Following the January 6th insurrection and coup attempt, news organizations have documented hundreds of thousands of Republicans across America leaving their party by going to the effort of changing their party registration.
Most, like Republican strategist Stuart Stevens, say it is because of the hate. Particularly since the rise of Trump in 2015, but certainly dating back to Trump’s 2008 Birther conspiracy theory — and with the seeds planted in Richard Nixon’s 1968 Southern Strategy — hate has become the rotted core of the GOP.
Hate of queer people; hate of college professors; hate of Black people; hate of immigrants; hate of public school teachers and books; hate of Hispanics; hate on “uppity” women; hate of drag queens; hate of liberals; hate of American history; hate of Asians; hate of “woke” and other terms to describe tolerance and compassion.
Hate has become the primary driving force within today’s Republican Party.
It is moved out of the fever swamps of conspiracy and the stereotypical “redneck racist” world into everyday interactions. A Hispanic worker at McDonald’s is berated in a viral video, Asians are randomly attacked, teachers flee the profession in fear, young women are terrorized in Red states, friendships and even families are torn asunder by this spreading GOP-endorsed hate.
There is a reason we have specific criminal laws against acting out of hate: it is destructive but, more important, it is highly contagious. Which is why demagogues in the GOP are using hate itself — raw hate — as a weapon against their political opposition, the Democratic Party and the people it embraces.
It is a deadly game they are playing, and they know it. The last time a “major world power” western nation’s largest conservative political party embraced hate as a political strategy was 1933 in Germany, as former Secretary of State Madeline Albright warned us in her prescient book Fascism: A Warning.
It is not like we were not told this was a possibility.
Three days before John F. Kennedy was sworn in as president in January 1960, Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his farewell address to the nation. While its most famous part was his warning about “unwarranted influence” from “the military-industrial complex,” the old warhorse spent much of his speech calling out those using hate and fear as political weapons:
“Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect. … May we be ever unswerving in devotion to principle, confident but humble with power, diligent in pursuit of the Nation’s great goals.”
Eisenhower, the man who would literally led the war against the Nazis and defeated them on the European battlefield — the Supreme Allied Commander of World War II — knew well how quickly and completely hate could overwhelm a nation. Here at home, he’d watched — in his own party — the rise and fall of Joe McCarthy’s hateful attempt to conflate Jews, gays, and Democrats with communism while delighting in destroying lives and careers.
Which is probably why Eisenhower ended his last speech to the country with what he called “America’s prayerful and continuing inspiration:”
“We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.”
Those were literally Eisenhower’s last words to the nation as president. The man who would stopped Hitler’s murderous machine prayed in public for tolerance, love, and mutual respect.
He knew the importance of stopping hate before it became a fire that consumed a nation’s people, and feared it one day happening here. He’d seen it kill millions with his own eyes.
My father referred to himself as an “Eisenhower Republican.” Today, his beloved party is dead, killed by the very hate and fear of which Eisenhower warned.
Hate has always been the main tool of demagogues and dictators because it’s powerful enough to cause people to act in ways they normally would consider offensive or even bizarre.
It has this power because it’s deeply rooted in mammalian survival instincts that predate our very humanity. Fear was necessary to help us survive.
The most powerful of all our various primal instincts is fear. It’s even more powerful than hunger or the drive for sex. Fear, when persistent, inspires hate in almost every instance.
And fear is even more contagious than hate: to make a person hate somebody, you must first make them fear that person or people. You must turn them into an “other,” something they perceive as less than human.
When Dr. Bandy X. Lee, a frequent guest on my radio program, tells us that, “The phenomenon of psychic contagion is what I and other mental health experts have tried to warn against since our 2017 public-service publication, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” she’s speaking directly of this.
Calling out Fox “News” and Donald Trump, Lee added:
“Psychological violence then paves the way for economic, political, and eventually physical violence, as has happened with the deadly January 6 insurrection to overturn American democracy.”
Lifelong Republican, historian, and author Bruce Bartlett, who is also been a guest on my program, was a close advisor to Ronald Reagan and a Treasury official under George W. Bush. One of the Party’s genuine “wise elders,” he worked for Ron Paul, Jack Kemp, and served in three Republican administrations.
He summed up the state of the GOP for The New York Times:
“The Republican Party today is basically a coalition of grievances united by one thing: hatred. Hatred of immigrants, hatred of minorities, hatred of intellectuals, hatred of gays, feminists and many other groups too numerous to mention. What binds them together is hatred of Democrats because they are welcoming to every group that Republicans reject.”
And now all the guardrails, the limits, even the common decency, are gone.
When Donald Trump, in 2021, said that “hanging Mike Pence” was “just common sense,” Republican politicians went out of their way to avoid criticizing him: Wyoming Republican Senator John Barasso was repeatedly asked by George Stephanopoulos on ABC to comment and he repeatedly changed the subject until Stephanopoulos finally gave up.
Hate used as a political weapon, it turns out, can be such a powerful motivating and rallying force that it produces fear, even in powerful people like Senator Barrasso. Once they submit, their fear is then used as a shield to protect the leader who first inspired that hate.
Republicans used to call themselves the “party of ideas.” They had policy papers on everything, and as little as 10 years ago used to love coming on my program and other media to debate policy.
Now they are afraid to say anything that might offend Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis, and afraid to tell the truth about what has happened to their party.
A group of scientists looked at this issue three years ago and found that an entirely new type of political polarization has emerged in America, something I believe we have not been seen since the Civil War.
This “second type of polarization,” they write in the peer-reviewed journal Science, is “one focusing less on triumphs of ideas than on dominating the abhorrent supporters of the opposing party.”
It is core elements are “othering, aversion, and moralization,” and, the researchers note, we should all be concerned about “the threat it poses to democracy.”
And it’s not like this “othering” and “aversion” is a secret or being conducted behind closed doors.
When Republican Congressman Paul Gosar publicly threatened to kill Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on social media, the silence among his Republican colleagues was deafening.
Today, a group of Republican House members are even going so far as to defend and visit in jail the people who tried to overthrow our government and put 140+ police officers in the hospital, killing three.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that the number of serious threats against the lives of members of Congress — nearly all Democrats — had more than doubled between 2020 and 2021 and continues to explode.
Hate rarely remains purely rhetorical when used to gain political power. History tells us that it usually translates into violence until there is a whole-of-society consensus and effort to stop it and punish those who have exploited it.
That same Times story documents how a young Republican in Idaho, attended a town hall meeting, asked a local politician when they could start killing Democrats:
“‘When do we get to use the guns?’ he said as the audience applauded. ‘How many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?’ The local state representative, a Republican, later called it a ‘fair’ question.”
The headline this week from Raw Story summarizes the loudest voices in the GOP:
“Steve Bannon says supporters more prepared for uprising than Confederacy was: ‘Give it to them with both barrels.’”
American Nazis, complete with guns, swastika flags, and Sieg Heil shouts, showed up for a drag show in Ohio, egged on by Republican legislators across the nation. They so threatened a Black reporter for the Akron Beacon Journal that he “left for his own safety.”
As Rachel Maddow noted on her Monday program this week, Donald Trump’s son Eric is traveling the country with an author and speaker who says “the Jews did 9/11” and that “Hitler was fighting ‘the same people that we are trying to take down today.’”
Meanwhile, in South Carolina, 21 Republican legislators have signed onto legislation giving the death penalty to women who live in that state and get an abortion, regardless of where it’s performed or even if it’s a miscarriage that they believe was “not accidental.”
Their big debate now is whether to specify lethal injection or killing the woman by firing squad (legalized there in 2021).
Similar legislation is working its way through the Arkansas legislature, the state where Republican Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders just rolled back child labor laws.
As Benito Mussolini or Donald Trump would be the first to tell you, love is powerful but hate is overwhelming. With enough hate you can take over a nation and kill millions of its people. You can become fabulously rich and famous. You can rule most of the world, or at least make a good run at it.
Just as Eisenhower feared — having watched McCarthy and the John Birch Society’s reaction to the 1954 Brown v Board desegregation order that began the modern push to charter and private schools — his beloved Republican Party has become a “community of dreadful fear and hate.”
Unfortunately, this is not a problem Democrats can solve alone. If ever there was a time for patriotic Americans to be calling out hate as a political tool, this is it.
Now is the moment for Republicans who love America to display the courage of my colleague Mandy Connell and loudly and publicly leave their party. As German conservatives learned by the late 1930s, if they don’t act now it may well soon be too late.
© Thom Hartmann, used with permission. Originally published on The Hartmann Report as Now that Hate has Become the GOP’s Main Political Weapon, What Can Americans Do?
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