"Abyssal Politics": Republican Party Style
I recently received a fundraising email from “President Donald J. Trump” on behalf of the Republican National Committee that, among other astonishing claims, offered the following three assertions:
I’m working with the Republican National Committee because … the RNC is leading the fight to stop VOTER FRAUD in its tracks by defeating the Democrats’ federal takeover of elections, hiring an array of election integrity watchdogs across the country, and backing Republicans’ state election reforms that make it easier to vote and harder to cheat.
He then commented on the current administration:
Under [President Joseph] Biden’s failed leadership, America’s reputation is gone, our borders are broken, Afghanistan surrender and withdrawal was a disgrace (sic.), inflation is raging, our culture is being destroyed and our history and heritage-both good and bad-are being extinguished by the Far-Left. We are now a laughingstock all over the world.
And finally, he referred to “[t]he Marxist Democrats—along with their pals in Big Tech and their allies in the Fake News.”
I highlight this purple rhetoric and raft of manifest lies to underscore two points. First, our nation now has a major political party that has openly aligned itself with a patently false and anti-democratic agenda in its quest for power. This is not merely claims-making for an alternate political agenda or effusive rhetoric designed to persuade, both typical of this genre. It is an effort to delegitimate and other all those who might harbor different views—including millions of Americans. More, as it presses its agenda, the GOP not only serves as the handmaiden for an individual plainly guilty of breaking the law and of systematically working to mislead and fracture the American people, but that party also highlights and celebrates that person as it does so. The Party, as this rhetoric attests, is willing to embrace even the most fantastic of lies, in its obsequiousness to this would-be tyrant and tyranny, if it might yield power.
Second, one must be struck by the nearly crazed totality of this rhetoric. While there is zero evidence that the Democratic Party has embraced Marxism, in this accounting all Democratic partisans are nonetheless described as avowed Marxists aimed at undermining the United States. More, those individuals are pronounced as having completely sundered the country’s reputation and somehow destroyed its history in a mere14 months. More, there is no evidence that the nation is a “laughingstock all over the world” or that “Fake News” media are allied with Democrats in efforts to secure that result. This is incendiary nonsense meant to enflame and enrage its target audience. It offers the prospect of an apocalypse unleashed by “an enemy within,” that is, by one’s fellow citizens presumably, who apparently are desirous of nothing so much as the complete degradation of the United States. This is wild and deeply inflammatory rhetoric by any frame one might adopt.
Reading this diatribe of undisguised hatred, I was reminded of the Portuguese legal scholar Boaventura de Sousa Santos’ contention that modern Western thinking, more broadly, is otherwise underpinned by this type of reductionist thinking: of sorting the world into broad groupings of “us” and “them.” This form of rationalization for discrimination and oppression—for that is what it is—has long underpinned Western colonial hierarchies and thinking, particularly:
Modern Western thinking is an abyssal thinking. … In each of the two great domains— science and law—the divisions carried out by the global lines are abyssal to the extent they effectively eliminate whatever realities are on the other side of the line. This radical denial of copresence grounds the affirmation of the radical difference that, on this side of the line, separates true and false, legal and illegal. The other side of the line represents a vast set of discarded experiences, made invisible both as agencies and agents, and with no fixed territorial location.1
Indeed, those attacked in this GOP fundraising letter are characterized as not merely different or mistaken in their views, but also consigned by the writer to an abyss, an empty darkness, characterized by complete delegitimation, even as they are maligned as mean spirited, vicious and contemptible, always, notably, in the abstract. In this view, those in the abyss inhabit a realm, in de Sousa Santos’ terms of,
… incomprehensible beliefs and behaviors which in no way can be considered knowledge, whether true or false. The other side of the line harbors only incomprehensible of magical practices. The utter strangeness of such practices led [leads] to denying the very human nature of the agents of such practices.2
This perspective, which denies the humanity and democratic agency of those it degrades, opens the gates to just the behavior and propagandizing in the Republican Party fundraising letter I received. It permits embracing overtly illegal behavior; it “justifies” violence and hate against other Americans, including active efforts to abridge their civil and human rights; it legitimates attacks on the rule of law and a variety of democratic norms, including, most basically, civility; and it allows a share of its believers to embrace a war against innocents in Ukraine by a Russian autocrat. This stance does these things by explicitly embracing a “natural” social and racial hierarchy and by imagining that only one view of the world can exist. Not coincidentally, that perspective yields its progenitors unfettered unilateral power. Put plainly, this sort of thinking, while hardly new to the West, let alone the United States, as de Sousa Santos pointed out, provides the rationale and grist for an ugly brand of anti-democratic socio-cultural thuggery.
More, the GOP has elected to build and sustain this anti-democratic malice on outright lies. The Republican Party has adopted this direction as its beating heart. Nowhere has this occurred more clearly than when its officials twice refused, on partisan grounds, to remove Donald Trump from office following his rightful impeachments, and when 139 of its House members and eight in its Senate caucus voted yes on at least one effort to overturn the legitimate outcome of a free and fair national election on no evidence whatsoever, many hours after the end of a violent and murderous takeover of the United States Capitol instigated by Donald Trump.3
These trends have left us with a major Party whose officials have lied to their supporters about virtually everything for so long that it is essentially rudderless, lacking any moral compass except to lie still more. In so doing, GOP leaders have systematically attacked the rule of law, worked assiduously against the interests of the nation in world affairs, embraced deep and continuing growth in social and economic inequality as the rightful outcome of moral possibility, and have demonized not only their fellow Americans, but also immigrants and minorities of all stripes, and have suggested very plainly that these individuals deserve only subjugation. This is abyssal politics in the United States today, and by all evidence, millions of Americans are transfixed by its relentless posturing, lies and propagandizing.
Meanwhile, self-governance and democracy now hang in the balance. Given the Party’s ongoing vicious efforts to polarize, its relative success in lying concerning the purport of its initiatives and its ongoing capacity to gain the credulity of its followers, we may expect only worse to come.
The combination of an unprincipled pursuit of power via polarization, coupled with a willingness to sacrifice the civil and human rights of millions to the assumed supremacy of one group, led this nation to near collapse and then to civil war in the late 1850s and early1860s. We appear to be on a very similar path today and for largely comparable reasons, led by an ever more radical, and radically anti-democratic Republican party. The question now confronting all Americans who care about freedom, justice and civil rights is whether this hate and anxiety lie-fueled juggernaut can yet be stopped before the United States de facto becomes an illiberal undemocratic state.
1 De Sousa Santos, Boaventura. “Beyond Abyssal Thinking: From Global Lines to Ecologies of Knowledge,” Review (Fernand Braudel Center), 30(1), 2007, pp.45, 48.
2 De Sousa Santos, p.51.
3 Stevens, Harry, Daniela Santamariña, Kate Rabinowitz, Kevin Uhrmacher and John Muysken. “ How Members of Congress Voted on Counting the Electoral College Vote,” The Washington Post, January 7, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2021/politics/congress-electoral-college-count-tracker/, Accessed April 17, 2022.
April 18, 2022