The unmentionable Republican problem

Fraud on the political right is a massive, crisis-proportion problem in America but cultural taboos and other habits prohibit any mainstream recognition of this.

Republicans’ 2020 convention produced a platform which was literally just unconditional support for bigoted conman Donald J. Trump. No policies, no values, nothing. State parties are, if possible, even more radically cultish.

This is not new, either, and there is no “bipartisan” symmetry. A dozen years ago, Democrats’ fractious coalition managed for the sake of compromise and governing to coalesce in support of the Republican healthcare reform option, and in response Republicans coalesced around total opposition to it. The subsequent we-have-always-been-at-war-with-Eastasia narrative was the main message of Republicans for a decade. They have, of course, never proposed any sincere alternative in all this time; “Trumpcare” was not only terrible policy but even within the Republican caucus was never even real policy, just a game of hot-potato and plain old lying.

The Economist forecast of Republicans more than a dozen years ago that “political parties die from the head down,” and the rot has simply continued since. The rot included Trump, but also predated him and has continued since his loss of most of the power which allegedly explained why responsible Republicans knew better but were afraid to cross the angry Twitter man.

During two years with national policymaking initiative, Republicans’ only “reform” was a frenzied ram-raid on the federal treasury, accompanied by more lies and fraud. What is their proposal to address the climate crisis? Gun violence? Infrastructure?

Republicans are not offering solutions, and there is no equivalence with the Democratic Party. Even amid the Democratic Party base’s constant (valid) outrage at Trump, Democratic elites in Congress would have tripped over themselves to cooperate with Republicans on infrastructure if “infrastructure week” had ever been anything besides another fraud; it wasn’t. Likewise as the pandemic dragged on last fall, additional government help was broadly popular with the general public, and supported by the Republican president on alternate days, and despite desperation to defeat that president, Democratic elites were clamoring to vote him a bunch of goodies to hand out.

Republican elites said “no” to very popular assistance and stuck to that, but this is still not evidence of any principle (the same Republicans were happy to print money to fund tax cuts for the rich), unless you count total opposition to improving life for working people in general as “a principle.” Which it might be, if Republicans were openly declaring this, but of course they don’t. Generalities about “small government” are also a fraud, as Republicans embrace big government when it comes to corporate subsidies and intervening in bedrooms, bathrooms, classrooms and wombs, at every opportunity.

None of this is an accident, either, as there is an inherent contradiction between conservatism and representative democracy, good government, and basic fairness. In practice, conservatism’s appeal beyond scholarly journals is not small government or the precautionary principle, but conservation of privilege. To the extent that the Republican Party is still animated by anything besides cultism and self-perpetuating conspiracy theories, it’s animated by conserving privileges of race, of sex, of religious doctrine, of overrepresentation, and above all of wealth. This is fundamentally incompatible with fairly representative government, responsive to the needs and preferences of all people.

This incompatibility between the political right and inclusive, representative democracy is not really unique to America. Details of rules and cultures may deter some other democracies’ parties of the right from becoming quite so toxic, and/or they may simply have been later in getting started. In America, Republican elites decided nearly 60 years ago that compromising privilege was unacceptable, and lying/cheating was a better solution, and this country has proved incapable since of reversing or stopping or even recognizing that there is a particular Republican problem.

The “bipartisan” concept is an id√©e fixe so deeply embedded in customs, culture and institutions that society is not only stuck within it, but incapable of even awareness of it; it’s like asking a fish to to notice water.

The determination to see a political universe of two symmetrical parties which both must be included, always, is false, harmful, and seemingly immovable.

There is no equivalence between Republican and Democrat when it comes to dishonesty and wrecking. Republican government keeps wrecking the US economy; Democratic government does not. The Republican caucus includes Trump, Q Anon, and Mitch McConnell; the Democratic caucus expelled Al Franken, makes just as much space for status quo capitalists as for socialist reformers, and decided Joe fucking Biden was however the limit for how far the top of the ticket can stray left of America’s centrist comfort zone. Where is the equivalence to Republicans’ dishonesty and nihilism while grabbing Supreme Court seats through Calvinball rule-changes? Where is it? “But Democrats blocked Bork?” You mean 1987 when the Democratic Senate majority provided the Republican president’s nominee with hearings, and an on-the-record vote, and simply said no thank you, before later approving a different Republican nomination submitted by the Republican president? There is no fucking equivalence.

Perpetual insistence on an equivalence which is not real is harmful, because it not only severely hinders any possibility of reforming the core problem, but creates perverse incentives which make it worse. The parties are not the same. Democrats do not have Republicans’ endless tolerance for sustaining dishonesty and unfairness. So as long as American culture insists that there is no meaningful difference between the parties, Republicans have incentive to lie, cheat and abuse power more and more, while well intentioned plebians are discouraged from punishing Republicans for it because that feels unfair in a (pretend) universe where both parties must be similarly involved in anything.

Despite which, America clings like a leech to this cherished false belief, and presumably will do so for as long as a rich and powerful country can get away with doing so.

2 Thoughts on “The unmentionable Republican problem

  1. Rob N on March 31, 2021 at 4:12 pm said:

    Matt,

    Randomly came across this. Wanted to make a couple points.

    First, I’m not some right winger trying to use strawman arguments to debunk anything you’re saying. The republican party is made up of corporate water carriers and crooks. It’s well documented, anyone who argues otherwise is simply disillusioned by culture war arguments (which happen to be very persuasive in American and Western Europe right now).

    However, how do you grapple with apologizing for the sheer sellout of the Clinton and Obama administrations to Corporate lobbyists (aka bribes)? (Banks, Insurance, Pharma, Tech, etc). The ruling class of this country is clearly migrating to the Democratic party in the last 25-30 years, which will result in the same type of oppression of Poor, and disproportionately minority, people.

    My theory is that the Republicans are just too hard to defend lately against charges of bigotry now, and the only way for Corporate America to maintain influence in our government is to adopt the correct language of “inclusivity” to distract people that they are ruining their lives. Clinton and Obama (even back to Carter) administrations are complicit in moving our political spectrum to the right. Whether it was to remain relevant in American Politics, or satisfy their donors, it doesn’t really matter, Neoliberalism has ruined many small towns reliant upon blue collar work, which only exacerbates racial resentment, and gives a gift of culture war arguments to right wing media outlets.

    Finally, on Foreign Policy. My God, Mainstream Democrats are as hawkish as any republican since Reagan, it’s hard to even tell them apart now.

    Don’t get me wrong, Right wingers will always find imagined grievances to whip up their bases to distract them from their actual game, tax cuts for the rich, low wage labor, etc. But I don’t know how anyone can ignore that the “left” (if you can even call it that) hasn’t completely sold out low income wage laborers in this country (which, despite what CNN says, is NOT a majority white class)

    Just my thoughts, would love to hear your response if you find time.

    Stay healthy

    • I won’t attempt to explain or rationalize blindness to the shortcomings within the Democratic Party, because I’m not blind to them. There are people who seem to be so, even willfully; e.g. the type of person with “proud establishment Democrat” in the Twitter profile and not for irony. They can answer for themselves I presume.

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