You can tell when Republicans are in trouble: they start throwing gunpowder on the fires of the culture wars.
At the end of March, Republicans who control the Michigan State House and Senate passed a law requiring the state to inform recipients of the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine that it was developed using fetal stem cells. As a result, the state health department had to update their website to say:
“The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine has been produced by growing the virus in fetal cells during vaccine development and manufacturing. Even though fetal cells are used to grow the vaccine virus, vaccines do not contain these cells or pieces of DNA.”
These folks control both houses of the Michigan legislature, in a state beset by crises ranging from poisoned water to widespread unemployment to the worst fourth-wave of Covid infection in the country, as the British variant is ripping through the populace. Their priority? Making sure everybody knows that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has something to do with abortions.
If they could have fit the word “gay” in there, or “guns,” or “bathroom” they would have surely done it.
Christianity, they tell us, is under attack! Brown children are invading us and we need to mobilize the entire nation! Vaccines might save our lives, but Tucker has questions!! Dr. Suess is being cancelled so we have to stop everything!!! Trans people actually want to have normal lives; the crisis couldn’t be more existential!
There’s actually a bizarre strategy behind all this.
In 1976 and 1978, in a pair of decisions, the US Supreme Court ruled that when billionaires or corporations pour so much money into individual politicians or even entire political parties that they essentially own them, that is no longer legally considered bribery or political corruption. It is, instead, “First Amendment-protected free-speech.” In 2010 they doubled-down with Citizens United.
The Democratic Party at the time was awash in labor union money so they mostly chose not to go down that road, but as Reagan came into office in 1981 the GOP decided to throw in 100% with the billionaires and the big corporations. They’ve never looked back.
Newt Gingrich cranked the culture wars in a big way during the Bill Clinton presidency, so Bill having had an affair captured the nation for an entire year. Reagan had certainly done his part by reversing his own position on abortion, free public schools, and refusing throughout his entire eight years as president to even acknowledge the AIDS epidemic.
At least for a few decades the GOP pretended to have “new ideas,” but now they don’t even try.
When Donald Trump was going to do a $3 trillion infrastructure bill, Republicans were super-enthusiastic. They repeatedly declared, “Infrastructure Week!” although they never got around to it. Now that it’s Joe Biden‘s idea, Mitch McConnell hates it and pretty much every Republican in the country is trashing the idea.
The GOP is no longer a serious political party. Instead, it’s now a coalition of disparate groups made up of racists, homophobes, misogynists, gun nuts, conspiracy theorists and the ultra-rich.
Elected Republicans, having no interest in actual governing, are instead using their position to grab what they want for themselves, their friends and their families, from nearly the entire Trump Cabinet to his Trade Representative to Matt Gaetz.
When Grover Norquist’s research showed that HR1, the For The People Act, was popular even with conservatives because it “prevents billionaires from buying elections,” the Republicans on the phone call decided they’d have to double down on their “under the dome strategy.”
“Under the dome” is GOP-speak for political obstruction in the state and federal capitols. Buying off legislators and twisting arms. Threatening the political futures of people who may do what’s best for the country but doesn’t enrich the billionaires. The sort of thing they’ve been all about for 40 years now, instead of the people’s business.
Conservative media has largely become an echo chamber of breathless outrage and wild disinformation based on wedge issues, and one result of 40 years of this kind of hype is that the number 1 domestic terrorist threat in the United States today is armed white men.
Specifically, Republican armed white men. Like in 1861, only with the party names reversed. The Klan is back, but with new names, upgraded weapons, and body armor. Which raises the question: where does the GOP go from here?
Over the short term, it appears they’ve decided their best strategy is to simply prevent people who might lean Democratic from being able to vote in the upcoming elections. While states run by the GOP still haven’t expanded Medicaid or done student debt relief, they’re considering over 300 bills to make it harder to vote. But how long can that last?
The Old South pulled this off for about 100 years, but the nation has largely awakened to the strategy and when you’re called out by the likes of Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola, you should realize that you’re in trouble.
Republicans today face a choice. They can continue to tear the country apart, wedge issue by wedge issue, and do everything they can to prevent people from voting. Or they can reinvent their party as a rational conservative alternative to the Democratic Party, as Dwight Eisenhower did in 1952.
Single party rule generally has a pretty bad track record, both here in the United States and around the world. If Republicans continue to surrender any participation in the actual process of governance, and just stand on the sidelines throwing stones, it will not be good for our nation or even for the Democratic Party.
Because the GOP is so deeply captured and in debt to Libertarian billionaires it’s become politically impossible for an elected Republican to do anything to help average Americans.
The billionaires tell us that all our needs will be met by churches and their charitable foundations so there’s no need for legislators to actually do anything and raise their taxes to pay for it. The result is tens of millions of shattered families, a massive loss of human potential domestically, and the rise of oligarchy matching the collapse of democratic leadership in our states and around the world
America needs the Republican Party to wake up, repudiate Citizens United, stop being the wholly-owned party of billionaires and big corporations, and join the rest of us in rebuilding this country. If they won’t do it voluntarily, we’ll force it on them at the ballot box.
© Thom Hartmann, used with permission. Originally published on The Hartmann Report as There’s a Bizarre Strategy Behind the GOP Culture Wars & Obstruction
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