This new paganism is marked by a two qualities. The first is a hectic search for sacrificial victims. A celebrated book once reflected on the “paranoid style” in American politics. That still exists, but the sacrificial style in American politics is just as strong. We tire of our leaders if they do not commit some embarrassing act that elicits our punishment and then our forgiveness. Far from ending Clinton’s presidency, the Lewinsky scandal might well have given him his second term. Romney’s seeming lack of character is scandalous. Thus he is ripe for flattering our vanity by provoking our clemency.
Paganism’s second feature is a relentless sacralizing. Pagans ascribed moral attributes to natural phenomena like thunder and lightning. In the same way, today’s right-wing ideologues sacralize every feature of the other side’s politics. Obama cannot establish a new agency without being accused of having an eschatological intention of transmogrifying American life. As for conservative ideology, it is saturated with eschatology. Lower taxes and smaller government are, like pagan magical thinking, mental wands with which to control the universe.