For those of us who used to belong to a very, VERY different Republican Party, the most bewildering–and infuriating–feature of the cult that has replaced it is its blatant hypocrisy. A political party that used to favor free trade, fiscal prudence, individual liberty and property rights has cheerfully abandoned its devotion to those–or for that matter, any– principled approaches to civil liberties.
Granted, rational folks in both parties understood that your liberties aren’t absolute, and that concern for the public good–public health, national security and other social requirements– will necessarily constrain your ability to do whatever you want whenever you want. But once upon a time, the arguments between serious folks tended to be about specifics: when is it legitimate for government to limit certain liberties?
Thanks to the devolution of the Republican Party, virtually all of its once-sacrosanct principles have become disposable.
Free trade? When Donald Trump decided to impose tariffs–long considered unthinkable by the Grand Old Party–the cult jettisoned its prior beliefs and embraced them.
Fiscal prudence? These days, fiscal responsibility–not necessarily balancing the budget (the preference of a fringe unwilling to understand why such a constraint could be dangerous) but a commitment to imposing taxes to pay for government programs is long gone. The party that recoiled from Democrats’ perceived willingness to “tax and spend” became the party opposed to any and all taxes, especially on those most able to pay them. If the government really has to “do stuff,” today’s GOP favors”borrow and spend”–put it on the national credit card and let the next generation pay for it.
Individual liberty? That principle has been rewritten too. Now, it’s highly selective. Republicans are all for your “liberty” to act in ways with which they agree. They believe you should have the “liberty” to ignore public health mandates and decide for yourself whether to wear a mask (i.e., the “liberty” to infect your neighbor), but they remain adamantly opposed to a woman’s liberty to control her own body. They support your liberty to communicate racist sentiments, but not your liberty to voice your disapproval of those sentiments–that’s “cancel culture.”
And of course, they support the liberty of anyone and everyone to “pack heat,” but oppose even the most reasonable constraints to protect public safety.
And what about property rights? The GOP long defended property rights, arguing (I believe properly) that the government that can confiscate your property poses a danger to other civil liberties. After all, if the government can infringe your property rights in retaliation for the exercise of your right to freedom of speech or religion, how likely are you to exercise those rights?
Apparently, property rights are also old school. As an article from The Week put it, the GOP no longer believes a man’s cruise ship is his castle.
“Texas is open 100 percent,” Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said in a Twitter video Monday, “and we want to make sure you have the freedom to go where you want without limits.” To that end, Abbott said, he signed a law banning any business or government entity in the state from requiring documentation of a COVID-19 vaccination or recovery for entry (commonly called vaccine passports).
Abbott cast the legislation as a bold strike for freedom, but it’s nothing of the sort — not in the sense the American right has traditionally understood the term, anyway. Though it may be said to enhance consumer choice, it is a betrayal of private property rights, which have long been core to visions of small government in the United States.
The article quotes James Madison’s 1829 address, in which the father of our Constitution explained “that the rights of persons, and the rights of property are the objects for the protection of which Government was instituted. These rights cannot well be separated.”
Abbott begs to differ. Evidently, Texan business owners have no right to determine what happens on their property. Abbott isn’t the only Republican governor to ignore property rights. Florida’s Ron DeSantis has banned vaccine passports, including those required by cruise ships departing from Florida.
Ironically, as the article notes, reliance on property rights allowed the right to win many battles purportedly over religious liberty.
On questions like whether Catholic employers should be made to pay for employees’ birth control, whether conservative bakers should be forced to bake for a gay wedding, or whether Christian adoption agencies should be required to place children with same-sex couples, the right’s religious liberty position has long been buttressed by property rights: If you own the business, the argument goes, you should be able to make these calls as your conscience directs.
These days, however, only when your conscience points you in a GOP-approved direction.