Fifty years of Republicanism has brought us to this.
A pandemic so out of control, the world sees us as a slow-motion car crash they can’t look away from.
An economic nosedive, steeper and faster than any before it, with no chance of recovery as long as the virus stays rampant.
An unemployment catastrophe, with sixteen million people out of work, with their health insurance likely cut off, with massive evictions looming, and their government lifeline severed.
These are all directly attributable, yes to Trump, but even more to the Republican party, which has been working its way down to this moment for fifty years. Long before Trump came along to say the bad parts out loud, Republicans were undermining norms, subverting institutions, and playing their constituents for reprogrammable rubes.
Since before Reagan, the Republican party has served the American oligarchy, that tiny sliver of the population that commands most of the country’s wealth. Between the very rich and the corporate powerful — two groups that overlap to an obscene degree — this oligarchy has bought and paid for the entire party.
The oligarch agenda has always been straightforward: lower taxes and eliminate regulation. Everything else — the shredding of the safety net, the union-busting, the court-packing, the obstruction, the bait-and-switch con they put over on social conservatives — is all in the service of these two overarching goals. Nothing else matters, no matter what they say.
Since it’s an agenda that nobody who’s not an oligarch wants, Republicans have had to work around the democratic process to do their bidding. They’ve played a long game over many decades. They’ve patiently and methodically built influence and curried favor at every level of government — local, county, state, federal — and they’ve taken over local school boards, state legislatures, and much of the judiciary. At the same time, they’ve captured media outlets in local markets all over the country.
Their tactics have been cynical — all sharp-elbowed politics and working the refs. They’ve perfected the use of voter suppression and gerrymandering. They’ve pandered to racists, misogynists, xenophobes, homophobes, and religious cranks.
And since their agenda is, by its very nature, deeply unpopular, they’ve meticulously constructed an elaborate mythology to sell the “American People” on their supposed values. These values, and the messaging around them, have never borne any resemblance to reality.
The myths are many, but here are arguably the top three:
Myth #1 — They told us they’re the party of small government.
This was never anything but a cover story for cutting taxes and deregulating everything they could. The less regulation, the more their oligarchs could loot the system while ignoring the safety of both their workers and their consumers. Since government is supposed to keep them from doing that, of course they want smaller government. And they’ve gotten it. Wouldn’t a bigger government come in handy right now?
Myth #2 —They told us they’re the party of national security.
Defense of the nation was paramount and alliances were sacred. Right. How quickly did that myth evaporate? How quickly did they get used to the idea of selling NATO down the river? Of being played by Russia, China, the Saudis, even North Korea? Of Putin paying bounties on American soldiers? Trump gave the party a massive tax scam and more deregulation than they ever dreamed. In return, they gave Trump more than Putin ever dreamed.
Myth #3 — They told us they were the party of fiscal responsibility.
They convinced people — even the mainstream press — they were the stewards of sound economic policy, despite massive evidence that they’d tanked every economy they’d ever gotten their hands on. Every Republican president since Nixon has expanded the federal government, exploded the deficit, and left the economy weaker than when they started. Often by design. When it comes to managing a major depression like the one we’re now blundering into, economic incompetence gets old in a hurry. It’s a situation that screams out for Democrats.
There are many more myths. Republicans piously claim to be the party of family values, of personal responsibility, of law and order, even of patriotism itself, yet they fail at all of these, even on their own terms.
But as lame as they are, the myths have served the party well. They've ridden a long wave of voter gullibility and apathy to come within striking distance of taking over every lever of power.
Which is why it is astonishing to see how quickly and completely they’ve jettisoned the whole mythology. After all those years of playing the long game, they’ve bet all that equity on a con man they saw through from day one. They’ve abandoned all pretense of fiscal responsibility, national security, and small government, opting instead for unfettered looting and corruption. And since they’ve done it all out in the open, the party is now being openly exposed for the naked fraud it’s always been.
If you’re a Republican office holder these days, you no longer own yourself. Your job is to promote the oligarch agenda, and to obstruct anything that doesn’t. You do not respond to rational argument. You don’t care if you’re seen as heartless, greedy, or stupid. You stay on message, whatever the question. And you never, ever admit a mistake.
It’s a simple bargain. You agree to do what the oligarchs want done, and you’re taken care of for life. Wingnut welfare. All you have to do is take the heat. If you debase yourself, if you disgrace your family, if history eviscerates you, that’s too bad. You made that trade with your eyes open.
Republicans are making it clearer than ever, not just that they have no intention of governing, but that they have no ability to do so.
The virus is thrilled. The rest of us, not so much.
P.S. If I haven’t depressed you enough, a brilliant article in Rolling Stone will finish the job. Written by a Canadian, Wade Davis, it’s cheerfully titled “How Covid-19 Signals the End of the American Era.” Long but highly recommended.