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The Devolution of the Republican Party

When Joe Biden was running for President, he was described as saying that he thought that the Trump era was an aberration, and that “the fever would break” after he was defeated.

Other people, writers, pundits, had felt that as well. It was probably at least partly due to the mind’s protection from the concept that the Republican Party and its leaders could be so awful; so that it had to be because of Trump; and that once he went away, some of the awfulness would go away. But it has not, it is even getting worse.

When I first started following politics with my parents, who would likely have described themselves as FDR and Adlai Stevenson liberals, the Republicans were essentially the party of the wealthy. Not all people who voted Republican were rich, of course, but that is the group which ran it. That was the theme which ran through the various periods and threads. Republicans were a party which, at least from 1870 on, tried to enact policies which would help the rich keep their money, and get richer. There were exceptions such as “trust-busting” Theodore Roosevelt, but the people who ran the party did not intend for him to become President.

Republicans mostly fought for laissez-faire capitalism. “The business of America is business,” as Calvin Coolidge said. Their foreign policy was basically isolationism. They hated Bolsheviks, because they were at least theoretically against a monied elite. They hated Socialists, too, because they offered a more democratic and less violent alternative, but were also against the amassing of immense wealth. Republicans, particularly as embodied in the Hearst media empire, took to calling any Democrat they didn’t like, a “socialist.”

Republicans mostly did not want us to enter WWII, largely because they wanted to keep making deals with German businesses, so they argued that we should stay out of Europe’s affairs,; until Japan bombed us. After the war, Republicans developed an agenda which combined business power and wealth with hatred of Russia, and Cold War “brinkmanship.” They would contend that Democrats were “soft on communism.” Calling Democrats “soft” or “weak,” as compared to the manly and tough-minded Republicans, morphed into various aspects, over the years, and brought Republicans the electoral success that they never would have gotten through their economic policies. After the Great Depression, there were not all that many people who were going to put their faith in big business looking out for them, so they needed the distractions.

So Nixon became the master of “Red-baiting.” Joe McCarthy terrorized anyone who had ever gone to a Communist Party meeting in the ’30’s, or had written or directed a pro-labor, anti-corporate movie.

Then it moved to the era of the Vietnam War, where Republicans took for themselves the mantle of “fighting Communism everywhere,” warning about the “domino theory” where if we abandoned Vietnam, the Communists would take over Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia. They portrayed Democrats as being soft, particularly in view of the fact that there were growing protests against the undeclared war in Vietnam.

The protests gave Republicans a new route, “law and order.” Part of this went with the segregationists in the ’50’s and ’60’s, part of it was hatred of the youth culture, “hippies,” people burning replicas of flags. Nixon and Agnew talked about “the silent majority,” and most unfortunately, they were right; there were many people in the Midwest who hated the protests, who felt that people who protested the war were unpatriotic, even treasonous.

So Nixon won twice, and hen after a four-year aberration because of Watergate, Republicans used the two lines of attack of anti-Communism and law and order, to usher in their third great era (the first two were the Gilded Age, and the period of unfettered laissez-faire of 1920-1932), that of Reagan, who was a syrupy-voiced former actor and spokesman for General Electric, who, with his multimillionaire backers, mastered the art of reciting simple platitudes, buoyed by the lofty but essentially meaningless words of Peggy Noonan. The press adored Reagan’s “ability to focus on one or two simple statements of policy,” as opposed to Democrats discussing issues in complex fashion.

At that point, and with GHW Bush’s win in 1988, Republicans believed that they had a lock on the Presidency, that they had convinced the public that Democrats were a bunch of East Coast eggheads who were soft on crime, soft on Communism, soft on law and order, soft on attacking the ‘welfare state.” They also made abortion a major issue, to fire up their base.

But Bill Clinton turned that around. And they hated him for it; and his brilliant wife Hillary, too, and even their daughter Chelsea. But Republicans rallied back with another Bush, with the help of a corrupt Florida governor, his brother; and a corrupt Florida secretary of state who was told to delay the mandated vote recount, until the Supreme Court could step in. Bush’s version of naked capitalism did not work well, so even though Republicans had found a new “soft” theme, Democrats were “soft on terrorism,” they lost the 2008 election, because they had wrecked the economy again.

We got Obama, when we should have gotten Hillary; and this blog has discussed from the outset, how he was unprepared or even unwilling to fight the ever more radical, vicious and unscrupulous “New Republicans,” who simply bore no relation to the Republicans of the 1960’s, who were not good, but not thoroughly evil.

So then the Republicans, having devolved to a party which had no standards or ethics, actually got to the circle of hell where they enlisted the help of Russia, to defeat the Democrats. At that point, they had lost any flimsy pretense to scruples or ideology; they only had an a insatiable appetite to win, no matter by what means. They just look for culture issues to rile up their base. They simply want to get their people to vote against Democrats out of hatred, not because of any actual policy matters. And now, greatly fearing that it will not be enough to win, they have resorted to trying to take the vote away from people who would vote against them, to a sufficient extent so that they could rule forever.

And then of course they would, as they always do, revert to their economic social darwinism, robbing from the middle class and poor, to give more wealth to the rich. That has now been combined with the worst aspects of White Supremacy, anti-abortion fervor, hatred of science, professors, the media, anyone who threatens their perverted world view.

The Republican Party has steadily devolved from a party which was able to convince non-rich people to vote against their economic interests, by distracting or misdirecting them with “cultural issues,” into one which promises to protect them from any facts or knowledge which will upset them, or permeate the relentless brainwashing which they need to keep them in line.

Even in previous times of Republican political ascendancy, there had always been some Republicans in office who held moderate views, and who were decent people. They were never the majority of them, but they acted as a counterbalance, and could at times allow for compromise proposals to become law. But those days are gone, and whatever small remnants are left of them are being systematically purged. They have lost whatever semblance of respect one might have had for a few of them in past decades. They have just about gotten to the point where they are all the same. They are not men, they are Devo.

6 Responses

  1. Beautifully said. I note that part of how Reagan won was his election team stealing Jimmy Carter’s debate notes. There are also questions about whether they made deals with Iran to delay the release of the hostages. That said, Jimmy Carter is in my view a better ex-President than he was as President. That and John Anderson’s run (winning 6.6% of the vote) helped give us Reagan, the worst president until GW and Trump.

    • Thank you. Yes, I am almost sure that Bush helped make a deal so that Iran would not release the hostages until the election. Also, It is pretty likely that George Will gave the Carter briefing notes, which his team hd apparently negligently left in a room, to Reagan. That would be the same George Will who spent several decades lecturing everybody about morality. At least he hates Trump, so that is to his credit.

  2. The broadness of the Democratic coalition brings both advantages and disadvantages.

    One of the latter is that a broad coalition, having a vast array of often-differing interests, also will have a harder time agreeing on messages and policies, because it is more likely that anything they adopt will offend one or another group in the coalition.

    The GQP coalition, being more homogeneous, does not have that problem to the same degree. I would guess that is one of the reasons they are more effective at messaging.

    • Exactly. Republicans have devolved into a propaganda machine, where everything they say is just to get people to vote for them, or against Democrats, the same thing for them. Democrats are concerned with issues, and there are many groups who have a different view of how to achieve things, or which issues to focus on.

      The media loves to portray this as “Republicans being unified,” or “on message,” while Democrats are “fragmented.” The media is so obsessed with their own simple narratives, that they ignore the actual policy questions, which party has the better and more people-oriented plans. Democrats work hard on complex economic or social plans; then Republicans just say, “Too expensive,” or, “Cancel Culture,” and the media portrays this as two competing arguments. I am still waiting for any coherent Republican plan about anything, which is not just lowering taxes on the wealthy and deregulating business.

      • Plus, remember–the owners of the “mainstream” media, and their higher-ranking employees, would probably pay higher taxes if the Democrats ever got full control of the Federal Government.

        What does that tell us about the probable motives of the Mainstream Media (aka the So-Called Liberal Media)? 😉

  3. If the Right, and only the Right, had hated the Clintons, then Hillary would have become President in 2016, or maybe even in 2008. Thanks a heap, gullible non-reactionaries. Putin couldn’t have done it with our reactionaries alone.

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