Why do Republicans enable right-wing extremism?
Why has the Republican Party become a systematic enabler of terrorism?
Don’t pretend to be shocked. Just look at G.O.P. responses to the massacre in El Paso. They have ranged from the ludicrous (blame video games!) to the almost honest (who would have expected Ted Cruz, of all people, to speak out against white supremacy?). But as far as I can tell, not one prominent Republican has even hinted at the obvious link between Donald Trump’s repeated incitements to violence and the upsurge in hate crimes.
So the party remains in lock step behind a man who has arguably done more to promote racial violence than any American since Nathan Bedford Forrest, who helped found the Ku Klux Klan, a terrorist organization if there ever was one — and who was recently honored by the Republican governor of Tennessee.
Anyway, the party’s complicity started long before Trump came on the scene. More than a decade ago, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report warning about a surge of right-wing extremism. The report was prescient, to say the least. But when congressional Republicans learned about it, they went on a rampage, demanding the resignation of Janet Napolitano, who headed the agency, and insisted that even using the term “right-wing extremism” was unacceptable.
This backlash was effective: Homeland Security drastically scaled back its efforts to monitor and head off what was already becoming a major threat. In effect, Republicans bullied law enforcement into creating a safe space for potential terrorists, as long as their violent impulses were motivated by the right kind of hatred.
No, not exactly. No doubt some members of Congress, and a significant number of Trump administration officials, very much including the tweeter in chief, really are white supremacists. And a much larger fraction — almost surely bigger than anyone wants to admit — are racists. (Recently released tapes of conversations between Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon reveal that the modern G.O.P.’s patron saint was, in fact, a crude racist who called Africans “monkeys.”)
But racism isn’t what drives the Republican establishment, and my guess is that a majority of the party’s elected officials find it a little bit repugnant — just not repugnant enough to induce them to repudiate its political exploitation. And their exploitation of racism has led them inexorably to where they are today: de facto enablers of a wave of white supremacist terrorism.
The central story of U.S. politics since the 1970s is the takeover of the Republican Party by economic radicals, determined to slash taxes for the wealthy while undermining the social safety net.
With the arguable exception of George H.W. Bush, every Republican president since 1980 has pushed through tax cuts that disproportionately benefited the 1 percent while trying to defund and/or privatize key social programs like
- Social Security,
- Medicaid and the
- Affordable Care Act.
So how do Republicans win elections? By appealing to racial animus. This is such an obvious fact of American political life that you have to be willfully blind not to see it.
For a long time, the G.O.P. establishment was able to keep this game under control. It would campaign using implicit appeals to racial hostility (welfare queens! Willie Horton!) but turn postelection to privatization and tax cuts.
But for some reason this bait-and-switch started getting less effective in the 2000s. Maybe it was the reality of America’s growing racial diversity; maybe it was the fact that American society as a whole was becoming less racist, leaving the hard-core racists feeling isolated and frustrated. And the election of our first black president really kicked hatred into overdrive.
The result is that there are more and more angry white people out there willing to commit mayhem — and able to do so because those same Republicans have blocked any effective control over sales of assault weapons.
A different, better G.O.P. might have been willing to acknowledge the growing threat and supported a crackdown on violent right-wing extremism, comparable to the F.B.I.’s successful campaign against the modern K.K.K. in the 1960s. A lot of innocent victims would be alive today if Republicans had done so.
But they didn’t, because admitting that right-wing extremism was a threat, or even a phrase law enforcement should be allowed to use, might have threatened the party’s exploitation of racial hostility to achieve its economic goals.
In effect, then, the Republican Party decided that a few massacres were an acceptable price to pay in return for tax cuts. I wish that were hyperbole, but the continuing refusal of G.O.P. figures to criticize Trump even after El Paso shows that it’s the literal truth.
So as I said at the beginning, the G.O.P. has become a systematic enabler of terrorism. Why? Follow the money.
Trump is morally and intellectually incapable of being president. He has also exploited his office for personal gain, obstructed justice, and colluded with a hostile foreign power. Everyone who doesn’t get their news from Fox has basically known this for a while, although Wolff helps focus our minds on the subject.
.. Republicans in Congress are dealing with this national nightmare: rather than distancing themselves from Trump, they’re doubling down on their support and, in particular, on their efforts to cover for his defects and crimes.
Remember when Paul Ryan was the Serious, Honest Conservative?
.. Now he’s backing Devin Nunes in his efforts to help the Trump coverup.
.. Republicans have become the Grand Obstruction Party. Why?
The answer, I think, is that the cynical bargain that has been the basis of Republican strategy since Reagan has now turned into a moral trap
.. The cynical bargain I’m talking about, of course, was the decision to exploit racism to advance a right-wing economic agenda.
.. For more than a generation, the Republican establishment was able to keep this bait-and-switch under control: racism was deployed to win elections, then was muted afterwards, partly to preserve plausible deniability, partly to focus on the real priority of enriching the one percent.
.. But with Trump they lost control: the base wanted someone who was blatantly racist and wouldn’t pretend to be anything else.
.. just about everyone in the Republican establishment decided that they could work with that.
.. were willing to overlook it as long as they could push their usual agenda.
.. They guessed, correctly, that this wouldn’t be a problem: Trump didn’t even hesitate about abandoning all his campaign promises and going all in for cutting taxes on the rich while slashing benefits for the poor.
.. some speculated that this would be a temporary alliance – that establishment Republicans would use Trump to get what they wanted, then turn on him. But it’s now clear that won’t happen.
.. Republicans, far from cutting him loose, are tying themselves even more closely to his fate. Why?
.. Trump’s very awfulness means that if he falls, the whole party will fall with him.
.. Republicans could conceivably distance themselves from a president who turned out to be a bad manager, or even one who turned out to have engaged in small-time corruption. But when the corruption is big time, and it’s combined with obstruction of justice and collaboration with Putin, nobody will notice which Republicans were a bit less involved, a bit less obsequious, than others.
.. now have the Republican party as a whole fully complicit in Trump’s crimes
.. expecting the GOP to exercise any oversight or constrain Trump in any way is just foolish at this point. Massive electoral defeat – massive enough to overwhelm gerrymandering and other structural advantages of the right – is the only way out.
Motte and bailey (MAB) is a combination of bait-and-switch and equivocation in which someone switches between a “motte” (an easy-to-defend and often common-sense statement, such as “culture shapes our experiences”) and a “bailey” (a hard-to-defend and more controversial statement, such as “cultural knowledge is just as valid as scientific knowledge”) in order to defend a viewpoint. Someone will argue the easy-to-defend position (motte) temporarily, to ward off critics, while the less-defensible position (bailey) remains the desired belief, yet is never actually defended.
In short: instead of defending a weak position (the “bailey”), the arguer retreats to a strong position (the “motte”), while acting as though the positions are equivalent. When the motte has been accepted (or found impenetrable) by an opponent, the arguer continues to believe (and perhaps promote) the bailey.
Note that the MAB works only if the motte and the bailey are sufficiently similar (at least superficially) that one can switch between them while pretending that they are equivalent.
Those who’ve grown up in or cut their ministry teeth on the attractional movement often cannot see the ecclesiological dis-ease around them.
.. the attractional church (or “seeker church,” as it used to be called) was about getting as many people as possible inside the doors to then hear the good news of Jesus Christ.
.. In my youth ministry days, we used all manner of traditionally adolescent enticements—pizza, silly games, loud music—but the “big church” services in the attractional paradigm uses grown-up versions of these enticements
.. we might call this approach to ministry “the ol’ bait and switch”: get ’em inside with cool stuff, then share the gospel with the captive audience.
.. what you win people with is what you win them to ..
.. the gospel of Christ’s finished work became relegated to the end of a service, almost an addendum to to the real focal points of the goings-on, and then it frequently became pushed to the end of an entire message series, eventually became saved just for special occasions, and ultimately has been replaced altogether by the shiny legalism of moralistic therapeutic deism.
.. Eventually the attractional church became all bait, no switch.
.. The approach of today’s attractional church is like the Trojan Rabbit of Monty Python‘s Arthurian nincompoops—smuggled inside the castle walls with nobody inside.
Buckley excommunicated the John Birch Society, anti-Semites and supporters of the hyperindividualist Ayn Rand, and his cohort fused the diverse schools of conservative thinking — traditionalist philosophers, militant anti-Communists, libertarian economists — into a coherent ideology, one that eventually came to dominate American politics.
.. Goldwater’s loss, far from dooming the American right, inspired a new generation of conservative activists to redouble their efforts, paving the way for the Reagan revolution.
.. If Donald Trump is the latest chapter of conservatism’s story, might historians have been telling that story wrong?
.. Hofstadter was the leader of the “consensus” school of historians; the “consensus” being Americans’ supposed agreement upon moderate liberalism as the nation’s natural governing philosophy. He didn’t take the self-identified conservatives of his own time at all seriously.
.. He named this attitude “the paranoid style in American politics” and, in an article published a month before Barry Goldwater’s presidential defeat, asked, “When, in all our history, has anyone with ideas so bizarre, so archaic, so self-confounding, so remote from the basic American consensus, ever gone so far?”
.. she wrote, in an effort to address political concerns .. “liberal permissiveness” about matters like rising crime rates and the teaching of sex education in public schools.
.. historians of conservatism, like historians in general, tend to be liberal, and are prone to liberalism’s traditions of politesse. It’s no surprise that we are attracted to polite subjects like “colorblind conservatism” or William F. Buckley.
.. have found themselves increasingly uncomfortable, and finally deeply distressed,” watching a “moral breakdown” that was destroying a once-great nation.
.. control of much of our industry and commerce taken over by strangers, who stacked the cards of success and prosperity against us
.. The only thing that would make America great again, as it were, was “a return of power into the hands of everyday, not highly cultured, not overly intellectualized, but entirely unspoiled and not de-Americanized average citizens of old stock.”
.. support for public education, to weaken Catholic parochial schools
.. By reaching back to the reactionary traditions of the 1920s, we might better understand the alliance between the “alt-right” figures that emerged as fervent Trump supporters during last year’s election and the ascendant far-right nativist political parties in Europe.
.. But the Klan remained relevant far beyond the South. In 1936 a group called the Black Legion, active in the industrial Midwest, burst into public consciousness after members assassinated a Works Progress Administration official in Detroit.
The group, which considered itself a Klan enforcement arm
.. Coughlin’s magazine, Social Justice, began reprinting “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion,” a forged tract about a global Jewish conspiracy
.. Its members were among the most enthusiastic participants in a 1939 pro-Hitler rally that packed Madison Square Garden, where the leader of the German-American Bund spoke in front of an enormous portrait of George Washington flanked by swastikas.
.. Young Irish-Catholic men inspired by the Christian Front desecrated nearly every synagogue in Washington Heights.
The New York Catholic hierarchy, the mayor of Boston and the governor of Massachusetts largely looked the other way.
.. no less mainstream an organization than the American Legion, whose “National Commander” Alvin Owsley proclaimed in 1922, “the Fascisti are to Italy what the American Legion is to the United States.”
.. In 1927, 1,000 hooded Klansmen fought police in Queens in what The Times reported as a “free for all.” One of those arrested at the scene was the president’s father, Fred Trump.
.. The family settled with the Justice Department in the face of evidence that black applicants were told units were not available even as whites were welcomed with open arms.
.. at Kent State University in Ohio, a Gallup poll found that 58 percent of Americans blamed the students for their own deaths. (“If they didn’t do what the Guards told them, they should have been mowed down,” one parent of Kent State students told an interviewer.)
.. 76 percent of Americans “said they did not support the First Amendment right to assemble and dissent from government policies.”
.. In 1973, the reporter Gail Sheehy joined a group of blue-collar workers watching the Watergate hearings in a bar in Astoria, Queens. “If I was Nixon,” one of them said, “I’d shoot every one of them.”
.. “hard-hat populism” — an attitude, Rosenthal hypothesizes, that Trump learned working alongside the tradesmen in his father’s real estate empire.
.. the case itself also resonates deeply with narratives dating back to the first Ku Klux Klan of white womanhood defiled by dark savages. Trump’s public call for the supposed perpetrators’ hides, no matter the proof of guilt or innocence, mimics the rituals of Southern lynchings.
.. At the beginning of the 20th century, millions of impoverished immigrants, mostly Catholic and Jewish, entered an overwhelmingly Protestant country.
.. It was only when that demographic transformation was suspended by the 1924 Immigration Act that majorities of Americans proved willing to vote for many liberal policies. In 1965, Congress once more allowed large-scale immigration to the United States — and it is no accident that this date coincides with the increasing conservative backlash against liberalism itself, now that its spoils would be more widely distributed among nonwhites.
.. Shortly before announcing his 1980 presidential run, Reagan even boasted of his wish “to create, literally, a common market situation here in the Americas with an open border between ourselves and Mexico.”
.. what are we to make of the fact that he placed so many bankers and billionaires in his cabinet, and has relentlessly pursued so many 1-percent-friendly policies? More to the point, what are we to the make of the fact that his supporters don’t seem to mind?
.. The history of bait-and-switch between conservative electioneering and conservative governance is another rich seam that calls out for fresh scholarly excavation
.. when Reagan was re-elected in 1984, only 35 percent of voters favored significant cuts in social programs to reduce the deficit
.. It was business leaders, not the general public, who moved to the right, and they became increasingly aggressive and skilled in manipulating the political process behind the scenes.
.. the ads created a sense of Reagan as a certain kind of character: the kindly paterfamilias, a trustworthy and nonthreatening guardian of the white middle-class suburban enclave. Years later, the producers of “The Apprentice” carefully crafted a Trump character who was the quintessence of steely resolve and all-knowing mastery.
.. Consider the parallels since the 1970s between conservative activism and the traditional techniques of con men. Direct-mail pioneers like Richard Viguerie created hair-on-fire campaign-fund-raising letters about civilization on the verge of collapse.
.. Recipients of these alarming missives sent checks to battle phony crises, and what they got in return was very real tax cuts for the rich.
.. the more recent connection between Republican politics and “multilevel marketing” operations like Amway (Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is the wife of Amway’s former president and the daughter-in-law of its co-founder)
.. Mike Huckabee shilling for a “solution kit” to “reverse” diabetes
.. Trump himself taking on a short-lived nutritional-supplements multilevel marketing scheme in 2009
.. Future historians won’t find all that much of a foundation for Trumpism in the grim essays of William F. Buckley, the scrupulous constitutionalist principles of Barry Goldwater or the bright-eyed optimism of Ronald Reagan.
.. They’ll need instead to study conservative history’s political surrealists and intellectual embarrassments, its con artists and tribunes of white rage.
On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that “at least a half dozen major Washington lobbyists and three top fundraisers for Mr. Trump’s campaign have been tasked with heading key portions of Mr. Trump’s transition team. . . . In many cases, the lobbyists are selecting administration officials for departments that will affect the interests of firms they represent.”
.. The denizens of K Street, Washington’s notorious lobbying corridor, have charitably agreed to help Trump “drain the swamp,” as he has put it. Trent Lott, the former Republican Senate Majority Leader, who resigned from the Senate in 2007 and set up shop as a lobbyist representing big corporations, including foreign ones, offered up perhaps the quote of the week in an interview with the Times’ Eric Lipton. “Trump has pledged to change things in Washington—about draining the swamp,” Lott, whose clients have included Airbus, the European aircraft manufacturer, and Gazprombank, a big Russian bank, said. “He is going to need some people to help guide him through the swamp—how do you get in and how you get out? We are prepared to help do that.”
.. Imagine the outcry if Hillary Clinton had won the election and then appointed Chelsea Clinton and Donna Shalala, a board member and the president of the Clinton Foundation, to her transition team.
.. A populist but semi-engaged President who is less interested in governing than in soaking up adulation at big rallies.
.. Meanwhile, his cronies and members of the permanent establishment make many of the actual decisions, which will largely benefit the already rich, including the ruling family. Debt mushrooms as El Presidente approves prestige construction projects but not the taxes needed to pay for them. And skilled propagandists, like Bannon, whip up nationalist fervor to keep the masses diverted from what is really going on.
The media took the bait. The cable networks offered wall-to-wall coverage of Trump’s plane taxiing at Reagan National Airport (cozying near Hillary Clinton’s own “Stronger Together” jet). With Trump running late for the 10 a.m. news conference, the image of an empty podium was flashed for more than an hour. And when Trump finally did appear, he got more than 20 minutes of free airtime promoting his new Washington hotel and showcasing endorsements from Medal of Honor recipients.
Only after that extended infomercial did Trump deliver the goods — a speedy statement that Obama was indeed born in the United States, coupled with a blatantly false accusation that Hillary Clinton started the conspiracy to begin with.
The media got punked.
“It’s hard to imagine this as anything other than a political Rick-roll,” CNN anchor Jake Tapper vented on air after Trump’s hotel event. His colleague John King followed up with, “We just got played.”
.. “He opened the event making a plug for his hotel, he has a new hotel so in a sense, you could say he was leveraging five years of birther conspiracy to promote his hotel. Now we have been listening to veterans and military officials praising Donald Trump. He has lined up quite a bit of support onstage.”
.. It was a cunning move on Trump’s part — entice the media with a topic that was dominating the news cycle, package it with a promotion for his brand new hotel, and then add in bona fide military heroes and Medal of Honor recipients, for whom cutting away from quickly could be viewed as disrespectful.
.. but there’s the competing feeling that news organizations have almost let too much slide to have any bargaining power at this point,”
.. “The TV pool traditionally doesn’t participate in events that our reporters or producers are not allowed to attend.”
.. “Right now, Trump has it all,” the Washington Post’s Robert Costa said on MSNBC on Friday morning. “He has his property debuting in D.C. He’s on every network. He’s at the center.”