Republican President Eisenhower wrote the following about the New Deal in a letter to his brother in November 1954:
“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group of course that believes you can do these things. Among them are a few other Texas oil millionaires and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”
In the last post a very brief history of the Republican Party up until the mid 20th century was presented. When Eisenhower wrote that letter to his brother he was considered as being to the right of the political spectrum. Likewise, Roosevelt proudly claimed in 1933 that the New Deal had saved capitalism.
Today only a handful of members of the US Congress from either party shares those sentiments.
Both Eisenhower and Roosevelt would be considered extreme left-wing today, and would be despised by their respective parties.
In this post we explore the charge to the right of the Republican Party. How and why did they change from the moderate and cautious party of the 1950s with a genuine interest in governance, to the reckless and destructive cabal that it is today?
The contemporary state of the Republicans
The American Enterprise system (right wing propaganda factory) describes the Republican Party of today as a “radical insurgency that has abandoned parliamentary politics”. This means that Republican policies have become so absolutely dedicated to the interests of extreme wealth and corporate power that its members could not possibly win elections in any electoral system that resembles a democracy. Fortunately for them the US does not resemble a democracy and their opposition party, the Democrats, does not provide any valuable alternative. To ensure their continued political dominance in an environment where they are so hated, the Republicans deploy a variety of means to rig elections in their favour. These vary from bribery to gerrymandering to outright electoral fraud. Those readers from Australia who are baffled as to why the Americans continue to elect such odious candidates should remember that the US is not a democratic system and that the vast majority of its people loathe its “elected” leaders.
Embracing neo-fascism and religious fundamentalism
Even with the elections heavily rigged in their favour, the Republicans still need to scrape together minutiae of popular support. They cannot achieve this on the strength of their policies of course, and so they turn to the tried and true method of appealing to the radical fringes of society.
Every country has its disgusting extreme right-wing underbelly. It takes the form of nationalism, white supremacism and religious fundamentalism. It has, and always has been present, but in a civil society it is not able to organise into a significant political force. It tends to come into the foreground during times of societal stress when the public is looking for someone to blame for its poverty and suffering. The wealthy elites, who are always actually responsible for the poverty and suffering of the masses, utilize the “other” as a convenient scapegoat to distract attention away from themselves. We need only look at the history of the 20th century to see how providing organised political power to the extreme right leads to horrendous results. In the US the neo-fascists and fundamentalist Christians have been crafted into a popular base for the Republican Party.
The Southern Strategy
We established in the last blog post that the Democrats were the villains of the Civil War, in the sense that the Democratic Party represented the states that seceded from the Union primarily because of their desires to continue the practice of slavery. Even after slavery was abolished the Democrats generally continued to support racial segregation and were opposed to equality for African Americans. Consequently, for most of the 20th century, the southern states consistently voted in favour of the Democratic Party. We can see this in the maps below, showing the results from the 1920, 1928 and 1952 presidential elections; elections von by Harding, Hoover, and Eisenhower respectively. Even in the 1960 election the majority of the southern states voted for the Democrat (Kennedy).
Between the 1970s and 1990s, however, something changed. We can see that almost all of the southern states voted for the Democrat in the 1976 presidential election but by 1996 the vast majority of them were voting for the Republican. The Republicans have dominated the political hierarchy of the south ever since.
The change was not caused by evolving demographics or a realignment of political attitudes, but rather by a dedicated effort by the Republican Party to appeal to the racist elements within the southern states. We now know that the effort was called the Southern Strategy.
The Southern Strategy began in earnest during the Nixon campaign for president in 1968. It began with the deployment of what is known as dog whistle politics; usage of language that is commonly known to have racist undertones or supporting racist stereotypes while not overtly displaying racist favouritism. This is the first prong of the implementation of the strategy. Examples of such usage include “law and order”, “inner cities”, “welfare queen” and, as we have established elsewhere, “terrorist”. The goal was to curry favour with the white supremacists of the southern states who were no longer willing to support the Democratic party after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Nixon had seen the success of the Goldwater campaign to attract the votes of the southern states in the presidential election of 1964; Goldwater ran on a campaign against the civil rights act (having voted against it as Senator) and along with winning many of the southern states performed surprisingly well across all of them and many of the western states.
Nixon’s implementation of the Southern Strategy did not win the southern states in the 1968 election, but he won nonetheless. Once in office, the Nixon administration supported and implemented racist policies – this is the second prong of the implementation of the strategy. Among these were the war on drugs (as we have discussed in a prior post), mandatory sentencing, and the nomination of two Supreme Court justices who were against the Civil Rights Act.
Aside from a short setback after the Watergate scandal, the Southern Strategy has continued to be implemented to this day. We see in Republican politicians of today very similar behavior to contemporaries of Nixon and Reagan, although the “dog-whistle” nature of the message is no longer so difficult to hear. The racist message has been expanded to include all minorities who are not likely to vote Republican, such as Hispanics and those from the Middle East (who are not Israeli). Overt racism became socially acceptable after the 9/11 attacks when it became acceptable to hate Muslims, and it has escalated greatly from there, thanks largely to the failure of the Obama administration to crack down on domestic terrorism. The Trump campaign and the rhetoric leaving the White House today is so overtly racist that it is probably no longer appropriate to describe it as dog whistle politics.
We have addressed the rise of dominionism and the fundamentalist Christian incursion in an earlier post. As the Republican policies became more right-wing they were less palatable to the compassionate majority of the American population. Even though the white supremacist minority is always present, by the 1980s Republican policies were becoming so extreme that only the fascists would eventually represent their entire voting bloc. They consequently began courting favour with the fundamentalists.
The strategy that has been adopted is similar to the Southern Strategy; with election campaigns based on religious intolerance, and with those in office implementing policies that are overtly and aggresively religious. Both approaches are obvious violations of the First Amendment of the Constitution.
The cognitive dissonance amongst the religious right is astonishing; They will enthusiastically vote en masse for candidates who obviously have never represented their religious views. Over 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump in the 2016 election despite the facts that Trump is an obvious affront to everything that is commonly regarded as Christian values and that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, is a devout Methodist.
The standard bearer of the Republican Party of today, primarily, has two faces. The first is their ideological position, which is essentially an unwavering checklist on which every item must be satisfied before one can call oneself a conservative. A Conservative must:
1. blindly support the government if the Republicans are in charge and blindly oppose the government if the Democrats are.
2. be against government regulation of all kinds, except in cases involving religion, where the government must be as large as possible.
3. be against the Civil Rights Act, even if they do not overtly say they are.
4. ignore the obvious scientific conclusion of climate change or, if this is too extreme, advocate the position that nothing should be done about it.
5. blindly and obediently support the CIA and military in all of their actions regardless of legality.
6. blindly and obediently support the police in all of their actions regardless of legality, except in cases where a minority police officer harms a white person.
7. advocate religious oppression and the erosion of rights back to the Victorian age.
8. be absolutely opposed to workers’ rights, except when it comes to police unions.
9. advocate for gun ownership with absolutely no oversight.
10. be willing to lie, cheat and steal to win a political argument or win an election because “it’s for a good cause”.
Everything on the above list is optional when it comes to the second, and real face of the Republican standard bearer. It is necessary only that a Republican follow a single rule: to blindly and obediently follow the explicit and implicit instructions of his/her donors at all times. When such instructions are not clear, they must always move in whatever direction enriches those donors in the most effiicent manner.
The most dangerous organization in world history
Noam Chomsky describes the Republican Party of today as “the most dangerous organization in world history”. When asked to explain the comment in an interview with Amy Goodman he replied “Has there ever been an organization in human history that is dedicated with such commitment to the destruction of organized human life on Earth?”
During the 2016 election the United Nations Climate Change Conference was occurring in Morocco, with around 20,000 participiants representing almost every country in the world. The goal was to implement some policies to follow up on the Paris agreement of 2015. No course of action had been decided in 2015 because the Republican Congress sabotaged it. The conference stalled as the US election results came in and the new administration indicated its intention to actively undermine the efforts of the entire world. The world is now looking to China as the salvation against the US wrecking ball and we, as a species, must place our hope in its success. The Republican administration has since continued to isolate the US in the view of international diplomacy with actions such as the moving of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the support of Israel in its series of massacres currently underway in Gaza, the support of Saudi Arabia during its genocide in Yemen, and withdrawing from the nuclear arms deal with Iran.
The reader should be reminded that such terrible actions are simply a continuation of US foreign policy; the Obama administration committed far more terrible acts as did the Bush administration before that. The Trump administration has not (yet) started any new wars whereas the Bush administration started two and the Obama administration started five.
At the time of writing it is even possible that the Trump administration may oversee the end of a war; with discussions beginning between North and South Korea for the first time in decades. The US is not in the business of peace of course, and my prediction is that it will find a way to scupper the deal, but credit where it is due for now.
The real damage of the Trump administraion is how rapidly it has been implementing devastating domestic policy. Since claiming full control of the government the Republicans have set about systematically dismantling anything that could be of benefit to people who are not amongst the wealthiest in the world. Each of the department heads appointed by the Trump administration represent all of the main special interests, from Big Oil (State, EPA, Interior, Energy), the military industrial complex (State, Defense, CIA), Wall Street (Treasury, Commerce), Big Pharma (Health and Human Services), voter suppression (Justice, Labor), private education (Education), and fundamentalist Christianity (State, Education, Energy).
State Department: Mike Pompeo is a fundamentalist Christian who has voiced his support for torture and has a history of xenophobic and homophobic comments. Note also that the last Secretary of State was the CEO of Exxon-Mobil.
CIA: “Bloody Gina” Haspel ran a CIA black site in Thailand in 2002 where at least one prisoner was tortured, and she later illegally destroyed evidence of torture there. She was confirmed as the new head of the CIA a few days ago with the support of six Democratic Senators. The former CIA director was Mike Pompeo.
Treasury: Steve Mnuchin is a billionaire with deep ties to Wall Street, including a partnership with Goldman Sachs. He ran a “foreclosure machine” during the financial crisis of 2008, where his bank IndyMac foreclosed on 36,000 families, for which he has thoroughly earned his title of the foreclosure king.
Department Defense: James “Mad Dog” Mattis represents the military occupation of a civllian government. Having been out of the army less than four years when he was nominated, Mattis violated a law requiring there to be a period of seven years before becoming Secretary of Defense. Mattis earned his nickname when he ordered a masssacre of 42 people attending an Iraqi wedding in 2004. He is quoted as saying “it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot some people”.
Department of Justice: Jeff Sessions is opposed to the 1965 Voting Rights Act and has a long history of racist controversy. As a US attorney in 1981 he prosecuted voting rights activists who were eventually acquittted and he became one of very people in 50 years to be denied an appointment as a federal judge by a Senate Judiciary Committee on the grounds of his racist activism.
Department of the Interior: Ryan Zinke is a climate change denier and an advocate for unrestricted logging and mining rights on federally held lands. He immediately begun the process of opening national monuments for mining, drilling and fishing within days of his taking office. Zinke was also at the centre of a scandal where a company with two employees in Zinke’s hometown won a $300 million contract to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electrical grid after Hurricane Maria.
Commerce: Wilbur Ross is a billionaire private equity investor who made a fortune flipping bankrupt companies and shipping jobs and factories overseas. Among other evidence of corruption that are fairly standard in the US government, Ross’s business ties to the Russian government and possible money laundering have been revealed.
Homeland Security: Kirstjen Nielsen was singled out in Congressional reports as having failed to act to prevent the destruction caused by Hurrican Katrina despite being warned about it in advance.
The Environmental Protection Agency: Scott Pruitt is another climate change denier who has sued the EPA on 14 occasions to block clean air and water safegards. More recently he has said that global warming could be a good thing. Since taking office he has been fraught with scandals, old and new, from blatant corruption to the agressive destruction of clean air and water regulations.
Department of Labor: Alex Acosta has a history of suppressing voting rights. He was a senior agency official during a dark period for the Civil Right’s Division in 2003 and 2004. During this time the Department was repurposed to undermine civil right’s protection, leading to the purging of almost 600,000 voters from the roles in Ohio that led to the state being claimed by Bush in 2004.
Department of Education: Betsy DeVos is a billionaire fundamentalist Christian with a record of dismantling public education in favour of Christian madrasa that she calls charter schools. Her brother, Erik Prince, is the head of the mercenary group formerly called Blackwater. It has been suggested that Blackwater is the armed wing of the neofascist movement in the US.
Health and Human Services: Alex Azar is a former executive of the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly. The corporation is one of the many members of Big Pharma and a participant in their global evil doings.
Agriculture: Sonny Perdue ran a grain and fertilizer business, where he was deeply involved with factory farming and chemical corporations, before becoming the Governor of Georgia, where he oversaw the deregulation of that industry.
Department of Energy: Rick Perry is a fundamentalist Christian with a long and deep history with Big Oil and Gas. He is so corrupted by oil money that he did not know that the Department of Energy oversaw the US nuclear weapon arsenal.
Housing and Urban Development: Ben Carson is an outspoken opponent the HUD’s fair housing rule. Among his many ignorant and stupid remarks are that poverty is a choice, that slaves are “immigrants“, and that carpet bombing is like saving kids from cancer.
Transportation: Elaine Chao was Labor Secretary under George W Bush; the Crandall Canyon mine owner told inspectors to back off because his buddy (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) was sleeping with their boss. Chao’s Justice Department overruled engineering concerns about the mine and was found to be negligent after nine miners died in the collapse there. She is on dozens of corporate boards including Crowley Petroleum, News Corp, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America.
Not a single one of those listed above has any history of doing anything to help the poor and working masses. On the contrary, in any government system that cared about the rule of law, every one of them would be in prison today for corruption, fraud, theft, homocide, and war crimes.
The Republicans are on the wrong side of every political and ethical issue, from economics to domestic policy to foreign relations to the rule of law. It has contempt for the Constitution, cheats and steals from the public funds, encourages military expansion, destroys the public sector, poisons the air and water, and encourages religious fundamentalism and neo-fascism. Republican politicians do not seem to be satisfied with simply robbing and exploiting the poor and working classes, but they seem to take a sick perversion in inflicting pain and suffering upon them. That they continue to hold the balance of power in the US is a testament to the state of its government, which has been deliberately broken by the wealthy elites in their never-ending goal to rob the poor and working classes.