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Malign Alignment: How an Alliance of America’s Darkest Forces Made the GOP Break Bad

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This piece has lately run in newspapers in my conservative congressional District (VA-06).

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As I am writing this, the Republicans in the Congress are trying to pass a bill that would strip some $800 billion away from health care for middle and working class Americans and transfer that money to the wealthiest Americans (and some large corporations). This, at a time when the inequalities of wealth and income are already the widest they’ve been in living memory.

This central piece of the Republican agenda – the other major priority being a tax cut bill that would transfer still more wealth from those who have less to those who have more – can stand as emblematic of the Party’s moral quality.

All of which leads to the question: how did one of America’s two major political parties go so far toward the dark side? Here is what I believe is a big part of the answer.

America’s two major parties have been the Republican and Democratic since the end of the Civil War.

The Republican Party was “the Party of Lincoln” and, as the party of the winning side, it dominated American politics for well over a generation after that War. During that time, it became the Party of the emerging class of industrial capitalists—the Party of the Robber Barons. (There was only one Democratic president between 1856 and 1912.)

Defending the interests of the increasingly powerful corporate system tainted the Republican Party with corruption and injustice. Until the time of the New Deal in the 1930s, the Republican Party, and the corporatist Supreme Court it appointed, assured that the interests of wealth would prevail over the interests of working people. Laws to protect workers were struck down, unions were forbidden, and the U.S. Army would sometimes step in to break strikes.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party had its own dark side.

From before the Civil War, the Democratic Party was the political arm of the slave-owners. After the Civil War, as white supremacy re-established itself in the former Confederacy in the form of the “Jim Crow” system (in which blacks were relegated to second class citizenship, and deprived the right to vote), the “Solid South” consistently sent Democrats to Washington to protect its arrangements of racial oppression.

Thus, the two darkest, most unjust forces in American civilization – the worst of the Union side, and the worst of the Confederate side –were arrayed in opposition to each other across the partisan divide.

This division of the darkest American forces continued all the way up until the 1960s. But over the years, from the time of FDR through the time of LBJ, the Democratic Party changed on the issue of race. When President Johnson signed the major Civil Rights bills in 1965, he recognized that this would lose the Democrats the South (for a generation he thought). Richard Nixon saw the opportunity, and capitalized on it in 1968 with his (in)famous “Southern Strategy.”

By the 1990s, the Solid South had switched parties—from solidly Democratic to virtually solidly Republican.

(Strom Thurmond—once a Democrat who’d run for president in 1948 as a “Dixiecrat” to protest President Truman’s drive to integrate the U.S. military – spent his final years in the U.S. Senate as a Republican.)

The “Party of Lincoln” had become the political home to the heirs of the Slave Power.

At the same time, that same Republican Party continued to be the Party of corporate America. The unbridled quest for wealth that had marked the age of the Robber Barons maintained its dominant power within the GOP, even as that party also gained the allegiance of white voters of all classes throughout the former Confederacy.

In other words, the two darkest powers in America – no longer opposed to each other along partisan lines, and thus no longer checking the power of the other – had become allies, with one providing the money and the other providing the votes for gaining power.

But making that alliance work posed an enormous challenge: how could the Republican Party hold the allegiance of middle and working class white people even while serving the interests of the wealthiest and the corporate system?

What makes that so challenging is that the agenda of the corporatists has been to take power and wealth away from average Americans and transfer that power to the corporate system and to the powerful people who run it.

The Republican Party – and its media allies – have met this challenge successfully.

They’ve met it by training its white-voter-base to think about politics in ways that distract them from their own economic and political interests, and from noticing the unjust ways that corporate power is operating in the political system to transfer both wealth and power from the citizenry to itself.

The ways they’ve accomplished this training include:

  • Persuading people that there’s an urgent moral requirement that their own opposition to abortion be imposed by law upon the entire nation, guaranteeing a perpetual moral battle.
  • Persuading people that absolutism in the defense and extension of gun rights is necessary for the protection of all our American liberties, keeping gun rights warriors in a constant state of suspicion toward government.

The creation of single-issue voters on these two issues has, by itself, secured for the Republicans the automatic support of many millions of voters in every election. Also:

  • Persuading people that all government programs to help the un-rich to advance in their lives are sending their money to those people, who are lazy, gaming the system, and therefore undeserving.
  • Persuading people to believe a demonized picture of the “liberals” on the other side, so that defeating them – the enemy – becomes reward enough.

None of which does a thing for these voters’ quality of life and the prospects for their children. And all of which enables their money-power corporatist “allies” to pick their pockets and widen the gap in wealth and power. As with this pending “health care” bill.

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My ongoing series, “A Better Human Story,” explores the forces that have shaped the human saga, from our evolution as creatures part of the system of life on earth to the unleashing of a force of brokenness that inevitably accompanied our extricating ourselves from our biologically evolved niche into the rise of civilization. What emerges from that perspective — what might be called a secular understanding of “the battle between good and evil” — helps illuminate the crisis into which American civilization has descended in our times.

  • Joe Mancini

    Simply put, the GOP conducts politics as Race War, and governance as Class War.

    • Andy Schmookler

      Nice formulation.

  • Mike Judge

    So if Democrats relaxed their focus on abortion rights and gun control, there might be an opening on fiscal issues.

    • woodrowfan

      Democrats only talk about mild control like registering guns. As for abortion rights, all we need to is abandon the rights of a major part of our base? That’s like suggesting we abandon voting rights for African-Americans to win some white votes..

  • woodrowfan

    thank you for not using the old “liberal party/conservative party” dichotomy. I tell my students there was no such thing as a liberal party and a conservative party before the last few decades. Both parties were very wide coalitions with members from all over the political spectrum. Party loyalty was based upon religion, ethnicity, family ties, where you lived, your job, etc. more than were you on the left or right.

  • RobertColgan

    I like the way you described it.
    Obviously the “moral battleground” has as much to do with preying upon existent fears (change in the patriarchal predominately older white/Christian status quo rule, gun removal, American exceptionalism) while creating and amplifying false new fears—-all emotional stuff designed to supplant and impede critical thought.
    And it works.
    (The words of Hermann Goering “It’s easy—-all you have to do is tell them the nation is under attack….”)
    But let’s not ignore the loss of true opposition from a Democrat Party that once acted as neutralizing buffer to the excesses of the profit baron backing Republicans, that maintained a balance of two antagonistic philosophies——-the one intent on privatizing everything for profit, one seeking a greater share for everyone in The Commons.
    Corporate greed bought out too many of them.
    The push-pull homeostasis for balance no longer exists.
    The two parties today are different in the way family members are: they may argue, but underneath they know they got each other’s back because they ultimately will stick together for the good of the group.
    The votes for war appropriations alone in the last three decades reveal how much they are of one mind.
    Neocons came from both Parties.
    An electorate for decades distracted by fear and brainwashed to mass consume may snap out of the lemming-like-march-to-the-cliff hypnosis when things finally become too obscene to be ignored……..but it may be too late. . .too much damage to correct.
    The body politic, like any animal body, can only sustain so much trauma before it succumbs. America is on a very dangerous path now.

    • Andy Schmookler

      I believe the problem with the Democrats lies elsewhere– namely in blindness and weakness that hamper their waging of the necessary battle.

      And I believe the moral contrast between the Ds and the Rs is stark. Sure, money has bought a part of the Ds, as the power of Labor has plummeted. But the Ds regularly pursue worthy goals which, if achieved, would make America more whole.

      The problem is not that they fail to be in favor of enough right stuff. The problem is that they too seldom prevail.

      • I hate linking to “The Intercept,” but Ralph Nader – another one I’d prefer not to link to – has an interesting explanation for why the Dems have been unable to stand up to Republicans. Not sure if Nader’s money-centric view meshes with your view about “blindness and weakness,” but I’m curious what you think.

        Increasingly [Democrats] began to judge their challenge to Republicans by how much money they raised. You talk to [Marcy] Kaptur from Cleveland, she says, we go into the Democratic caucus in the House, we go in talking money, we stay talking money, and we go out with our quotas for money. …

        As a result they took the economic issues off the table that used to win again and again in the thirties and forties for the Democrats. The labor issues, the living wage issues, the health insurance issue, pension issues. And that of course was a huge bonanza for the Republican Party because the Republican Party could not contend on economic issues. They contended on racial issues, on bigotry issues, and that’s how they began to take control of the solid Democratic South after the civil rights laws were passed.

        Raising money from Wall Street, from the drug companies, from health insurance companies, the energy companies, kept [Democrats] from their main contrasting advantage over the Republicans, which is, in FDR’s parlance, “The Democratic Party is the party of working families, Republicans are the party of the rich.” That flipped it completely and left the Democrats extremely vulnerable.

        As a result they drew back geographically, to the east coast, west coast and so on.

        And that created another millstone: You don’t run a 50-state [presidential] campaign. If you don’t run a 50-state campaign, number one you’re strengthening the opposing party in those states you’ve abandoned, so they can take those states for granted and concentrate on the states that are in the grey area. That was flub number one.

        Flub number two is what Ben Barnes, the politically-savvy guy in Texas, told me. He said, when you don’t contest the presidential race in Texas, it rots the whole party down … all the way to mayors and city council. So it replicates this decadence and powerlessness for future years.

        When they abandoned the red states, they abandoned five states in the Rocky Mountain area, and started out with a handicap of nine or ten senators.

        • Andy Schmookler

          Whatever there may be to Nader’s analysis, this just doesn’t hold up as an explanation of the Democrats’ weakness in dealing with the Republicans.

          Just consider how Obama dealt with the obstructionists. He never made a huge issue of that, or of any of their other disgraceful behavior.

          Before that, the Democrats took impeachment off the table with W.

          Maybe this money bit, plus the loss of power by organized labor, explains why the Democrats often were friendlier to Big Money than they used to be back in the time of FDR, and even up into the era of George Meany running the AFL-CIO.

          But what do “economic issues” have to do with how one deals with obstructionists?

          President Obama had the constitutional right to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court. McConnell and the other Rs stole it from him.

          You may recall that I posted here a whole series of pieces about how this should be treated by the Democrats as a casus belli– an provocation justifying a (political) war.

          Are we to believe that the reason that this wasn’t made into the biggest stink imaginable by the outraged president, and his outraged Democratic allies, is because they were afraid they would alienate Big Money?

          Makes no sense to me.

          (And now, for as far as the eye can see, we face a majority corporatist Court instead of the majority liberal Court to which events and the Constitution entitled us.)