Reaping a Whirlwind of Hate
Perhaps the largest looming question in American politics at present is whether, in its quest to secure power, the GOP has unleashed hate-filled and cruelly divisive anti-democratic forces over which it now has lost control. In its efforts to ensure the ascendancy of market elites in governance and in society, the Party has attacked democratic institutions since the 1970s and has been working increasingly during most of that period to convince its partisans that elections are being stolen from them by the opposing political party, even as there is not now, nor has there ever been, evidence for that proposition. As ugly as the party’s earlier efforts were, matters took an almost inconceivable turn during the 2016-2021 period, as the bulk of Republican Party office holders and would-be officials first embraced Donald Trump’s lies and ignorance on a welter of matters, including immigration, trade, national defense and civil liberties, and then went further to agree formally and virtually unanimously with his fabrication that he had won the 2020 election.
These same individuals protected Trump from impeachment for his role in planning and leading an attempted coup against the United States, an action that had physically endangered many of those who nonetheless chose to shield the former president from punishment. Their violation of their oath of office in so doing and their lack of moral courage have raised profound questions about just how far the Republican Party will go to secure power to adopt policy stands that favor its principal constituencies, businesses and a small group of strident libertarian plutocrats. It has also highlighted the issue of whether the voters these GOP office holders and officials have persuaded with lies that their fellow Americans and other targeted groups are receiving benefits they do not deserve and doing so at their cost can be brought to realize the fallacy of their belief in such claims and in Trump.
Since neither the leaders of entities supporting the Republican Party, nor the cadre of right-wing billionaires donating millions to GOP coffers can command the votes necessary to win national elections alone, Party officials have turned to ever more obvious gerrymandering, voter-suppression efforts, shrilly racist cant, conspiracy mongering and hate-filled lies as mobilization mechanisms. These efforts have rent the nation, and with the recent series of openly and radically ideological Supreme Court rulings in June and the likelihood that body will rule in the coming term that state legislatures may overrule their voter’s stated preference at the ballot box in elections to ensure the selection of their favored partisans, the country is now in a Constitutional crisis.
To understand all of this, one must sort out why Republican Party elites have plied the course they have and why that direction has become more and more extreme, propagandistic and anti-democratic, and why roughly half of GOP voters have vigorously supported such efforts despite their obvious falsity and charlatan-like quality while the other half have gone along with them. Finally, one must work to identify ways to reverse the continuing downward divisive spiral in the nation, which has lately found the Texas Republican Party not only formally adopting Trump’s Big Lie, but also embracing the possibility of secession from the Union based on wildly misplaced fears and misapprehensions actively fomented by leading GOP officials.1
This scenario has not arisen without notice. Many analysts have warned of this growing calamity for years. Paul Krugman, the distinguished New York Times columnist, for example, recently considered the issue of how the GOP had become so radical and noted, rightly, that it now most resembles authoritarian parties rather than democratic ones. The question, as he put it plainly, is “Where is this extremism coming from?”2 He argued that pointing to the advent of pre-World War II fascism as a historical precedent was not helpful in understanding what has occurred in the GOP because that political movement arose during a period of economic catastrophe. The United States has experienced nothing of the kind during the period in which the Republican Party has increasingly refused to accept facts, evidence and science and the legitimacy of any opposition, and as its elites began routinely to lie to Americans and demand obeisance to those false assertions.
Ultimately, Krugman contended that the best historical precursor he could find to the radicalization of today’s GOP was the rapid growth of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s:
It’s important to realize that while this organization took the name of the post-Civil War group, it was actually a new movement—a white nationalist movement, to be sure, but far more widely accepted and less of a pure terrorist organization. And it reached the height of its power—it effectively controlled several states—amid peace and an economic boom. What was this new K.K.K. about? [It was underpinned by a] ‘politics of resentment’ driven by the backlash of white, rural and small-town Americans against a changing nation. The K.K.K. hated immigrants and ‘urban elites;’ it was characterized by ‘suspicion of science’ and ‘a larger anti-intellectualism.’ Sound familiar?3
I do not quibble that today’s nominal GOP leaders have dealt party faithful tropes aimed at constantly stoking resentment toward the same groups that the KKK also demonized, but I do not think Krugman’s analogy fully captures how today’s Republican Party came to its current state. I am persuaded that there is more to the parallel with earlier fascism than he concluded. First, the entire United States population has experienced broad social and economic dislocation and change in recent decades, but only GOP elites and a phalanx of that party’s voters have blamed science, learning and knowledge, minorities, immigrants and so-called urban elites for the personal and familial roiling those large national trends have created. Party officials have actively chosen to vilify those elements and groups. There was nothing innate to the social and economic trends afoot, many of which, ironically, were advocated by the Republican Party to suggest doing so. Second, only the GOP has actively fought to prevent government actions and policies aimed at allaying the effects of a share of those shifts once those became clear. Third, Party elites, increasingly and clearly since Trump became their leader, have become overtly racist and misogynistic for no readily apparent reason other than to galvanize specific voters.
One must also consider that while an important constituency in the GOP has focused on using the state to regulate women’s lives in a deeply invasive way—a choice the Party would otherwise have attacked in virtually any other domain of activity—that fact hardly explains its anti-immigrant, racist and anti-intellectual turn. To understand that change, one must note that Trump and the many Republicans following his cynical example have toyed with the human proclivity to hate as a mobilization device with increasingly tragic results. And they have consistently coupled their efforts to tap that human potential for depravity with claims for a social hierarchy predicated on material valuation alone as they have attacked democracy in favor of the market as the arbiter of major social choices. In this, they echoed the fascists of previous generations. As Yale University historian Timothy Snyder has observed:
The overall German policy to kill all Jews meant that they were valued insofar as their bodies could deliver labor or portable wealth. If life is only about possessions, someone will find a way to extract both.4
Republican officials and their corporate allies have not called directly for the murder of their fellow Americans, but those who invaded this nation’s Capitol on January 6, 2021, did call for the deaths of leaders in their own and the Democratic parties and Trump did suggest his vice president deserved to be murdered for failing to do his lawless bidding.5 The GOP and its officials have also persecuted and treated immigrants cruelly on no basis other than their national origin and status. They have lied repeatedly and deliberately about conditions in the country, blamed those on minorities and called on their supporters to imagine a social hierarchy based not only on skin color and place of residence, but also on material wealth. It is in this overarching willingness to scapegoat and hate for its own sake and to do so in the name of an empty materialism that today’s GOP is chillingly like its fascist European forebears.
Today’s Republican Party is also like its authoritarian predecessors in Russia, Germany and Italy in its efforts to silence and exile all actors in its midst who do not accept its lies and false blame casting. While the GOP has not followed the extreme examples of Stalin and Hitler, who routinely executed those who questioned their lies regarding Jews, gypsies, those with disabilities, Kulaks or members of other groups they chose to tyrannize, today’s Republican Party nevertheless regularly excoriates and exiles those who do not sign on to Trump’s Big Lie, support its endless culture wars propagandizing or who call out any of its lies. This has led to a party of apparatchiks fearful to do anything but toe the Party line lest they lose favor with those demanding fealty or alienate a share of their supporters who are convinced by propaganda of the “rightness” of the Party’s lies, and thereby endanger their election prospects. It is this fascist-like scenario that has led to the GOP possessing so few leaders who evidence moral courage and to so many among that Party’s officials content to spew and foment hatred.
Overall, today’s GOP is an almost perfect evocation of its fascist predecessors in its penchant to punish and ruin in the name of lies and power. Indeed, as Rebecca Solnit has recently argued as she pondered Stalin’s rule of terror:
Orwell wrote in 1944, ‘The really frightening thing about totalitarianism is not that it commits ‘atrocities’ but that it attacks the concept of objective truth; it claims to control the past as well as the future,’. … The attack on truth and language makes the atrocities possible. If you can erase what has happened, silence the witnesses, convince people of the merit of supporting a lie, if you can terrorize people into silence, obedience, lies, if you can make the task of determining what is true so impossible or dangerous they stop trying, you can perpetuate your crimes. … After all, authoritarianism is itself, like eugenics, a kind of elitism premised on the idea that power should be distributed unequally.6
The Republican Party has spent decades pressing policies aimed at supporting a small share of the nation’s economic elites in their drive to ensure political, social and economic power and their desire to enjoy unfettered capacity to pursue wealth. Its increasingly virulent efforts on behalf of this agenda have yielded a coup attempt and attempted cover-up and a now continuous stream of dangerous lies aimed at providing a share of Americans “reasons” to hate and dehumanize fellow citizens and individuals from other nations. While this is deeply concerning for its own sake, it is even more alarming that the GOP now has no policy agenda apart from that hatred and its quest for power. None of its principal officials seem either interested in, or capable of, reining in the terror and division its efforts have thus far wrought.
The current House Select Committee investigating the January 6, 2021, Trump-led coup attempt is doing all it can to bring these facts to America’s attention. It remains for voters to listen, to mobilize against hatred, bigotry and minority rule, and to vote for democracy and freedom in unprecedented numbers. The Republican Party appears unwilling to heal itself and, in any case, its “leaders” and primary constituency are now so enmeshed in hatred of their fellow citizens who do not share their beliefs and animosity to targeted “others,” it is difficult to imagine how such might occur. The Party must be defeated at the ballot box.
1 Paybarah, Azi and David Montgomery. “Texas Republicans Approve Far-Right Platform Declaring Biden’s Election Illegitimate,” The New York Times, June 19, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/19/us/politics/texas-republicans-approve-far-right-platform-declaring-bidens-election-illegitimate.html, Accessed July 5, 2022.
2 Krugman, Paul. “Why Did Republicans Become So Extreme?” The New York Times, June 27, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/27/opinion/republicans-extreme-abortion.html, Accessed July 5, 2022.
3 Krugman, “Why did Republicans Become So Extreme?”
4 Snyder, Timothy. “Foreword” to Tadeusz Borowski, Here in Our Auschwitz and Other Stories, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021, p. xxv.
5 Pengelly, Martin. “‘He Thinks Mike Deserves It,’ Trump Said Rioters were Right to Call for Vice-President’s Death,” The Guardian, June 28, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/jun/28/trump-pence-deserved-it-hanged-capitol-attack, Accessed July 5, 2022.
6 Solnit, Rebecca. Orwell’s Roses, New York: Viking Publishers, 2021, pp. 144-145.
July 11, 2022