Tag Archives: cult

A “Collective Psychotic Episode”

Tuesday’s post, published early by mistake. See you Wednesday morning.

I am (unhappily) persuaded that the thesis of an October 4th article for Salon is correct.

David Mascriotra’s opening line was “There is only one political party in the United States.” He went on to defend that observation

The first presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump demonstrated with hideous clarity that the Democratic Party is currently running against not a conservative public policy agenda or a coherent philosophy of governance, but a collective psychotic episode, channeled through an authoritarian demagogue who is equally propelled and crippled by his own neuroses.Gore Vidal, one of America’s best chroniclers of empire, once provided instruction to a British interviewer expressing confusion over the radical hostility Republicans showed toward Barack Obama, and the former president’s inability to react with equal aggression: “Obama believes the Republican Party is a political party when in fact it’s a mindset, like Hitler Youth, based on hatred — religious hatred, racial hatred. When you foreigners hear the word ‘conservative’ you think of kindly old men hunting foxes. They’re not, they’re fascists.”

Mascriotra doesn’t fall into the all-too-frequent mistake of centering his criticism on Trump and his gang that can’t shoot straight. His analysis focuses on the real problem–the fact that the Republican Party has  undergone a radical transformation from a genuine political party into a cult–or, as the quoted paragraph graphically puts it, a “mindset.” And a pretty ugly mindset, at that.

This analysis rejects the (weak) excuse that Republican office-holders don’t stand up to Trump because they are afraid of what the author calls the “bloodlust” of the Trump cult. Although there is undoubtedly some of that, he argues that–at least at the federal level– they share Trump’s hatred of democracy, and he shares statements from several of the “usual subjects”– Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and others–to prove his point.

Republican officeholders and voters “are glad to see him waging war on a system designed to give representation and power to a diverse group of citizens.”

We all know what “diverse group of citizens” means: brown and black people, women, gays, Jews and Muslims. It always comes back to what is increasingly impossible to ignore– the almost total capture of the GOP by white supremacists. To rank and file Republicans, “Making America great again” means recommitting the country to the rule and social dominance of white male Christians. As Mascriotra says, “there is no other reasonable conclusion to draw from the fact that between 80 and 90 percent of Republicans approve of Trump’s performance in office.”

That conclusion –that the GOP is no longer a party, but a white supremacist cult– is also supported by the lack of anything resembling an agenda or a platform.

An American without health insurance, or who pays a high monthly premium for inadequate coverage, can expect nothing from the Republican Party. Working parents who cannot afford child care and have no disposable income after paying each month’s bills can expect nothing from the Republican Party. A young college graduate unable to qualify for a mortgage because he has tens of thousands of dollars in student debt can expect nothing from the Republican Party. Poor children suffering through hunger and struggling to learn basic skills in a dysfunctional school can expect nothing from the Republican Party.

Mascriotra quotes George Will for the proposition that the GOP has abandoned any former connection to a coherent, genuine conservatism. He concludes that Trump’s inability to debate Biden, evidenced by his descent into tantrum and invective, was largely because Republicans no longer have principles or programs to debate or defend.

Through their multi-decade commitment to shrinking government down so small that it can “drown in a bathtub,” to use the words of Grover Norquist, what was once a reasonably coherent pro-business conservative party has arrived at its logical endpoint — a fascist power grab under the guise of an incoherent personality cult.

The late Stanley Crouch warned Republicans of their trouble in the late 1990s, explaining to Charlie Rose that you “cannot assemble a group of lunatics” to follow you without eventually following them into lunacy.

Reminds me of the lyric from the song, “Bring in the clowns.”

Don’t bother–they’re here.

 

 

If Demographics Are Destiny…..

The most encouraging headline I’ve come across lately was on a Brookings Institution study titled “Trump Owns a Shrinking Republican Party.”

It’s worth remembering the central point of the study when we read that a majority of Republicans remain adamant in their support of Trump–that’s a majority of a smaller and smaller number of voters.

The opening paragraphs of the report confront the puzzle of Trump’s disinterest in what has typically been the first goal of political candidates and parties alike: expanding one’s base.

Most American presidents come into office seeking to expand their support beyond their most loyal voters. But among the many peculiarities of the Trump presidency is his lack of interest in expanding his base, a fact that is even more surprising for someone who lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million and carried his key electoral college states by less than 100,000 votes. The story of Trump and his base has two sides.

The first “side” is what is most often reported: the devotion of Trump’s base. These are the people who would vote for him even if he shot someone in broad daylight on 5th Avenue, as he famously boasted.

Loyalty to Trump among the Republican base is looking so strong that it led Republican Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), a Trump critic who is not running again, to tell reporters “It’s becoming a cultish thing, isn’t it?”

Indeed it is.  (As regular readers of this blog know–I have some fairly strong and not at all complimentary opinions about why people join that cult.)

The other “side” of the equation is the continuing erosion of party identification, especially Republican identification.

As the following graph of Gallup polls indicates, both political parties find themselves less popular now than they did in 2004 with a substantial rise in those who identify as independents. For the Democrats, party identification peaked in Obama’s first term and then dropped in his second term. For Republicans, party identification took a sharp drop at the end of George W. Bush’s second term and never really recovered. The trend seems to have taken another drop after Trump’s election.

How can we explain what looks to be a long-term decline for the Republican brand? Age, for one thing. From the beginning of the Trump administration the oldest Americans, those aged 50 and over, have consistently given Trump his highest approval ratings while young people aged 18–29 have consistently given him his lowest approval ratings.

The study concludes–not unreasonably–that a political party unable to attract young people, especially when a generation is as big as the Millennial generation, is not a party with a very bright future.

But it isn’t only young people. We don’t have data–at least, I’m unaware of any–that gives us a handle on the numbers of disaffected “old guard” Republicans, the good-government, civic-minded folks I used to work with, who are horrified by what their party has become. The Steve Schmidts and other high-profile “never Trumpers” are only the tip of that iceberg.

Of course, the GOP establishment is aware of these demographics; those dwindling numbers are the impetus for the party’s constant efforts to rig the system–to gerrymander, impose draconian voter ID requirements, purge registration rolls and generally do whatever they can to suppress turnout.

They know that members of the cult will vote, no matter what. If the rest of us–however numerous– don’t, the current (profoundly unAmerican) iteration of what used to be a Grand Old Party will retain power.

You don’t have to love the Democrats to find that prospect a chilling one.