Tag Archives: Republicans

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.

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This unraveling reality

Several months ago I wrote about “a point where it seems like the madness is enveloping us, and the question of whether or not to embrace it seems increasingly academic.”

It does not feel like America has distanced itself from that point.

The toxic Republican Party has been prying and pulling America away from reality, actively, for decades, ever since a critical mass of Republican elites wrote off any possibility of having an inclusive democracy, being honest about the consequences of their policy goals, and still advancing those policy goals. Instead they began the ongoing buildout of “the rightwing cinematic universe,” with think tanks and partisan media and conspiracy theories gradually building an immersive false reality in which their toxic party of sabotage and snarling gets to play heroes.

But as fundamental as that is to America’s problems, there just aren’t so many Republicans that they can be blamed exclusively. They can’t even be blamed exclusively for the problem of the toxic Republican Party, because its continued vast sabotage is only possible with many enablers. Bad rules factor in, too, but the bad rules also endure only because too many people choose to put up with them.

While Republican reality-denying is disproportionate in most measures, there is reality-denying all over, and it is also too much.

Observations from just the past few days:

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Nullification 2021

America’s factions of privilege have a long history with “nullification” in various forms, so it isn’t exactly surprising to see Republicans playing with the concept again. It’s at least a little strange to watch them open a door to judicial decisions carrying no authority unless one agrees with them right after they spent several years packing the federal courts with partisan Republican operatives, but that’s where we are.

Republicans don’t seem to have worked out any cohesive strategy for dealing with the January 6 putsch. To some extent this is a concentration of their overall problem dealing with Trump, but January 6 seems to have actually flummoxed them. The initial direction from leadership was basically “disperse, lie low, hold your breath” and the party seems like it hasn’t ever quite filled that vacuum.

First the Senate went into recess through the end of Trump’s term, effectively a refusal to look at any impeachment articles while Trump was in office. Then Republicans introduced the objection that “we can’t act on impeachment now because Trump is out of office.” This classic chutzpah is entirely typical of them, and they might have pulled it off if they still had the votes to control Senate business completely, despite the fact that the objection is not only hypocritical but totally false. Never mind obscure precedents; the Constitution itself says “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments.”

Republicans’ willingness to ignore that and claim that an impeachment trial is “unconstitutional” should shock people. If language that clear is “open to interpretation” then the Constitution might as well be oracle bones with no meaning except what judges say it has. But in a sense this is exactly what Republicans want: to transfer authority to an unelected, rigged judicial priesthood.

That strategy depends on judicial decisions having unquestionable authority, though, and now Republicans are actively flirting with a nullification doctrine. If Republican senators end up trying to evade reckoning with January 6 by saying “based on the evidence I would vote to convict Trump if the Senate had that power, but it does not so I have to oppose conviction” they will be declaring judicial decisions optional along with the language of the Constitution.

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Ungovernable

I pitch around terms like “failed state” and “ungovernable,” in referring to our crashing nation state, but I imagine that these are just words for nearly all who may chance by.

The dramatic difference between where we already are, though, and how much more functional our political systems were just within my lifetime might offer helpful context.

An approximate and abridged timeline of dysfunction:

  • c. 1980 amending the U.S. Constitution becomes impossible
  • c. 1990 multi-day government shutdowns enter the picture
  • c. 2005 steady growth in filibusters takes hockey-stick upward turn
  • c. 2010 significant reform via legislation becomes impossible
  • 2011 gerrymandering approaches perfection; debt ceiling brinkmanship
  • 2015 total blockade of cross-party judicial appointments
  • 2018 Violence Against Women Act cannot even get renewed
  • 2019 total blockade of cross-party legislation
  • 2020 broad Republican consent for schemes to reject a presidential election defeat

I don’t think this pattern points to “an epiphany” followed by a sudden return to cooperation and responsible good governance.

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A flicker of awareness

There’s just a hint that some more elites began to recognize the reality of the Republican cabal, since witnessing this past week’s straightforward effort to overturn a presidential election.

Not just a Slate article. Not just Marc Elias, although he had quite a platform at this point and has seen his intervention against the coup lawsuits succeed again and again and again; the fact that he is saying the opposite of “the system works” is notable.

No less than U.S. Senator Chris Murphy has also realized that the problem goes way beyond Trump, and articulated this quite well both on the Senate floor and in a frank interview with the Washington Post.

Murphy describes how the penny dropped for him:

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The Beer Hall Putsch

On Sept. 13, I wrote this in my 2020 campaign/election/events diary:

Seems real likelihood that future is either

1. beerhall putsch

2. reichstag fire

My thinking was that Trump appeared to be on the way to rejection by voters, and would plainly attempt to sabotage democracy in some way; it might end up a failed farce(Beer Hall Putsch) like many Trump projects or it might deliver America wholly into authoritarianism (Reichstag fire).

I hesitated to give any public expression to this thought, owing to anxiety about which event was in the making. That hesitation continued after the election, even once it seemed pretty firm that Biden had met the conditions to “win.” The relevant institutional machinery is full of trapdoors, after all, and while Trump’s efforts to reject democracy have been a farce, pratfalls on an unsafe set can still be unsafe.

Eventually, I realized that oh, huh, then this is America’s Beer Hall Putsch, and would be even if somehow it were to “succeed.” The real story is that our situation is that far gone, it wouldn’t take much for even a halfassed-farce coup to succeed.

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Nihilism as politics

It is difficult to attempt a 2020 post-election post because there is no clear point where we will be “post-election.” Which feels nonetheless very compatible with repeating my reflection from two years ago that the increasingly frenetic rituals which America calls electoral politics seem divorced from any genuine point.

There won’t be any clear moment when the 2020 election ended and the results were settled. Team Trump’s campaign to reject his definitive defeat does not seem like it will prevent Joe Biden taking office, but it does seem like it will succeed in persuading millions that a “real” 2020 election result has been unfairly forestalled, intensifying already-toxic revanchism. Partisan control of the US Senate won’t be formally settled until after a nationwide tug-of-war for Georgia runoff elections, which won’t even take place this year.

Meanwhile none of this will really, actually, resolve anything. I don’t believe that the processes at work even can.

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America’s government isn’t fighting in its own defense

The Republican Party is at this point very literally a cabal hostile to the American state, and actively warring against representative democratic government. Yet rigid cultural taboos prevent the state from acting in its own defense, and suppress even discussion or recognition of this ongoing assault.

None of that is an exaggeration.

Republicans have been quite openly talking about the American state as their enemy for four decades, and I suppose people initially interpreted this as mere campaign rhetoric, then learned to tune it out entirely because Republicans’ practical activity diverged from the rhetoric for a while. Into the early years of this century, Republicans still made some attempt at maintaining a functioning state at the national level.

We are now a dozen years into a sustained campaign of sabotage, and only sabotage, however.

This is not just Trump. This is not just Trump and McConnell. Republicans spent the entire Obama presidency engaged in reckless, toxic sabotage. Government shutdowns; taking America’s credit rating hostage; actively and openly attempting a parallel foreign policy to undercut a sitting president halfway through his term. There has been no controversy among Republicans about any of this.

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The Republican Cartel

This is as good a summary of any of the majority of what I post here these days:

Just so. Yet, our institutions, our narratives, our culture all expect a legitimate political party in that space, and can’t seem to adapt. (Most adults just don’t seem to respond to information which challenges their beliefs, at all, and often don’t even respond to experiences which challenge them.)

Journalism can’t seem to communicate that Republicans are pursuing a coordinated nationwide campaign to “get rid of the ballots,” literally. Coverage refuses to see any large pattern, and consistently describes individual actions of disenfranchisement as e.g. “hardball” or “playing rough.” Apparently that’s all that Jim Crow ever was? Actually impossible to pass “literacy tests” and other schemes which outright blocked African Americans from voting were simply “playing rough,” huh.

Of course, once it’s normalized for a candidate to “win” despite inarguably getting fewer votes than an opposing candidate … a culture has begun down a very dangerous slippery slope. Once this happens, and is accepted as legitimate, what frontier or limit is there to preserve democracy?

Tenuous contact with reason

The list of “deserves more attention, shouldn’t get lost, etc.” things is always too long any more. If I were to propose one more item, it would be the alarming reports of delayed ballot delivery in multiple swing states. Or at at any rate, reports which seem like they should be setting off alarms, though so far they seem not to be.

Meanwhile, I’m struggling to maintain some distinction between what makes sense and what doesn’t, something which feels like it’s getting more needed and more difficult in the final stages of this quadrennial mass insanity we call a presidential election.

I don’t mean bullshit, in this case; that’s overwhelming as always, but selfish Republican senators like Susan Collins and John Cornyn e.g. are just lying and that’s terrible but also a constant.

On the other hand, I presume that Senator Chris Murphy meant well when he suggested that “because a statewide election in Texas is so expensive, the marginal value of every dollar donated is higher.” But I believe that is completely backward. Slightly less trivial, perhaps, Democrats as well as small-business advocates are now charging Republicans with doing harm by focusing on a Supreme Court appointment at the expense of relief legislation. That’s much the same argument that Republicans made in 2019—that Democrats were doing harm by focusing on impeachment instead of other “real” issues—and both instances seem dumb.

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