There’s a harsh truth underlying this political moment, one we do immense harm to continue pretending doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of thing our institutions, in particular our media, are designed to reckon with, conditioned as they’ve been by the fetishization of bipartisanship as a virtue unto itself.
But the reality is what it is: With few exceptions, Republicans are not a serious party.
That’s not meant to be glib, nor does it mean the GOP should be ignored. The party’s hard turn toward authoritarianism — accelerated by Trump-era gaslighting and attacks on voting rights — is dangerous, especially given the its structural electoral advantages. So, too, is its propaganda network, which has radicalized adherents and convinced them of their own oppression.
In a recent Pew survey, 26% of Republicans said whites faced “a lot” of discrimination, compared with just 17% who said the same of Black people — a result almost incomprehensibly detached from the real world. They also believe that men face more discrimination than women and evangelicals more than Jews, Muslims and LGBTQ people.
These beliefs stem from the sense of grievance that has become Republicans’ mother’s milk. To their minds, the forces of liberalism — of socialism, of secularism, of Black Lives Matter, of Hollywood, of Silicon Valley, of academia, of the media — are wolves at the door, threatening traditional cultural hierarchies.
Donald Trump galvanized conservatives by giving voice to their resentments. In his wake, he left a movement consumed by a culture war of its imagination, where atavism is prized and progressive encroachments must be met with total resistance.
So in North Carolina last week, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson — an ambitious Republican with a record of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ comments — launched a task force to collect complaints that leftist teachers are “indoctrinating” schoolchildren. (One alleged example: A class read a book that featured a transgender character.) The catalyst was the state school board’s recent approval of social science standards that include lessons on the Trail of Tears and “inequities, injustice and discrimination within the American system of government over time,” which Republicans fiercely denounced “anti-American.”
In Tennessee, Republicans introduced a bill to disband the state’s historical commission after its members voted to remove from the state Capitol a bust honoring human trafficker, war criminal and Klan grand wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest. Lawmakers accused members of embracing “cancel culture.”
Defending a white terrorist to own the libs.
This no-quarter mentality isn’t solely the provenance of minor-league goobers. On Friday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy forced a doomed vote to remove U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell from the intelligence committee. Ostensibly, McCarthy was concerned about a report that a woman who raised money for Swalwell’s 2014 campaign was a suspected Chinese agent. But no one has accused Swalwell of wrongdoing or being compromised.
McCarthy knew that. His goal was to rehabilitate QAnon freak Marjorie Taylor Greene, whom Democrats booted from her committees earlier this year. With tit-for-tat party-line votes, he sought to chum the MAGA waters by portraying Democrats as hypocrites. Never mind that Greene harassed victims of school shootings, posted conspiracy theories about Jewish space lasers and perpetuated idiotic election fraud allegations. Never mind that McCarthy’s bad faith stank a thousand miles away.
This is not how a serious party behaves.
Demagoguery can be an effective path to power. But policymaking requires innovation, nuance and negotiation — skills to which most Republicans are allergic. Even with complete control, they have neither the desire nor the capacity to solve problems. From 2017 to 2019, they passed just one substantial law, a tax cut. After years of promising to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, they failed to do either. They tear down, not build up.
That’s why Mitch McConnell is desperate to preserve the legislative filibuster. It’s not just to stop Democrats from advancing their agenda; it’s also that, should Republicans reclaim Washington, there will be no excuse for their ineptitude.
The lesson for Democrats is that bending over backward in search of Republican support is a fool’s errand. In 18 months, no one will care that no Republican voted for the American Rescue Plan Act or that Democrats rammed it through via reconciliation. They’ll care whether it worked. By stiff-arming Republicans, Democrats pushed through a package that dwarfs the Obama stimulus. It will spark the economy, address poverty like no legislation in a generation, and lay the groundwork for huge improvements to the health care system.
Once Dems accept that they’ll never win 10 Republican votes for anything, no matter what concessions they make, they can pass no less substantial reforms on voting rights, climate change and infrastructure. The choice is binary: Nuke the filibuster, or spend 2022 explaining how their failures are McConnell’s fault.
The lesson for the Beltway media is to think critically before regurgitating Republican talking points. Case in point: “Biden’s border crisis,” which, according to Republican officials and top D.C. journalists, is the result of President Biden reversing Trump’s policies.
Well, sure. Biden reversed some Trump policies — Remain in Mexico, a humanitarian disaster that forced asylum-seekers into squalid migrant camps, for example. But the “crisis” isn’t what Republicans say it is. The crisis is that poverty, hunger, political instability, natural disasters and violence in Central America — plus a Trump policy prohibiting people from seeking asylum from their home country — are forcing thousands to risk their lives to trek north.
Biden’s not beyond reproach. The government needs better accommodations for those it has detained and more transparency about conditions at the border. But the Republican solution amounts to little more than Trump-era cruelty and demonization.
Why are we pretending that Republican concern trolling is anything but cheap demagoguery?
These aren’t serious people. This isn’t a serious party. Acknowledging that doesn’t make you a partisan. It makes you a realist.
Get more Informed Dissent at billman.substack.com.
Stay on top of Central Florida news and views with our weekly newsletters, and consider supporting this free publication. Our small but mighty team is working tirelessly to bring you Central Florida news, and every little bit helps.