Tag Archives: GOP

How Deep It Goes

I left the Republican Party in 2000, but for several years after my departure I held to the belief that the changes I’d seen–the growing radicalization and disregard for evidence that concerned me–remained an essentially fringe phenomenon. Yes, the fringe was growing; yes, it was exerting a troubling amount of control over the reasonable folks who still were in the majority, but it wasn’t (I fondly believed) a wholesale abandonment of sanity and reason in service of bigotry.

I was wrong.

There are undoubtedly people who remain part of the GOP from inertia, or denial, but it is no longer possible to view the Republican Party as anything but a threat to American liberty and equality. In the wake of the horrific massacre in Buffalo, Dana Milbank described the GOP’s transformation from a traditional political party to a White Nationalist cult. He cited statistics for the proposition that the problem–the moral rot– goes “well beyond the rhetoric of a few Republican officials and opinion leaders. Elected Republicans haven’t merely inspired far-right extremists. They have become far-right extremists.”

The study, released on Friday by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, a decades-old group that tracks right-wing extremism, found that more than 1 in 5 Republican state legislators in the United States were affiliated with far-right groups. The IREHR (which conducted a similar study with the NAACP in 2010 on racism within the tea party) cross-referenced the personal, campaign and official Facebook profiles of all 7,383 state legislators in the United States during the 2021-22 legislative period with thousands of far-right Facebook groups. The researchers found that 875 legislators — all but three of them Republicans — were members of one or more of 789 far-right Facebook groups. That works out to 22 percent of all Republican state legislators.

I haven’t had time to access the study to ascertain how many of those state-level legislators are members of Indiana’s Statehouse, but I’m sure the number is significant.

The numbers reported are hair-raising enough, but the study excluded from its definition of far-right groups what it called “historically mainstream conservative groups” such as the National Rifle Association and even pro-Trump and MAGA groups. It included  contemporary iterations of the tea party and selected antiabortion and Second Amendment groups, white nationalists, neo-Confederates and sovereign citizen organizations that claim to be exempt from U.S. law.

In other words, the study looked only at the most radical of the reactionary groups.

Arguably, then, the study understates the true overlap between state-level Republican legislators and the far right. (Also, for obvious reasons, researchers couldn’t count legislators who belong to the several extremist groups that keep their memberships secret.)

Some of these far-right figures already have high profiles. ProPublica last fall identified 48 Republican state and local government officials — including 10 sitting state lawmakers — on the membership roster of the Oath Keepers, a militant extremist group. One Arizona state senator, Wendy Rogers, gained national attention for a speech to a white-nationalist conference in February during which she called for violence. Her remarks to the gathering (which Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) also addressed) earned her a rebuke by her fellow GOP state senators but proved to be a fundraising bonanza.

Proponents of “replacement theory” have been growing in number since Fox News’s Tucker Carlson has been championing the claim.

Though based in actual demographic trends — Americans of color will gradually become a majority in coming decades — “Great Replacement” holds that Democrats and the left are conspiring by nefarious means to supplant White people.

This idea, expressed by the alleged Buffalo killer (11 of the gunman’s 13 victims were Black), has found support from Stefanik (N.Y.), the No. 3 House Republican. She accused Democrats of “a PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION” in the form of an immigration amnesty plan that would “overthrow our current electorate.”

Variations of this have been heard from Republicans such as: Rep. Scott Perry (Pa.), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus (“we’re replacing … native-born Americans to permanently transform the political landscape”); Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin (Democrats “want to remake the demographics of America to ensure … that they stay in power forever”); Rep. Gaetz of Florida (Carlson “is CORRECT about Replacement Theory”); Vance, the party’s Senate nominee for Ohio (“Biden’s open border is killing Ohioans, with … more Democrat voters pouring into this country”); and Gingrich, former Republican House speaker (“the anti-American left would love to drown traditional, classic Americans … to get rid of the rest of us”).

It’s one thing to name (and–one hopes–shame) the highly visible Republicans promoting this racist bilge, but they aren’t the real problem. The real, very scary problem is that these  people are garnering votes and winning elections.

The real problem is the rank-and-file Republicans who support them.

The GOP’s Christian Soldiers

It isn’t just Pennsylvania–but most of the GOP candidates in that state’s primaries were terrifying and all-too-representative of whatever it is that the Republican Party has become.

All of the GOP’s primary candidates were Trumpers, but Doug Mastriano, who won the Republican gubernatorial primary by twenty points, is probably the most representative of the Christian Soldiers and White Supremicists who now dominate the party. He was described by Talking Points Memo as 

the Trumpiest of the Trumpists, having received the former president’s “Complete and Total Endorsement” on Saturday. It’s not just because he has enthusiastically promoted Trump’s stolen election lie, participated in the January 6 insurrection, and signaled his intent to abuse his power as governor to overturn any Democratic presidential victory in Pennsylvania in 2024. It’s because Mastriano believes he is on a mission from God — and has an energized Christian nationalist movement at his back.

In the GOP’s Senate primary, Cathy Barnett (a Black right-winger too weird and Trumpy even for Trump) appealed to Christian Nationalists with all-out bigotry.  CNN has reported that Barnette argued for discriminating against Muslims and compared rejecting Islam to “… rejecting Hitler’s or Stalin’s worldviews.” She has also said that accepting homosexuality would lead to the acceptance of incest and pedophilia. She called a transgender person “deformed” and “demonic.” Barnett lost, but took an all-too-respectable portion of the primary vote.

The Christian Right has long been an important part of the Republican base, but as Talking Points Memo reports, that constituency has become more highly radicalized, “a trend that was validated and accelerated by Trump’s candidacy and presidency — and especially by his stolen election lie.”

A movement that elevated Trump to messianic status and shielded him from his 2019 impeachment was able to convince millions that satanic forces had robbed God’s man in the White House of his anointed perch as the restorer of America’s white Christian heritage. Their duty, as patriotic spiritual warriors, was to go to battle on his behalf.

Mastriano, a state senator, has not only ridden the wave of this radicalized movement, he has openly embraced it. He spoke at the December 12, 2020, Jericho March on the National Mall, which promoted the stolen election lie and pledged to rally a spiritual army to overturn the election results. Earlier this year, he announced his run for governor at a Christian nationalist event at which a shofar was blown, an increasingly commonplace occurrence as a symbol of Trump’s victory over satanic forces, otherwise known as our democracy. As Brian Kaylor and Beau Underwood detail in their newsletter, A Public Witness, Mastriano has been campaigning at events like Pennsylvania For Christ, whose organizers claim their goal is to “reestablish the kingdom of God in PA,” and Patriots Arise for God, Family, and Country, where he pledged, “in November, we’re going to take our state back. My God will make it so.”

According to an article in the Washington Post, Mastriano is part of a far-right group that calls itself the “Thursday Night Patriots.” The group originally promoted a variety of far-right conspiratorial beliefs: that the coronavirus vaccine is causing cancer,  that President Biden’s election was suspect and that racism is being overblown in public schools. Then participants began using an ahistorical “curriculum” for studying the Constitution “that emphasized self-defense, free enterprise and above all the belief that America was founded to be — and should remain — a Christian country.”

Christian nationalists fervently believe that America had a divine, Christian founding, and that it is their job as patriotic believers to rescue it from secular and satanic forces–i.e., from the rest of us. Mastriano is one of them, and he is now the official Republican candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania. If that doesn’t make your blood run cold, I don’t know what would.

The Talking Points Memo article identified some “key inflection points”–events that we now understand operated to integrate this Christian zealotry  into Republican presidential politics. John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin, a charismatic Christian, was one.

Another was then-Texas governor Rick Perry’s enormous prayer rally in Houston’s professional basketball stadium in 2011, on the eve of his announcement of his 2012 presidential run, where speakers focused on spiritual warfare, obedience to Jesus, and reclaiming a Christian America.

The article in Talking Points Memo ends with an obvious–but terrifying–observation:

If Trump’s religious acolytes are elected to offices from which they can unlawfully manipulate election outcomes because God told them to, election subversion in 2024 could, even more than in 2020, be wrapped in a flag and a cross.

 

Moral Clarity

At breakfast the other day, my husband asked me what I thought today’s Republicans really believe.

I should mention that he and I met when we were members of Mayor Bill Hudnut’s very Republican Indianapolis city administration, so our dismay with and disapproval of what the GOP has become has built over a period of years.  After giving his question some thought, I said today’s Republicans think the world should be run by White Christian men.

In a recent column, Jennifer Rubin made a similar point: The GOP, she wrote, is no longer a party. It’s a movement to impose White Christian nationalism.

People might be confused about how a Republican Party that once worried about government overreach now seeks to control medical care for transgender children and retaliate against a corporation for objecting to a bill targeting LGBTQ students. And why is it that the most ambitious Republicans are spending more time battling nonexistent critical race theory in schools than on health care or inflation?

To explain this, one must acknowledge that the GOP is not a political party anymore. It is a movement dedicated to imposing White Christian nationalism.

The media blandly describes the GOP’s obsessions as “culture wars,” but that suggests there is another side seeking to impose its views on others. In reality, only one side is repudiating pluralistic democracy — White, Christian and mainly rural Americans who are becoming a minority group and want to maintain their political power.

Rubin says that the MAGA movement is essentially an effort to “conserve power and to counteract the sense of a shared fate with Americans who historically have been marginalized.”

The hysteria on the right has led to the virtual abandonment of policy positions, or for that matter, anything remotely resembling adult argumentation. Rather than focusing on governance, the cult that was once a political party has substituted what Rubin accurately calls “malicious labeling and insults (e.g., “groomer,” “woke”), and the targeting of LGBTQ youths and dehumanization of immigrants.” Today’s Republican candidates characterize their opponents in terms that in our time would have made them outcasts in the party–they label Democrats (and rational Republicans, to the extent those still exist) “as sick, dangerous and — above all — not real Americans.”

No one should be surprised that the “big lie” has become gospel in White evangelical churches. The New York Times reports: “In the 17 months since the presidential election, pastors at these churches have preached about fraudulent votes and vague claims of election meddling. … For these church leaders, Mr. Trump’s narrative of the 2020 election has become a prominent strain in an apocalyptic vision of the left running amok.”

If anti-critical-race-theory crusades are the response to racial empathy, then laws designed to make voting harder or to subvert elections are the answer to the GOP’s defeat in 2020, which the right still refuses to concede. The election has been transformed into a plot against right-wingers that must be rectified by further marginalizing those outside their movement.

Rubin is correct when she says that America’s very real  political problems are minor when compared with what she calls  “the moral confusion” exhibited by millions of White Christian Americans. My only quibble with that observation is that White Supremacy isn’t really “moral confusion.” It is immorality.

What I find depressingly ironic is the fact that the “morality” preached in so many Christian churches is focused exclusively on individual (primarily sexual) behavior–as though “morality” is exclusively a matter of what happens below the waist and in the uterus, and has little or nothing to do with how we treat our fellow humans.

A morality that avoids grappling with people’s social behaviors–a theology that ignores questions of basic social justice–is no morality at all.

America may avoid a replay of our “hot” civil war, but make no mistake: we are in the middle of an existential battle for the soul of this country–and those fighting to retain their dominance are unrestrained by morality, by fidelity to the rule of law, or by allegiance to the (yet-to-be-achieved) principles of the Declaration, Constitution or Bill of Rights.

I firmly believe that a majority of Americans support pluralism, democracy and fundamental fairness. But I also know that people fight harder–and dirtier– when they feel cornered.

We live in a very scary time.

 

Briggs Gets It. Banks Doesn’t

James Briggs is currently an opinion columnist for the Indianapolis Star. (I say “currently” because for the past several years, the Star has employed one columnist at a time to opine about the news–usually national– arguably to distract readers from recognizing the extent to which the newspaper doesn’t cover state or local government. But I digress.)

I have tended to agree with Briggs’ take on the various matters he’s covered, and a recent column was no exception.The target was Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and his retaliation against Disney for having the temerity to oppose his “Don’t say Gay” bill. Briggs wonders whether Florida’s break between business and the GOP will spread to other Red states.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ war on Disney feels like a potential breaking point for Republicans and big business.

The question is whether the rift will extend beyond certain regions (such as the Southeast) and personality-driven politics (DeSantis boosts his national profile by taking on that lib, Mickey Mouse) to alter the governing philosophy of Republicans in red states across the country.

As Briggs notes, the traditional alliance between the GOP and big business has become strained, as a number of corporations have responded to public opinion by taking political positions that have angered Republican culture warriors. He mentions Dick’s Sporting Goods, which led large retailers to stop selling semiautomatic rifles and ammunition in 2018, and decisions by Coca-Cola and Delta to oppose Georgia Republicans’ voting legislation last year.

The most famous Indiana example of government clashing with big business, of course, was the 2015 response of Hoosier business to the effort by then-Gov. Mike Pence and the Republican-controlled Indiana General Assembly to pass an altered version of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act–a version that would have facilitated anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Business won that conflict.

This year in Florida, however, DeSantis’ obedient state legislature  passed a bill to eliminate a special district that enables Disney World to operate as its own municipality in the state. The effective date of the measure was delayed until after the midterm elections, undoubtedly because–if it goes into effect– it will raise taxes and shift enormous debt from Disney to Florida taxpayers. (Culture wars come at a cost…)

Some Indiana Republicans are agitating for that shift as well, most notably U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, who has called out Eli Lilly & Co. and bragged about being blacklisted by the Indianapolis drugmaker’s political action committee over objecting to Joe Biden’s election certification last year. Banks also is among 17 Republican members of Congress who wrote to Disney expressing opposition to extending copyright protection for Mickey Mouse beyond 2024.

The sentiment is simmering throughout Indiana. Rank-and-file Republicans in the Indiana General Assembly have been putting the state’s top companies on their heels in recent years, including the most recent session when they introduced legislation that would have all but banned employer vaccine mandates.

I find this 180 degree shift in Republican philosophy gobsmacking. The GOP used to be overly deferential, if anything, to corporate America’s freedom to manage its own business affairs.

Briggs is confident that Indiana will not follow DeSantis’ authoritarian lead. His reasoning is persuasive, but depressing. Essentially, he says Florida remains a state where people want to live and do business. It’s the eighth-fastest-growing state, and it has three of the 10 hottest housing markets. It’s “attracting the population and talent to drive a thriving business climate.”

Indiana is a tougher sell. Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks recently laid that out in brutal terms during a speech to the Economic Club of Indiana.

“Our education attainment in the state is not good,” Ricks said, as reported by WISH-TV. “The ability to reskill the workforce, I think, could improve. Health, life and inclusion, overall, I think, conditions rank poorly nationally in our state. And also workforce preparedness, also related to reskilling, is a liability for us.”

Ricks might have elaborated on that thesis, pointing out that Indiana’s infrastructure and overall quality of life don’t send welcoming messages to potential residents or businesses. “We’re cheap” isn’t exactly an enthusiastic endorsement. Add to our other visible deficits the voices of far too many of our elected officials; Banks isn’t the only embarrassment working overtime to appeal to the under-educated and overwrought GOP base.

Indiana’s Republicans have long since abandoned the statesmanship of Dick Lugar and Bill Hudnut. Instead, they are emulating the bigoted idiocies of Margery Taylor Green, Paul Gosar and their ilk.

As Briggs points out, Indiana needs big, high-paying employers–and those employers need workers who are unlikely to agree with Jim Banks, et al, on social issues. We aren’t Florida, “where oceans and warm weather in January have a way of making you forget about politics.”

These days, businesses will think twice about Florida–ocean or not–let alone Indiana.

 

The Cult Is Armed

Last week, Politico ran an interview with a scholar of autocracy.You really–really–need to click through and read it in its entirety, because I lack the space and ability to offer a coherent synopsis.

The scholar, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, had made accurate predictions about Trump’s likely refusal to concede his 2020 defeat, and she made them well in advance of the election. During the course of the interview, she made several other penetrating observations. Among them: the likely permanence of the changes Trump has effected to the GOP. She says that his sway over the party has permanently transformed its political culture, changing it to an authoritarian party in which you don’t only go after external enemies, but also after internal ones. Authoritarian parties don’t allow dissent

When somebody like Trump comes on the scene and holds office, it’s really like an earthquake or a volcano, and it shakes up the whole system by gathering in this big tent all the extremists, all the far-right people, and giving them legitimation. The GOP was already going away from a democratic political culture, but he accelerated it and normalized extremism and normalized lawlessness. And so the GOP over these years has truly, in my estimation, become an authoritarian far-right party. And the other big story is that his agenda and his methods are being continued at the state level. Some of these things were on the agenda way before he came in, like getting rid of abortion rights and stuff like that. But these states are really laboratories of autocracy now, like Florida, Texas.

Ben-Ghiat made a particularly important point about a favorite Republican talking point that she noted is a time-honored strategy of right-wing authoritarianism. Authoritarians like to label democratic systems as tyrannical. (Psychiatrists might call that projection.) According to Ben-Ghiat, Mussolini was the first to make the accusation that democracies are tyrannical, democracies are the problem. That introduced a whole century’s worth of the strategy of calling sitting Democrats dictators. “Biden as a social dictator, [is] a phony talking point. It has so many articulations from “They’re forcing us to wear masks.”

Her observations about the “Big Lie” were equally interesting, especially for those of us who have read psychological profiles of Trump.

The genius of the “big lie” was not only that it sparked a movement that ended up with January 6 to physically allow him to stay in office. But psychologically the “big lie” was very important because it prevented his propagandized followers from having to reckon with the fact that he lost. And it maintains him as their hero, as their winner, as the invincible Trump, but also as the wronged Trump, the victim. Victimhood is extremely important for all autocrats. They always have to be the biggest victim.

There are several other points in the interview worth pondering, especially her acute observations about Ron DeSantis, but the one that really struck home with me was her response to the question whether the U.S. faces a civil war. She began by saying that she thought it unlikely.

But then she made a point I’d not previously considered.

I think that it’s not out of the realm of possibility, because if the Republicans tried to impeach Biden and impeach Harris, there would be protests. Whether that becomes a civil war is very different because it’s predominantly only one side which is armed, first of all….

The wild card is guns. No other country in peace time has 400 million guns in private hands. And no other country in peacetime has militias allowed to populate, has sovereign sheriffs, has so many extremists in the military, and that matters because of these other things. And in fact, if January 6 didn’t bring out a massive protest, what is going to bring out a massive protest? Because that showed that groups of people who were there were people unaffiliated with any Proud Boys or any radical group. And Robert Pape, who studied them, called them middle-aged, middle class, but they were all armed. Some of them had private arsenals and they showed up at January 6. So that’s the wild card. That’s one thing that’s extremely American, that violence, that the population believes it has the right to rebel against tyrannical government. Like Matt Gaetz says: The Second Amendment is not just about hunting. And here we go back to the idea of Biden as a dictator. And that only works if your citizenry is armed and ours is to a degree that no other country is in the entire world.

The insanity of America’s gun culture has been evident for a long time. What hasn’t been evident is the fact that “only one side is armed.”

Read the whole interview.