“There runs through the fundamentalist belief system a deep dread of ambiguity, disorder, and chaos. Accordingly, the cult of masculinity keeps all ambiguity — especially sexual ambiguity — in check. It fosters a world of binary opposites: God and man, saved and unsaved, church and world, Christianity and secular-humanism, male and female. These tidy pairings keep life from slipping back into a complicated nightmare. Reality thus defined, is made predictable and understandable — something deeply comforting to believers — who’ve had trouble coping with the messiness of human existence. There is, in this Christian worldview, clearly demarcated order and disorder. Behaviors that do not conform, such as homosexuality, are forms of disorder, tools of Satan, and must be abolished. A world that can be predicted and understood, a world that has clear boundaries, can be made rational, it can be managed and controlled. The petrified, binary world of fixed immutable roles is a world where people — many of them damaged by bouts with failure, despair, and their own ambiguities, can bury their chaotic and fragmented personalities and live with the illusion that they are strong, whole, and protected. The decline of America is described as the result of the decline of male prowess. This decline has led to weakness and moral decay. It has resulted in a bewildering human and social complexity that — often seen as feminine — is the work of Satan. By submitting to a Christian leader and powerful male God who will destroy those who misbehave, followers avoid dealing with life. The movement seeks, above all, to banish mystery — the very essence of faith. Not only is the binary world knowable and predictable, but finally God is knowable and predictable. Since life has a way of not respecting these artificial lines — since ambiguity, inconsistency, and irrationality are part of human existence — the only way believers can push forward is to pretend that these troubling aspects of our internal and external reality do not exist. They create a parallel reality, one that allows them to escape… into a world of their own creation. Unconscious motives, longings, and fears are denied and responsibility for them is abandoned as fundamentalism makes a pretense of being all about cut-and-dried truth, and clear and recognizable feelings.” ~ Chris Hedges, American Fascists
In a political context, the phrase means to generate public approval, not by excellence in public service or public policy, but by diversion, distraction or by satisfying the most immediate or base requirements of a populace — by offering a palliative: for example food (bread) or entertainment (circuses).
The government of Rome took measures to distract and control the masses of Rome by providing free games, races, fake battles, and the gladiator contests.
The term “bread and circuses” is used to describe efforts by those in power to retain the favor of the masses, or the common man, by bribing and distracting them with free gifts and amusements..
See the parallels in our current times?