Summary: “The once-respectable Republican Party has become an instrument of an evil force.” That is the proposition that I hope to be able to bring to the center of our national discourse. It is a message that, to begin with, I am trying to bring to Liberal America where the resistance is not so much, as is the case with my conservative neighbors, that people have mistaken the evil for the good as that people do not conceive of the world as a place where such things as “evil forces” actually exist.
The premise is that the more people can see this reality — that we are truly up against an “evil force” — the more capable we will be as a nation to protect America from the damage it is working to inflict. Our seeing this fundamental reality can help shift the balance of power between constructive and destructive forces in three ways: 1) it can alert us to the gravity of the battle, 2) it can help us understand what our real target is, and 3) it can connect us more deeply to the moral passions that empower us.
I am trying to paint a compelling picture of this force, depicting it from several different angles, so that the assemblage of patterns cumulatively demonstrates the reality of something that meets that definition of “evil” I gave previously. (That definition: a force that can be seen as operating in a cultural system in a coherent way over time, systematically imparting the pattern of brokenness onto everything it touches, as well as exploiting such brokenness as it already finds in the world, and manifesting itself with a “human face” that shows those qualities – such as cruelty, dishonesty, greed, etc. – that have traditionally been associated with evil.)
The present angle for that depiction is by cataloging some of the ways in which the conduct of the Republican Party in our times has been unprecedented. The idea here is that — when we look at the ways in which the Party’s conduct has lately taken itself outside of the established norms, traditions, and precedents of our two-plus centuries of political history – this catalog will afford clues about the nature of that force now animating the Republican Party.
The fact that this pattern — unprecedented political conduct that’s destructive, and disgraceful — has been ongoing for a generation shows that we’re dealing with something larger than any particular individuals or group of individuals.
I admit that when the Bush administration left town in early 2009, to be replaced by a new president, I had hopes that the darkness might be leaving town with the Bush regime. I thought that maybe the locus of the darkness was specific to a handful of individuals. I believed it possible that the remaining Republicans in Washington, specifically in the Congress, might transform themselves into something more benign, the way the flying monkeys who served the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz became helpful once the Witch herself had been extinguished. But this was not to be.
(Admittedly, there was some clue that the problem might be deeper and more systemic. Aside from the disgraceful absence of criticisms from Republicans of the lawlessness of the Bush regime, there was the very way the Bush II presidency originated. More than any other president that I am aware of, George W. Bush came to the office not as a function of his own drive and ambition for the office, but rather as the instrument of an entire faction of powerful people who chose him — recruited him — to be the means for their capturing the presidency to serve their agenda. So already, the unusual extent of systemic forces behind Bush’s II’s very candidacy suggested that the darkness of that presidency bespoke a dark spirit at work within the larger Republican Party.)
As it turned out, of course, when the post-Bush Republican Party assumed the form of the opposition with the inauguration of the new Democratic president, the record of unprecedented destructive political conduct only persisted.
Here are some of the ways the Republican Party has continued to break new ground in conduct destructive of the nation’s good, trampling on its traditions, and undermining the democratic system of government our Founders gave us:
** Never before* has an opposition party made it their top priority to make the president fail. And this unprecedented, warped priority was chosen by the Congressional Republicans not at some random, average moment in American history, but at a time of national crisis. Most urgent among these crises was the economic peril, with the American and world economies on the edge of an abyss. The Republicans determined to make the president fail at a time when his failure – which inevitably would mean the failure of the nation – would mean great suffering and hardship for tens of millions of Americans. Unprecedented.
** Never has an opposition party before now sought to delegitimize a duly elected president, utilizing in this case a lie about the president’s place of birth both to raise constitutional questions about his qualifications, a lie well calculated to tap into the poisonous racist current in the river of American consciousness.
** Never before has the filibuster been used as the Republicans have since Obama became president– using it not for the special circumstances for which it was intended but to require a super-majority on every measure. With this unprecedented abuse of the filibuster, the Republicans used a mere Senate rule to trump the Constitution (according to which a majority rules the Senate, with the Vice President there to break a tie). With this abuse — which the Democrats ought to have made into a scandal as soon as it arose, but did not — the Republicans succeeded in a power grab to convert majority rule into minority rule, and to thwart the will of the people on issue after issue.
** Never before has any major American political party made it dogma — enforced upon their dozen presidential candidates in 2012 — to deny the truth that the overwhelming majority (97%) of the world’s top scientific experts are seeking to convey to us. I am talking, of course, about climate change– what science is saying may be the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced as a species. So this unprecedented rejection of science is not just on any issue, but one on which the well-being of our children and grandchildren, and indeed all of life on earth, may hinge. And the Republicans are endangering these most vital of our interests all because it serves the short-term financial interests of the world’s richest corporations.
** Never has a major political party dealt with an important issue with so little constructive purpose as have the Republicans on the matter of health care reform. The Republicans have done everything it can, including propagating fear-mongering lies, to prevent its enactment. They’ve sought to undermine the law and obstruct the implementation of a policy that: the president ran on as a major part of his promise to the American people, and won; addresses a clearly unacceptable status who in which we waste a trillion dollars and tens of thousands of American lives every year; was modeled on ideas that originated among Republicans; was passed by Congress and signed by the president; upheld by the Court, re-elected by the electorate. But still the Republicans lie about the program, as they have from the beginning, and have voted now — in the Republican-controlled House– fifty times to repeal it. I know of nothing in American history comparable to this conduct. (See my op/ed, in the Roanoke Times, about the Republicans’ outrageous behavior on health care reform, “An attack on the system our Founders gave us”.)
** Never has an opposition party treated an American president with such disrespect, bordering on contempt, contrary to the American tradition that one shows respect at least for the office, and for the choice of the people, whatever one’s opinion of the current office-holder.
** All in all, I would wager that in the history of America never has a political party acted so consistently with so little regard for the greater good, with such indifference to the needs of the nation. Never such a complete fixation upon winning in a struggle for power, making the national political dynamic into almost unrestrained political warfare.
In all these ways, the Republican Party shows itself not only to be the “outlier” that Ornstein and Mann declared, not only “outside the mainstream,” but something for which stronger language is needed. Because in every instance, “quite different” has meant “much worse.”
This Party is not only something unprecedented, but in essentially all the ways that it is new it is ugly and disgraceful and destructive. Something consistently damaging the nation, and thus something that must be fought and defeated.
* NOTE: With respect to all these “Nevers,” I add the caveat, “To the best of my knowledge.” I cannot rule out the possibility of prior episodes of which I am ignorant.