Tag Archives: GOP

Hot Water

Sometimes, I think America’s constitutional democracy is the frog in that over-used parable–the one that gets boiled because the pot of water it’s in is being heated just slowly enough that the frog doesn’t notice until it’s too late.

Every single day brings new evidence of our dysfunction–the capture of one of our political parties by people who range from evil to detached from reality to objectively crazy; the episodes of increasingly militant and unashamed racism and anti-Semitism; the growth of belief in QAnon and other bizarre conspiracy theories; and the public embrace of what most of us previously considered a European form of rightwing nationalism.

The water has become hotter this week, with news that Fox News’ most bankable  and pompous right-wing cheerleader, Tucker Carlson–he of the smarmy sneers and bow ties–had met with Hungarian autocrat and strongman Viktor Orban. As Talking Points Memo reported,

Fox News host Tucker Carlson is billed as a speaker at a far-right conference in Hungary on Saturday, according to a flier for the event. The appearance will come days after the Fox host met with the country’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Carlson will purportedly offer his insights at MCC Feszt, an event hosted by the Mathias Corvinus Collegium, which the New York Times described in June as a government-funded plan to “train a conservative future elite.

A program for MCC Feszt touts Carlson as speaking on Saturday, delivering a talk called “The World According to Tucker Carlson.”

It’s part of a larger, four-day long program that also advertises a talk from a representative of one of America’s esteemed conservative institutions of higher education: Dennis Prager of PragerU, which makes up for what it lacks in physical space, accreditation, and discernible curriculum in Facebook virality. Prager will deliver a talk on “media and free speech.

MCC, the sponsor of the “Feszt,” reportedly benefits from both $1.7 billion in grants from the Hungarian government and the open support of Orbán, who has characterized his approach to governance as “illiberal democracy.” Orbán’s government has used anti-Semitic imagery to demonize George Soros, a native of the country and a favorite target of the Right, and has pressured universities associated with Soros and his Open Society to close. Talking Points Memo also notes that Orban has “gone out of his way” to clamp down on LGBTQ rights during his tenure.

Josh Marshall–the editor of TPM–commented on the meeting and what it reflects about the direction of the GOP:

One thing that a number of us have been saying for some time is that increasingly over the last decade-plus, the GOP has continued to present itself as a center-right party of government while increasingly operating as a rightist revanchist party on the European model. This intentionally conspicuous hobnobbing with Orbán is part of that story. Obviously, Carlson isn’t formally representing the GOP. But in practice he does. He’s far more influential in conservative politics than any elected official currently in office.

This lurch from genuine conservatism to what Marshall quite accurately labels “rightest revanchism” is one more reflection of the party’s current identity, which is as a White Nationalist cult. When you cut through all the BS, by far the most dominant conviction held by members of today’s Republican Party is a deep-seated, racist belief that the only “real” Americans are White Male fundamentalist Christians.

That belief is the reason Republicans in Congress have stopped legislating in favor of performative insanity. The party is no longer about policy or actual politics of any kind–liberal, conservative or even (as it sometimes seems) fascist. The GOP is interested only in maintaining power, but not in order to govern– it needs that power in order to protect White Male Christian privilege, and to ensure the continued dominance of “real” Americans over all of us “others.”

The members of today’s GOP now realize that White Christian Male cultural domination will inevitably erode in the absence of a governing autocracy committed to its preservation, and they are willing to trade both the American Idea and the rule of law for a despotism that will protect that domination. With his visit to Viktor Orban, Tucker Carlson has made that willingness impossible to ignore.

The water in the pot is getting very, very hot.

Social Media, Tribalism, And Craziness

If we are ever going to emerge from pandemic hell or semi-hell, we have to get a handle on two of the most dangerous aspects of contemporary life: the use of social media to spread disinformation, and the politicization of science–including, especially now, medical science.

Talking Points Memo recently ran a column (behind the paywall, so no link–sorry) from an expert in social media. That column made several points:

  •  fake news spreads faster than verified and validated news from credible sources. We also know that items and articles connecting vaccines and death are among the content people engage with most.
  • The algorithms used by social media platforms are primed for engagement, creating a “rabbit-hole effect”–it pushes users who click on anti-vaccine messages toward more anti-vaccine content. The people spreading medical misinformation know this, and know how to exploit the weaknesses of the engagement-driven systems on social media platforms.
  • “Social media is being manipulated on an industrial scale, including by a Russian campaign pushing disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.” Research tells us that people who rely on Facebook for their news about the coronavirus are less likely to be vaccinated than people who get their coronavirus news from any other source.

According to the column, the problem is exacerbated by the way in which vaccine-related misinformation fits into people’s preexisting beliefs.

I was struck by the observation that acceptance of  wild and seemingly obvious inaccuracies requires a certain “pre-existing” belief system. That, not surprisingly, gets us to America’s current, extreme political tribalism.              
 
Let me share some very troubling data: To date, some 86% of Democrats have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot–compared with only 45% of Republicans. A Washington Post survey found that only 6% of Democratic respondents reported an intent to decline the vaccine, while 47% of Republicans said they would refuse to be inoculated. 

Not to put too fine a point on it,  this is insane.

Aside from people with genuine medical conditions that make vaccination unwise, the various justifications offered for denying the vaccine range from hypocritical (“pro-life” politicians suddenly defending the right of individuals to control of their own bodies) to legally inaccurate (“freedom” has never included the right to endanger others—if it did, we’d have the “freedom” to drive drunk and ignore red lights), to conspiratorial (COVID is a “hoax” perpetrated by those hated liberals).

Now, America has always had citizens willing to make decisions that endanger others; what is truly mystifying, however, is why such people overwhelmingly inhabit red states— including Indiana. 

Every state with large numbers of people who have refused vaccination is predominantly Republican. In several of those states, hospitalizations of unvaccinated COVID patients threatens to overwhelm health care systems. New York, a blue state, has five Covid patients hospitalized per 100,000 people, while red state Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis has actually barred businesses from requiring patrons to show proof of vaccination, has 34 per100,000.

DeSantis’ Trumpian approach is an excellent example of just how dramatically the GOP has departed from the positions that used to define it. Whatever happened to the Republican insistence that business owners have the right to determine the rules for their own employees and patrons? (They still give lip service to those rules when the issue is whether to serve LGBTQ customers, but happily abandon them when the decision involves the health and safety of those same patrons.)

And what happened to the GOP’s former insistence on patriotism? Surely protecting others in one’s community from a debilitating and frequently deadly disease is patriotic.

Tribalism has clearly triumphed over logic and self-interest. As Amanda Marcotte recently wrote in Salon,

getting the vaccine would be an admission for conservatives that they were wrong about COVID-19 in the first place, and that liberals were right. And for much of red-state America, that’s apparently a far worse fate than death.

Making vaccine refusal a badge of political affiliation makes absolutely no sense. It does, however, correspond to the precipitous decline of rationality in what was once the “Grand Old Party”—a party now characterized by the anti-science, anti-logic, anti-intellectualism of officials like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Jim Jordan, Paul Gosar, and Louie Gohmert (who was memorably described by Charlie Savage as “the dumbest mammal to enter a legislative chamber since Caligula’s horse”).

These mental giants (cough, cough) are insisting that vaccination will “magnetize” the body and make keys stick to you, and that Bill Gates is sneaking “tracking chips” into the vaccine doses. (As a friend recently queried, don’t most of those people warning against “tracking devices” own cell phones?? Talk about tracking…)

Talk about buffoonery.

The problem is, these sad, deranged people are endangering the rest of us.
 
 
 
 

 

 

The GOP Race To The Bottom

I rarely quote material from sites like Daily Kos–not because I worry about their essential veracity; I don’t. Despite Republicans’ dishonest insistence on equivalence between media spouting right-wing fantasies and those engaging in leftwing spin, factual assertions on sites like Daily Kos are almost all independently verifiable. They do, however, report from a decidedly liberal perspective, and since this site isn’t intended to cheerlead for any particular political perspective other than my own, I rarely cite to them.

I’m breaking that rule today, however, because I was intrigued by a recent post. File this under “be careful what you wish for.”

The article began by tracing GOP conspiracy theories–fluoridated water, Eisenhower as a committed Communist, etc., through QAnon and Jewish Space Lasers (which is evidently a real theory kicking around in wacko circles, and not simply another Marjorie Taylor Greene mental seizure.)

Apparently, however, there’s a political downside to encouraging your base to disdain anything remotely resembling reality. As the post puts it: When you’ve taught your base to believe nothing but the crankiest of crank conspiracies, how do you get them to listen when you need them?

In the last week, Republicans have noticed that the up = down machine has put them in a position where 90% of the people dying from COVID-19 are their people. That’s because 90% of Democrats are already vaccinated and 99.5% of those dying are unvaccinated. Who are those unvaccinated? Oh, right, the Republican base that’s been taught scientists, doctors, and experts can’t be trusted.

Over the course of that week, Republicans who still think of themselves as party leaders have begun to get louder about suggesting to their followers that maybe, just maybe, taking five minutes out of their day to not die would be a good thing.

The post then took a couple of paragraphs to explain the Republican dilemma:

For Republicans who ever actually cared about the traditional Republican agenda, eh. That’s all gone. For those who care about nothing but their own personal power, they’re out of luck as well. Just ask former Rep. Scott Tipton. Tipton was a conservative Republican who checked all the boxes. He voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He frequently angered environmental groups with a push to privatize public lands. He was solidly against reproductive rights as well as gay marriage, supported by wads of cash from the oil and gas industry, and he easily won election for 10 years. Then Tipton was knocked out of his primary by a woman who claimed to have inside knowledge about Hillary Clinton’s upcoming arrest as well as secret documents that would reveal the QAnon truth about the pizza-ordering  cannibals in Congress.

Marjorie Taylor Greene didn’t step into a seat that was formerly held by a Democrat. She ousted Rep. Tom Graves, who had one of the most conservative ratings in the House. Cawthorn took over Mark Meadows’ former seat in a district freshly gerrymandered to make it super Republican safe, but in doing so Cawthorn actually defeated well-funded conservative businesswoman Lynda Bennett, who was the choice of not just Republicans in the state party but also endorsed by Donald Trump. It’s easy to say that Cawthorn won in spite of posting an Instagram photo celebrating his visit to Adolf Hitler’s vacation residence while explaining that a visit to see “the Führer’s” home was on “my bucket list.” But a more truthful framing would be that Cawthorn won because of his unabashed adoption of white supremacist positions.

What most Republicans in leadership positions today are just beginning to discover is that they are the alt-right. The white nationalist agenda that was cautiously courted along the fringe a decade ago is now the mainstream. If there is still a pro-business agenda, it exists only so much as it locks in racism. If there’s still a social conservative agenda, it survives only as a means of tacking a halo onto actions of hate. And the media outlets that Republicans were counting on to keep the base in line have discovered that it’s even more lucrative to feed them to the volcano god who pays Tucker Carlson’s bills.

As the post concludes, “There’s always another Boebert in the weeds.” No matter how obediently crazy the incumbent, no matter how slavishly devoted to Trump and/or the “big Lie,” there’s always someone willing to mount a primary challenge–someone even more anti-reason, anti-science, anti-Black, anti-Semitic–someone even less-tethered to reality.

These days, the crazier the candidate, the more likely s/he is to win a Republican primary–and in most places, the less likely to win a general election. Even with the GOP’s frantic rush to gerrymander everything in sight, there is a limit to how many red crazy districts they can carve out.

Isn’t there?

 

Loyalty Signaling

I’ve posted before about “virtue signaling”-a way of publicly expressing a moral viewpoint with the intent of communicating one’s connection to people of similar, virtuous sentiments. (When I first purchased a Prius, a colleague asked if the purchase was prompted by a desire to “signal” my concerns for the environment to those who would be sympathetic. I guiltily wondered if he was on to something..)

However, I had never heard of “loyalty signaling” until I read a recent column by Paul Krugman.Krugman was  referencing scholarship on the development of cults, and he was particularly impressed by a paper by a New Zealand-based researcher, Xavier Márquez.

“The Mechanisms of Cult Production” compares the behavior of political elites across a wide range of dictatorial regimes, from Caligula’s Rome to the Kim family’s North Korea, and finds striking similarities. Despite vast differences in culture and material circumstances, elites in all such regimes engage in pretty much the same behavior, especially what the paper dubs “loyalty signaling” and “flattery inflation.”

Krugman defines signaling as a concept originally drawn from economics; it describes costly, often pointless behaviors engaged in by people trying  to demonstrate that they have attributes that others value.

In the context of dictatorial regimes, signaling typically involves making absurd claims on behalf of the Leader and his agenda, often including “nauseating displays of loyalty.” If the claims are obvious nonsense and destructive in their effects, if making those claims humiliates the person who makes them, these are features, not bugs. I mean, how does the Leader know if you’re truly loyal unless you’re willing to demonstrate your loyalty by inflicting harm both on others and on your own reputation?

And once this kind of signaling becomes the norm, those trying to prove their loyalty have to go to ever greater extremes to differentiate themselves from the pack. Hence “flattery inflation”: The Leader isn’t just brave and wise, he’s a perfect physical specimen, a brilliant health expert, a Nobel-level economic analyst, and more. The fact that he’s obviously none of these things only enhances the effectiveness of the flattery as a demonstration of loyalty.

Does all of this sound familiar? Of course it does, at least to anyone who has been tracking Fox News or the utterances of political figures like Lindsey Graham or Kevin McCarthy.

Krugman repeats his often-communicated belief that the G.O.P. is no longer a normal political party. (As he says, it sure doesn’t look anything like the party of Dwight Eisenhower). But as he and a number of other observers have pointed out, it does bear a distinct and growing resemblance to the ruling parties of autocratic regimes.

In the U.S., of course, the Trump Party doesn’t (yet) exercise complete control– so Republican politicians suspected of insufficient loyalty to Donald Trump aren’t sent to the gulag. “At most, they stand to lose intraparty offices and, possibly, future primaries.” Yet–as Krugman says, these threats are seemingly sufficient to turn them into modern-day versions of Caligula’s courtiers.

Unfortunately, all this loyalty signaling is putting the whole nation at risk. In fact, it will almost surely kill large numbers of Americans in the next few months….

Republican politicians and Republican-oriented influencers have driven much of the opposition to Covid-19 vaccines, in some cases engaging in what amounts to outright sabotage. And there is a stunning negative correlation between Trump’s share of a county’s vote in 2020 and its current vaccination rate.

Krugman says that hostility to vaccines has become a form of loyalty signaling–which, if accurate, answers a question about vaccine refusal that has confounded most sane Americans. As he says, the G.O.P. has become something having no precedent in American history (although there have been many precedents abroad.)

Republicans have created for themselves a political realm in which costly demonstrations of loyalty transcend considerations of good policy or even basic logic. And all of us may pay the price.

When cult members “drink the Kool Aid,” they typically only kill themselves. Unfortunately, the cult that has replaced the once-Grand-Old-Party threatens to kill us all.

 

The Animosity Coalition

I almost always learn something from reading Thomas Edsall’s “Guest Essays” (formerly known as “Op Eds”) in the New York Times. He usually surveys and cites several academic researchers with expertise in whatever subject he’s investigating, and–as a recent essay demonstrated–he sometimes comes up with a nice turn of phrase.

Edsall’s topic was the “animosity coalition.”

In 2016, Donald Trump recruited voters with the highest levels of animosity toward African Americans, assembling a “schadenfreude” electorate — voters who take pleasure in making the opposition suffer — that continues to dominate the Republican Party, even in the aftermath of the Trump presidency.

Schadenfreude electorate.” Perfect!!

Edsall doesn’t mince words about the composition of that electorate, pointing out that Trump played to the dark side of American politics, constructing an “animosity coalition” composed of “the alienated, the distrustful, voters willing to sacrifice democracy for a return to white hegemony.” As he says, segregationists have long been a permanent fixture of American politics, although shifting between the two major parties.

And that brings us to an essential insight that answers what has been a vexing question, at least for me. 

Edsall quotes Liliana Mason for the insight–which is that their solidification of control over the Republican Party has mades White supremacy seem to be  a partisan issue. Mason points out, however, that members of what she calls the segregation faction have been around much longer than our current partisan divide. In fact, she says, “they are not loyal to a party — they are loyal to white Christian domination.” (emphasis mine)

There is a faction in American politics that has moved from party to party, can be recruited from either party, and responds especially well to hatred of marginalized groups. They’re not just Republicans or Democrats, they’re a third faction that targets parties.

Mason’s conclusions are echoed by other researchers, who have found Trump supporters exhibiting attitudes about racial groups, immigrants and political correctness that rival partisanship and are “negatively related to support for mainstream Republican candidates.”

That insight explains something that so many of us have found baffling: why would elected Republican officials and Republican candidates for public office–many of whom clearly know better– dutifully echo Trump’s bigotries and support his Big Lie? 

The usual theory is that this represents a combination of fecklessness and ambition. Among those who do know better are individuals who lack a moral center–who see which way the GOP winds are blowing for GOP primary voters–and who are prioritizing their personal electoral prospects above their moral and patriotic duties. They are “playing to the base.”

What the cited scholarship adds to that explanation is an important insight: the “base” to which these candidates are pandering isn’t even a Republican base–at least, not as political scientists define a party’s base. It’s the voters who were unhappy with Trump, or with their particular House or Senate candidates, but who nevertheless loyally voted Republican, who are members of the base.

In other words, voters for whom an R or D next to a name on the ballot is dispositive constitute a political party’s true base.

That is not a description of the “animosity coalition” that effectively controls today’s GOP. Those voters have shifted parties before and they would do so again, because their allegiance is to White Christian dominance. As a result, Republicans who need their votes can’t rely on the old political calculation (“where would they go? to the Democrats? Not likely!”) because significant numbers of these voters really would desert candidates who they perceive as insufficiently reactionary/racist.

Julie Wronski, a political scientist at the University of Mississippi — a co-author, with Mason and John Kane of N.Y.U., of a just published paper, “Activating Animus: The Uniquely Social Roots of Trump Support” — put it this way in reply to my emailed query:

The Trump coalition is motivated by animosity toward Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims and L.G.B.T. This animosity has no bearing on support for any of the other G.O.P. elites or the party itself. Warmth toward whites and Christians equally predict support for Trump, other G.O.P. elites, and the party itself. The only area where Trump support is different than other G.O.P. support is in regards to harnessing this out-group animus.

For as long as Trump remains the standard-bearer of the Republican Party, Wronski continued, “this animosity coalition will define the party.”

The animosity coalition is composed of folks whose only real goals are to protect White Christian privilege and “own the libs.” 

In Edsall’s felicitous phrase, they are the “schadenfreude” electorate.