It’s always dangerous to characterize any entire group with some common trait; that’s the first step toward prejudice and bigotry. Yet there are more and more article and essays that find common traits among Republicans, as a group, or at least as a party. Now I realize that this characterization applies to the Republican establishment, i.e. the politicians, and perhaps to some of the most zealous Republican/Trump supporters. I’m sure there are millions of people out there who routinely vote Republican, because they’ve always voted Republican, and perhaps do not follow politics closely (most people don’t, I think) and so are not aware of the extreme, anti-democratic positions that Republican establishment has taken, especially under Trump. And they have no where else to go; because obviously Democrats are radical socialists who would outlaw religion and confiscate your guns.
But an emerging theme in coverage of recent events is that the Republican party has, so to speak, jumped the shark, with the possibility of some third party forming for the reasonable former Republicans who reject the tactics of the current party.
Thomas L. Friedman says as much in today’s NYT:
My No. 1 wish for America today is for this Republican Party to fracture, splitting off the principled Republicans from the unprincipled Republicans and Trump cultists. That would be a blessing for America for two reasons.
Another running theme is how this has been going on for years, for generations, in the GOP.
Slate, Mark Joseph Stern: The Coup Began Years Ago, subtitled “Republican lawmakers have shown their supporters that there is no line they cannot cross.”
Wednesday’s horrific events were unprecedented, but they should not have been unexpected. The GOP has spent years conditioning its members to reject Democrats’ right to win elections, to appoint judges, to enact policy, to govern the nation. The party has decided that saving democracy means undermining it whenever the other party wins. Republican elites translate this philosophy into midnight power grabs that stop Democrats from passing or executing laws. The Republican base has taken up cruder means to achieve the same goal.
Paul Krugman: This Putsch Was Decades in the Making, subtitled “G.O.P. cynics have been coddling crazies for a long time.”
One striking aspect of the Capitol Hill putsch was that none of the rioters’ grievances had any basis in reality.
No, the election wasn’t stolen — there is no evidence of significant electoral fraud. No, Democrats aren’t part of a satanic pedophile conspiracy. No, they aren’t radical Marxists — even the party’s progressive wing would be considered only moderately left of center in any other Western democracy.
So all the rage is based on lies. But what’s almost as striking as the fantasies of the rioters is how few leading Republicans have been willing, despite the violence and desecration, to tell the MAGA mob that their conspiracy theories are false.
Krugman goes on with the history of the party, echoing comments from yesterday.
This coddling of the crazies was, at first, almost entirely cynical. When the G.O.P. began moving right in the 1970s its true agenda was mainly economic — what its leaders wanted, above all, were business deregulation and tax cuts for the rich. But the party needed more than plutocracy to win elections, so it began courting working-class whites with what amounted to thinly disguised racist appeals.
Not incidentally, white supremacy has always been sustained in large part through voter suppression. So it shouldn’t be surprising to see right-wingers howling about a rigged election — after all, rigging elections is what their side is accustomed to doing. And it’s not clear to what extent they actually believe that this election was rigged, as opposed to being enraged that this time the usual vote-rigging didn’t work.
And then how conspiracy theories have emerged more and more often since the Reagan years.
And another theme is how the Trump cult is increasingly bound with evangelical Christianity.
Front page of yesterday’s New York Times: How White Evangelical Christians Fused With Trump Extremism, subtitled “A potent mix of grievance and religious fervor has turbocharged the support among Trump loyalists, many of whom describe themselves as participants in a kind of holy war.”
I find the mix of Trumpian zealotry and religious fundamentalism entirely plausible; doesn’t surprise me in the least.
This is a news piece (not an op-ed or commentary like many things I link) that observes how many of the marchers/rioters/insurrectionists pause to pray to Jesus, or displayed various “Christian rituals, symbols and language,” before it interviews several participants.
Lindsay French, 40, an evangelical Christian from Texas, flew to Washington after she had received what she called a “burning bush” sign from God to participate following her pastor urging congregants to “stop the steal.”
“We are fighting good versus evil, dark versus light,” she said, declaring that she was rising up like Queen Esther, the biblical heroine who saved her people from death.
“We are tired of being made out to be these horrible people,” she said, acknowledging there was some violence but insisting on the falsehood that Antifa was behind it.
Too many examples to summarize.
Again on this theme, from the site Religion and Politics (subtitled Fit For Polite Company): Scholars of Religion and Politics Respond to the Capitol Insurrection: “How to live among those who see life as a cosmic war between good and evil, self-righteously certain of just who is evil and who shall be victorious, is the great test of our time.”
The Atlantic: The Capitol Rioters Weren’t ‘Low Class’, subtitled “The business owners, real-estate brokers, and service members who rioted acted not out of economic desperation, but out of their belief in their inviolable right to rule.”
Another example of the self-righteousness, like that of religious conservatives, who *know they are right,* and therefore can’t lose elections.
On the Republican party: Slate: Embattled Pro-Insurrection Republicans Checking to See if They Can Still Blame Things on the Intolerant Left.
Also at Slate: “All Bets Are Off the Next Few Weeks”, subtitled “A extremism expert watching the Trump fringes now has never been more worried.”
NYT: Trump Is the Republican Party’s Past and Its Future, subtitled “Donald Trump is not an aberration but a blueprint.”
“Republicans have been fueling the conditions that enabled Mr. Trump’s rise since the 1980s.”
More about the psychology of those who follow Trump (or any other authoritarian leader).
Scientific American: The ‘Shared Psychosis’ of Donald Trump and His Loyalists, subtitled “Forensic psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee explains the outgoing president’s pathological appeal and how to wean people from it”
What attracts people to Trump? What is their animus or driving force?
The reasons are multiple and varied, but in my recent public-service book, Profile of a Nation, I have outlined two major emotional drives: narcissistic symbiosis and shared psychosis. Narcissistic symbiosis refers to the developmental wounds that make the leader-follower relationship magnetically attractive. The leader, hungry for adulation to compensate for an inner lack of self-worth, projects grandiose omnipotence—while the followers, rendered needy by societal stress or developmental injury, yearn for a parental figure. When such wounded individuals are given positions of power, they arouse similar pathology in the population that creates a “lock and key” relationship.
NYT: The Art of the Lie? The Bigger the Better, subtitled “Lying as a political tool is hardly new. But a readiness, even enthusiasm, to be deceived has become a driving force in politics around the world, most recently in the United States.”
It begins with an observation from a US diplomat in 1943 Moscow:
…in the case of many people, “it is possible to make them feel and believe practically anything.” No matter how untrue something might be, he wrote, “for the people who believe it, it becomes true. It attains validity and all the powers of truth.”
This would apply to religion in particular, of course. The article goes on with current political examples in Slovenia, Poland, Hungary, even Britain.
“The art of tribal politics is that it shapes reality,” Mr. Kreko said. “Lies become truth and explain everything in simple terms.” And political struggles, he added, “become a war between good and evil that demands unconditional support for the leader of the tribe. If you talk against your own camp you betray it and get expelled from the tribe.”
What makes this so dangerous, Mr. Kreko said, is not just that “tribalism is incompatible with pluralism and democratic politics” but that “tribalism is a natural form of politics: Democracy is a deviation.”
That last thought sounds familiar. Ending with:
What most distressed Mr. Koyré, however, was that lies don’t even need to be plausible to work. “On the contrary,” he wrote, “the grosser, the bigger, the cruder the lie, the more readily is it believed and followed.”
I’ve speculated before that some people just want some authority to tell them what to do, so they don’t have to think; the world is too complex for them to deal with.
And the themes converge as the necessity for maintaining zealotry of any kind entails denying reality and thus lying.
The line from Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump and our current situation may be even straighter and darker than Paul Krugman paints it. Consider the following core Reagan messages: Government is your enemy. White people are the real victims of racism. Taxes are theft. Unions are bad. Environmental protection will destroy the economy.
The consequences of the triumph of their belief system include our world-class inequality, hollowed-out government in a hollowed-out democracy, intense racial animus and enormous environmental challenges.
These realities, along with the profound erosion of trust that Mr. Krugman cites, mean that sustaining the system that Republicans have built requires lying on a massive scale. And the willingness of vast numbers of Americans to believe the lies they want to believe. Or, as George Constanza of “Seinfeld” said, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”