Personality Cults, Indoctrination and Inculcation

Domestic, political chaos is upon us. It is peaking with the controversy and collision brought on by President Obama’s scheduled broadcast to pubic schools this week. Broadly speaking, there are two distinct impulses at work. One impulse is generated by people who believe that social and political ills can be largely overcome by addition (i.e., more government spending, regulation and oversight will make life better for everyone). The other impulse is generated by people who believe that improvement will come by way of a reversal of ills and achieved by subtraction (i.e., less government spending, regulation and oversight will make life better for the middle- and upper-class).

As a consequence, any semblance of democratic process is at a stand-still. For those involved in progressive politics, this latest clash is an accepted continuance of a deaf and dumb body politic that is largely out of tune with anybody who is not a corporation, lobbyist, or purveyor of thoughts that have been gathered from the bandwidth of mainstream media and special interest groups.

Predictably, the fallout from the well-established machinations of power politics has pitted ordinary people against one another, leaving the general populace to viciously duke it out in a variety of public forums that are bereft of any resemblance of decent discourse. Those who arrive in mental and linguistic armor have no illusions about the battle. It is about the culture of decadence brought on by almost any form of progressive thought generated by liberals, and the spending of federal money, their money, on irresponsible people (Blackwater et al. fall outside this category). Those who come partially armored and equipped with alternative facts and discernible methods of argumentation, still believe that such verbal infusions will lead to some type of negotiation. It is clear, there is no room for progression of thought, leading to a progression in action, as a democracy would imply, because the conservative dissenters are interested in subtraction. The dominant dissent of the day is about breaking down the processes of democracy while simultaneously eking out token vestiges of capitulation. Equally guilty are those not willing to accept that those engaged in subtraction can only subtract from that which is known to exist.

At the core of the latest upheaval is a superficial discussion on the topic of indoctrination. Across blog forums hosted by mainstream media, many of those who espouse fear of the possible indoctrination of school children by way of a presidential appearance, oddly enough, are uncritical carriers (i.e., a doctrinaire) of talking points provided by commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin, and Glenn Beck. While decrying the Obama personality cult, they dutifully disseminate the historically erroneous and slapdash selling points doled out by right-wing television/radio demagogues. As a result, comparisons between the intentions of Obama to speak with school children and the concrete and established facts of Hitler’s youth programs and Mao’s Little Red Book ensue. Is it highly improbable anybody using these analogies would actually be held accountable for the conceptual construction and content of their opinions. Yet, even if this were requested of them, it would be missing the point. The use of politically charged terms is meant as a subtractive force not as a vehicle for expanding discussion nor as a sincere offer of keen insight into political theory of a larger order.

A broad description of indoctrination is that which is learned and accepted by the uncritical mind. One means of indoctrination is by inculcation, that is, to teach by repetition. Successful inculcation comes as a consequence of trusting the source, and by extension, accepting that which is being repeated as truth and a basis of valid argumentation. It also works by having contact with information that is uncritically accepted as truth which may or may not lead back to the originating source.

If arguments offered in supposedly elastic discussions are essentially cut-and-paste rhetoric that can be tracked to a central source, then there is, more or less, a personality cult at work and attempts at indoctrination through inculcation are succeeding. The discussion then, is not one of an overall discontentment with personality cults and indoctrination–history and facts will simply not bear this out– but, rather, a battle over preferences for certain types of indoctrination over others.

If we could agree as a culture that it is possible that any president, based on his or her role as the POTUS, has the ability to indoctrinate young, impressionable minds by speaking to them directly in a school setting, why are so many determined to deny President Obama his opportunity to indoctrinate? Even among the least curious, one must ask why this issue of indoctrination is currently being brought up since there is an established precedent.

In 1988, President Reagan spoke to students on political issues via C-Span. In 1989, President George H.W. Bush spoke to children about drugs via a live television feed. In 1991, he delivered another speech on the value of education via a telecast on CNN and PBS.

In a prime-time news conference in October 2001, President George W. Bush went as far as encouraging children to become active participants in the war against terrorism, suggesting that they organize and raise money through established youth groups: “Before we leave, I want to make a special request to the children of America. I ask you to join in a special effort to help the children of Afghanistan. Their country has been through a great deal of war and suffering…I hope school classes or Boys and Girl Scout troops, other youth organizations will participate in any way to raise the money to send to the children. Wash a car. Do a yard for a neighbor. And I hope the adults will help them as well…Americans are united in this fight against terrorism. We’re also united in our concern for the innocent people of Afghanistan.”

The encouragement of children to care for children in other countries and to actively engage in their needs can hardly be construed as malevolent. However, Bush, predictably, did not go into detail as to the full array of sources causing the “war and suffering” that necessitated US children to set about fundraising and delivering funds to the White House to help their peers in Afghanistan.

If the issue were really a broader inquiry about the possibility of indoctrination of children by proximity, why are we not debating whether or not any high-profile politicians should have any direct access to children in public schools? Or the obvious fact that military recruiters have unimpeded discussions on foreign policy with school kids daily? Since the discussion is devoid of such expansive topics, then it is easy to surmise that the true aim of protest is to deny President Obama his chance to be a part of the legacy of televised, schoolside chats as established by Republican presidents since 1988.

If the argument is perpetuated that it’s not President Obama per se speaking to children, but objections to the accompanying study plan suggested by the Department of Education, then it is time to consider that the White House has revised the wording. Dissenters made their disagreements known, the White House and Department of Education took them into account and revised the language accordingly. To a large degree, the democratic process worked.

Compare this with the Bush administration. The absence of democratic process is best summed up by one of Vice President Cheney’s last interviews as an official office holder. In March 2008, when Martha Raddatz ask about how the administration’s positive assessment squared with a recent poll that showed approximately two-thirds of Americans believed the the fight in Iraq was not worth it, Cheney replied, “So?”

Raddatz then asked, “You don’t care what the American people think?” He responded, “You can’t be blown off course by polls.” What Raddatz failed to follow-up with and Cheney failed to address, is that the poll numbers came after years of continuous dissent that had been occurring in weekly protests in the US and around the world before the preemptive war in Iraq ever began.

Cheney’s utterance, “So?,” displays an arrogance and utter disdain for the people he is in disagreement with (two-thirds of the US population if the 2008 poll is believed to be marginally accurate) and by extension, the democratic process. It is hard to imagine the fallout if President Obama, in the face of being asked what he thought about any dissent from any quarter of the population here or abroad, replied in a similar manner.

It is possible in a democracy to have an open discussion on the nature and power of personality cults, indoctrination and inculcation. Such discussions yield amazing results, if the conversation is sincere. If there is a lack of sincerity, then the stirring up of these topics is most likely intended to debunk the opposition by implying that their decision-making is not the result of a vigorous reflection of fact. One way to determine the presence of vigorous reflection is to engage in its processes in the company of others. If there are no social forums that support the means for reaching a consensus on what constitutes fact, then civil, democratic progression is not possible.

The larger underlying issue is one of trust, and the very human dilemma of suspending judgement as it concerns someone or an entity whom we wish to believe is working in our best interests. What is currently passing as discourse is both subterfuge and salvo that is keeping us from a deeper discussion that might lead us to rediscovery of the most potent acts of democratic process: self-evident truth. The search for self-evident truth requires independence of mind, vigilance and active filtration; indoctrination does not. Self-evident truth has no viable vehicle if the “petition for redress” does not exist for all.

LARAY POLK is a multimedia artist and writer who lives in Dallas,Texas. She can be contacted at