told him over and over that Bush would win in 1992; when Clinton won, Pat’s only explanation was, “I guess I missed it.”

You can read the rest of this article on Nyssa’s Hobbit Hole.

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Book review: “A Higher Loyalty” by James Comey

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The “handshake” shown here is described in the book.

I received my copy of the bestselling memoir A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by former FBI director James Comey on Thursday and  finished it this morning.   It’s a fast read, but it may change you.

Comey describes the chain of events that led to his firing from the FBI in May 2017.   But more than that, this is an autobiography.  He also describes his childhood, high school years, his early years working in law enforcement (including exciting cases involving high profile mobsters and the Gambino Crime Family).  There’s also the very personal story of the loss of his infant son, Collin, an event he believes infused him with more empathy for the heartbreaks and losses of others — and made him a better FBI agent.

The book moves fast partly because the pages are packed with dialogue, some of which is humorous.  Here’s an excerpt of one of the conversations Comey had with Trump, at a private dinner meeting Trump had arranged for the two of them at the White House. I think this excerpt shows both Trump’s own ignorance and disdain for intellectualism.

“On my plate, I had found a large cream colored card describing the entire four course menu in cursive script. Salad, shrimp scampi, chicken parmesan with pasta, and vanilla ice cream. The president began by admiring his own menu card, which he held up.

“They write these things out one at a time, by hand,” [Trump] marveled, referring to the White House staff.  “A calligrapher,” I replied, nodding.

He looked quizzical. “They write them by hand,” he repeated.

Comey is being vilified and projected onto by his enemies right now, accused of everything Trump himself does every day.   I believe Comey, and not just because he’s on “my side” politically.   I believe him because he’s believable.   He’s an observant writer who notices the nuances of body and facial language, and appears to be a shrewd judge of character.  He also appears to have a high level of empathy, judging from the way he writes about others and his own reactions to them.   I cannot imagine a Donald Trump being capable of writing or thinking the way Comey does, or even noticing a fraction of the things Comey does.  Comey’s observation skills and empathy, combined with a lifelong passion for the truth, is what made him a great FBI agent and allowed him to rise to the top of the organization.   Yet he always remained humble, even shy and self-doubting at times (yes, he really did try to hide inside the blue curtains at the White House!)   His success never went to his head, and his priorities always remained on seeking the truth, never on bolstering his own ego.

Comey is being attacked by some people for telling the truth, something that narcissists like Trump hate because it exposes them for who they are.   In fact, Comey seems to have been selected specifically by Trump as a target for emotional and mental abuse.   People like Trump can sniff out potential scapegoats (usually very empathetic or observant people who can smell out the truth) from a mile away, and Comey, for his part, was uneasy around Trump from Day One — but like most of us who have been in abusive relationships, he initially wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt.    As a shrewd FBI agent though, he never actually did — he only promised Trump “honest loyalty,” not the sort of mobster-loyalty Trump wanted from him.

Comey spends some time early in the book talking about what character traits he believes a good leader needs to have: toughmindedness is great, but it needs to be balanced with qualities of empathy, honesty, and integrity — values that are lacking in Donald Trump, who cares only about loyalty to himself and projecting a fearsome image of strength.

For all its darkness, A Higher Loyalty ends on a positive note.  Comey compares the Trump presidency to a forest fire.   Forest fires are destructive and deadly, but they are also necessary and happen naturally on a cyclical basis.   Forest fires make it possible for new life to grow — seedlings and new plants that had been crowded out by the old trees before finally have room to emerge and flourish.    While Trump might be a destructive force of nature, he may be a necessary one:  in his wake, people are waking up and demanding real change.    The rot that had been present but hidden for decades is finally being exposed, young people are making themselves heard, and I have no doubt that in time, Trump (and Trumpism) will go down in flames and our democracy will emerge better than it was before, with new values or old values that had been forgotten.

The Furnace.

My post The Mystery Ship was one of my most popular posts. Here’s another childhood memoir from over two years ago I wrote in the same spirit as that essay.

Originally posted on June 15, 2015

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In 1968 our family moved to a Dutch Colonial three-story house built in the 1920s. We only lived there for five years, but the memory of that house is etched into my mind like veins of quartz in granite. Some other time I’ll write about how cool the entire house was, but right now my concern is the old oil furnace that lived in the basement.

Yes, it lived there. It wasn’t hard to imagine that furnace was alive. It had a personality.

Its squat rotund body stood in the sooty gray-concrete corner like a Russian sentinel from a lost age. Its concrete exterior had been painted what appeared to have been white in the distant past, but had turned a dirty tan with age. Rust stains snaked along it like varicose veins. Tumors of soot embedded themselves here and there and filled its crevices. The furnace was covered with guages and meters relating information about the furnace’s internal state my young mind couldn’t understand.

Snaking from the furnace were too many old iron pipes to count. Some were painted what had once been white but were now pock-marked with rust the color of old blood, others were unpainted and rusted over completely, and a few had been replaced with more modern steel pipes that looked out of place. All these pipes stuck out of the furnace like limbs, and converged along the ceiling, delivering their payload of heat to the house that was home to the inhabitants that that served it so lovingly.

The furnace chugged along in the cold months, clanking and blatting and hissing in its corner. Sometimes it leaked hot water all over the peeling painted cement floor around it. Other times it farted black smoke. There were a few times the entire basement was filled with its sooty miasma, and you couldn’t go down there. It was probably dangerous. I used to wonder sometimes if the old furnace might explode when it did that. I was assured it was safe but I never was sure.

Sometimes the furnace scared me when it did that. It also scared me when it made more hissing and clanking sounds than normal. I used to think it was angry that it had to live in the ugly damp unfinished basement and the only light it ever saw was the dim gray light that filtered through the filthy slit-like windows that dotted the white painted brick wall near the ceiling. Those windows were veiled with spider webs and caked with soot. Even my clean freak mother, who had a meltdown if she saw so much as a gum wrapper anywhere else in the house, never did anything with the basement windows. The basement was the one place she allowed to get dirty, except for the laundry room, which had been partially modernized with a carpet, fluorescent lights, and acoustic tile ceiling. The rest of the basement was lit–barely–with bare incandescent bulbs screwed in between the ceiling rafters and operated by metal pull-chains. An old rusted (but working) toilet sat in a tiny closet with only one bare bulb screwed overhead, and no sink.

I used a tiny room that at one time had been used for canning as my escape from the dysfunction that regularly went on up above. My bedroom was too close to the master bedroom, and offered little refuge from the oppressive tension and constant arguing. My basement room was outfitted with a metal desk with wood grain Formica where I did all my homework, and an old piece of salvaged carpet. The canning shelves housed my Barbie dolls and all their accoutrements. The cinder block walls were painted mint-green. A small painted shelf sat above the desk, and my favorite books made their home there. I loved my books. They opened parallel universes in which I could escape from my painful reality.

I’d stay in my little room for hours at a time, barely aware of anything except the world of my books and Barbies. Although I had a probably healthy caution of the furnace and didn’t like to get too close to it because it was so unpredictable, its clanking and hissing noises, when they weren’t too loud, were comforting to me. Its grumpiness and isolated loneliness reflected my own state of mind most of the time. I could relate to it.

Occasionally after one of its sooty temper tantrums, a serviceman would come and minister to it like a doctor on house-call, and then the furnace would be happy again. If a psychiatrist could have given the furnace a diagnosis, I bet it would be Borderline Personality Disorder.

I remember taking a picture of it shortly before my parents’ divorce. I kept that picture for years, but somewhere amidst my many moves, it was lost. I know the house is still standing and was updated at some point (my family never updated anything in that house), but I would be shocked if that old furnace is still there, and even more shocked if it still works. Sometimes I wonder what might have happened to it. I hope it was treated well.

Book Review: “PurgeAtory” by Brieanne K. Tanner

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A friend I met on Twitter, a young woman named Brieanne Tanner, has had an interesting life.  It’s been a crazy and enlightening journey in every sense.

In her first book, PurgeAtory: You Can Purge Your Karma, she tells the story of Liv, a fictional woman whose life experiences are based on Brieanne’s own.  Liv’s memoir-like tale starts with a near-tragedy, the suicide attempt of her sullen and rather antisocial golden-child Kurt Cobain-lookalike brother, Reid.  Liv, an INFJ–introverted, dark, artistic, and introspective–is the scapegoat in her narcissistic family, ignored by her father and constantly berated by her mother who can’t or won’t appreciate her daughter’s unique qualities.

A turning point arrives at a party at which Liv is given a date-rape drug and the unthinkable happens.   Liv grows into adolescence hardened and cynical but still open to new experiences.  She’s Gen-X personified–embracing her generation’s ’90s incarnation of who-cares grungy, gothic edginess.  She worships the Cure, the Grateful Dead, and Nirvana, wears loose black clothing, and writes dark angsty poetry.

Later, she loses herself (and sometimes finds herself) in music and for awhile, psychedelic drugs–and meets a lot of odd, scary, and unforgettable people along the way.   She suffers great losses and seems to have lived the life of an 80 year old even though she is only in her early 30s.

Through a new mentor, Liv finally discovers yoga and begins to write, and finds both of these activities to be cathartic and healing.  She begins to contemplate her own karma and the meaning of everything that has previously happened.

I won’t say more about Liv’s story so as not to spoil anything–you just have to read it for yourself.   It’s one woman’s spiritual and emotional journey from an abusive childhood to wellness and wholeness.  It’s about fulfilling one’s destiny and moving on from the limitations of the past without forgetting their lessons.  It’s a story about narcissistic abuse that is so much more than that.

PurgeAtory is not long–just 83 pages and even includes a glossary.  It’s a mix of short essays, vignettes, poetry, drawings, and profound and sometimes funny ruminations about loving and living life to the fullest.

I recommend this book to all survivors of narcissistic abuse, and all survivors of just having lived life, which is itself a potentially traumatic experience.  You don’t have to be into yoga or Eastern religion or a member of Generation X to appreciate and learn from Brieanne’s message of hope and healing.

PurgeAtory is available for purchase on Amazon.

Book review: Confessions of a Sociopath (M. E. Thomas)

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A couple of weeks ago I went to a yard sale and a book caught my eye, because of its subject matter–a copy of M. E. Thomas’ autobiography, Confessions of a Sociopath: a Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight.

Ever-fascinated with all things Cluster B, including first-person accounts by narcissists, psychopaths and other antisocial types, I got busy reading that same evening. It took me two weeks to finish the book, when normally I’d devour a book of this length and subject matter in just a few days.

I’m sorry to say, this book was a disappointment. It was a long, painful, boring read. First of all, Ms. Thomas isn’t a very good writer. Full of run-on sentences and endless, dull descriptions of how great she thinks she is because she lacks empathy and a conscience (she seems to think of these as traits only weak or stupid people have, reminding me of Ayn Rand without an iota of the latter’s intelligence), Thomas comes off more as an obnoxious, self-centered, common narcissist than a true sociopath.

Thomas (who owns the website Sociopath World) is not a criminal. She may well be sociopathic in that she seems to take pleasure in cheating, manipulating, hurting, and discarding others, once gleefully watched a possum drown, and admits she enjoys ruining the reputations of people she has worked with. She clearly has no empathy and seems to have no emotions. She crows on endlessly about how her lack of a conscience or any empathy has freed her from having to worry about what others think and therefore indicates what she thinks of as her superior intellect. But like the narcissist she really is, she overvalues her achievements and intelligence. She works as an attorney but doesn’t seem to be able to stay employed for long, and really doesn’t have any other impressive achievements under her belt. Her “theories” about sociopathy are nothing more than rehashes of what other people have already described in psychology texts, and less readable than theirs. Overall, Thomas comes off as self-congratulating, obnoxious, unlikeable, and very shallow. She also comes off as rather dumb.

M. E. Thomas is clearly a malignant narcissist, but by calling herself a “sociopath” you feel like you’ve been the victim of a bait-and-switch (which is in itself sociopathic, I suppose). The cover of the book is a picture of a sinister female mask on a white background, and you open the book expecting something more than you actually get, at least some sort of depth or insight into her own behavior. But Thomas has no real insight and the book reads more like a resume of her fake “achievements” than a dark psychological memoir. She talks about her family, who she describes as neglectful, but she doesn’t seem to think they were particularly abusive. She takes arrogant pride in her “sociopathy,” repeating the word again and again throughout the text, as if to drive home the fact that she really is one, when it seems that she “protesteth too much” and underneath all that bluster, suspects she may not be. That kind of insecurity over the possibility of not really being what one says they are is a lot more typical of NPD than psychopathy or sociopathy, who don’t care what others think of them. Thomas also talks about wanting to have a family and her religion (Mormonism) a lot. Maybe her religion keeps her from acting out against others in more heinous ways and gives her a sort of “cold” conscience that keeps her out of prison, but I sure hope God doesn’t let her have children. She doesn’t seem capable of maintaining a relationship, so that doesn’t exactly work in her favor.

Although narcissists are thought of as having no emotions, it isn’t really true that they don’t, and there are narcissists and sociopaths who have been able to write about themselves in an emotionally engaging, albeit dark and depressing, way. There is rage and hurt and despair seething behind the surface of their words. But Thomas writes in a cold, emotionless way, probably because she’s such a bad writer. As a result, you feel about as excited reading her “memoir” as you’d feel reading the most boring high school textbook–and learn a whole lot less.

The only reason I didn’t feel completely ripped off was because the yard sale copy of this book set me back only $1; if I’d purchased it at full price, I’d be pretty annoyed right now. It was all I could do to even finish this book. It was that boring. Don’t waste your time. If you want to read a good book about sociopathy, read Marsha Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door instead. If you really need to read something that comes “out of the horse’s mouth,” you’d do better with Sam Vaknin.