Today’s Political Items: History and Emergency

  • Paul Krugman on the history and current state of the Republican Party, as enabled by people like Mitt Romney;
  • Tom Nichols on the current National Emergency, brought about by the Republican Party.

NY Times, Paul Krugman, 18 Sep 2023: The Road From Mitt Romney to MAGA

Krugman on the history of the Republican party. Familiar to many of us for decades, and now getting worse, says Krugman; the latest twist is that the extremists the traditional Republicans were *using* to gain votes (so they could pass tax cuts) are now running the party. The nominal subject here is Mitt Romney’s retirement from the Senate. People like Romney, says Krugman, helped create the modern Republican party.

For the basic story of the Republican Party, going back to the 1970s, is this: Advocates of right-wing economic policies, which redistributed income from workers to the wealthy, sought to sell their agenda by exploiting social intolerance and animosity. They had considerable success with this strategy. But eventually the extremists they thought they were using ended up ruling the party.

The Republicans, funded by the wealthy, pander to conservative voters with promises of restrictions on social freedoms, while actually prioritizing cutting taxes for the wealthy. Over and over. Krugman asides about Romney, then goes on:

But back to the history of the G.O.P. For a generation after World War II … we were still a nation shaped by the legacy of the New Deal. Under Dwight Eisenhower the top marginal tax rate on the highest-income Americans was 91 percent and roughly a third of American workers were unionized.

And Republicans largely accepted that state of affairs. In a letter to his brother, Eisenhower wrote, “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again”; while there were a few conservatives who thought differently, “their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

Beginning in the 1970s, however, the Republican Party increasingly came to be dominated by people who did want to roll back the New Deal legacy. Frontal assaults on major programs, like George W. Bush’s 2005 attempt to privatize Social Security and Trump’s 2017 attempt to demolish the A.C.A., generally failed, and were rejected by voters — Democrats retook the House in 2018 largely because of the backlash against Trump’s assault on Obamacare. But tax rates at the top came way down, the power of unions was broken, and income inequality soared.

Why didn’t Republicans pay a big political price for their hard right turn? Largely because they were able to offset the unpopularity of their economic policies by harnessing the forces of religious conservatism and social illiberalism — hostility toward nonwhites, L.G.B.T.Q. Americans, immigrants and more. In 2004, for example, Bush made opposition to gay marriage a central theme of his campaign, only to declare after the election that he had a mandate for the aforementioned attempt to privatize Social Security.

Note especially in that last paragraph: “Why didn’t Republicans pay a big political price for their hard right turn? Largely because they were able to offset the unpopularity of their economic policies by harnessing the forces of religious conservatism and social illiberalism — hostility toward nonwhites, L.G.B.T.Q. Americans, immigrants and more.”

And Republicans like Romney went along, for far too long.


Here’s Tom Nichols (one of whose books I reviewed four years ago) — once a Republican, who left the party — on the current alarming state of America, due to Republicans.

The Atlantic, Tom Nichols, 18 Sep 2023: Americans Are Sleepwalking Through a National Emergency, subtitled “Serious times require serious citizens.”

The United States of America is facing a threat from a sometimes violent cult while a nuclear armed power wages war on the border of our closest allies. And yet, many Americans sleepwalk as if they are living in normal times instead of in an ongoing crisis.

Americans have become accustomed to so much in public life that they would have once found shocking. But many of these events are not only shameful; they are a warning, a kind of static energy filling the air just before a lightning strike. America is in a state of emergency, yet few of its citizens seem to realize it.

He then cites examples: Tommy Tuberville, the Alabama senator who is single-handedly holding up hundreds of military promotions because of his disapproval of abortion; the impeachment inquiry into President Biden just because; the governor of Florida rejecting vaccine advice; and Trump himself,

the leader of a dangerous cult who has admitted to his attempts to subvert American democracy.


The GOP is not a normal political organization; the party withdrew into itself years ago and has now emerged from its rotting chrysalis as a nihilistic, seditionist movement in thrall to Trump.

He then criticizes the interview of Trump that Kristen Welker did, on her first show hosting Meet the Press last weekend, as too softball, as others have done. He quotes a fellow journalist:

I’m being hard on Kristen Welker, but this isn’t really about Kristen Welker. It’s about the mainstream broadcast media. All of them. In 2016 broadcast media was totally inadequate to the job of covering an aspiring authoritarian … Today—even after witnessing an insurrection—they still don’t seem to understand the situation and their complicity in it.

And notes again that despite some disarray among Democrats, Trump and his party offer no solutions to the problems they blame Biden for.

How many more times will Trump’s opponents in the pro-democracy coalition internalize the right’s criticisms—about inflation, about spending, about gasoline—and respond to them as if Republicans care one whit about policy?

Yes, gas is expensive. So is food. These are real issues, and people deserve to hear how their government will assist them. The solution to these problems, however, is not to normalize an authoritarian and thus pretend that one party, dysfunctional as it can be [i.e. the Democrats], is the same as a reactionary, anti-constitutional, and sometimes violent movement.

This echoes the notion of “balance” in the news media, which “mainstream media” (though certainly not Fox News and its imitators) try to maintain. At what point should that media take a stand, and stop giving authoritarians who would take over the country and eliminate democracy their “fair” hearing?

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