The following is the second in a series by Andy Schmookler whose purpose is to show what’s gone wrong in our nation’s political arena, and to help start the process of setting things right. The series is addressed to all those who are disturbed by what the Republican Party has become, and frustrated by the failure of the Democratic Party to combat it effectively.
Summary: In the conduct of today’s Republican Party, we can see a pattern of destructiveness. It displays an insatiable lust for power and wealth, an impulse to prey upon the vulnerable, a preference for conflict over cooperation, a persistent dishonesty, and a willingness to sacrifice the greater good for selfish advantage. Putting the pieces together, we see that our national crisis is not just at the political level, but goes deeper to the moral and spiritual levels.
I have a message and a plan to help turn back this force. To succeed, it will need the help of many.
The Republican Party, I have said here, has been taken over by a destructive force. Time now to flesh out more of the picture showing the relentlessly destructive nature of what now animates the Republican Party:
It’s a force that’s insatiable in its lust for power and wealth.
- Even though we have the greatest income inequality that we’ve had in living memory, this force works continually to widen that gap still further. All their budgetary proposals would take from average Americans to give more to those who already have the most. As they protect those who have tripled their share of our national income, they cut food stamps to the most vulnerable Americans — even at a time when jobs are scarce and even the middle class is struggling.
In the realm of political power, this force has given us a Supreme Court that handed down that disgraceful decision in Citizens United, making it still easier for the nation’s widening inequalities of wealth to be translated into inequalities of political power. With our government put up for auction, “All men are created equal” gets swamped by the Almighty Dollar. The Republicans have been working to turn our government from one “by the people” into one controlled by those giant so-called “persons” that make up the corporate world.
It’s a force that that insists on making a fight over everything.
- When Barack Obama came to the presidency, hoping to restore cooperation to our political system, he reached out by proposing Republican ideas as solutions to important national problems. But the Republicans have turned politics into a form of warfare, so insistent upon conflict that they fought even against their own ideas whenever the other side adopted them.
What Republicans had once proposed as cap and trade, they now denounced as socialism. The idea of an individual mandate for health insurance – an idea originally put forward by Republicans in the Senate — they now declared to be unconstitutional. And once it was picked up by the Democrats, a sensible idea Republicans had originally conceived and embraced became mischaracterized as “death panels.”
It’s a force that is consistently dishonest.
- It lied us into the Iraq war. It lied about torture. It lied about where the Democratic president was born. Lied about their (lack of interest) in getting Americans back to work in the deepest recession since the Great Depression. About their (not) caring about the deficit. About Benghazi. About the IRS “scandal.” A list that could go on for pages.
If you long for the American people to see the ugly picture all this adds up to, please listen to me.
Listen to me if you want to get our national conversation to focus on the question, too long unasked: “What is it that would express itself in all these ways?” What is the larger picture these pieces together create?
What is the name that we in Western civilization have traditionally given to something that:
• Preys upon the vulnerable.
- Think food stamps, voter ID, vaginal ultrasounds, torture.
• Divides people against each other.
- In the deepest recession in generations, this force has proved unwilling to address the need to generate jobs, on which Americans are agreed, and has instead insisted on focusing on those issues, like abortion, on which, as the Republicans well know, the divisions among Americans have proved deep and irreconcilable.
• Tramples on hard-won structures of justice and good order.
- After giving us a president who usurped powers denied by the Constitution, this force then manifested itself in an opposition party that violated tradition in its use of the filibuster to grab power, that cast aside long-standing political norms on how the debt-ceiling is handled, that subverted the foundations of our democracy by delegitimizing the president and disenfranchising voters.
• Sacrifices the greater good for selfish advantage.
- As the disruption of the climate becomes ever more visibly a threat to the future of our children and even of the health of life on earth, this force has embraced the spirit of the Koch Brothers, rather than the warnings of the overwhelming majority (97 percent) of scientists who know the most about the earth’s climate system. Even with so much at stake, the force that’s taken over the Republican Party has disabled our nation from dealing responsibly to what may be the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced.
• Deceives and manipulates in order to exploit those that support it.
- It persuades millions of Americans to be one-issue voters – on abortion, or on the gun issue – distracting them with matters that in no way impede the ability of this force to rob Americans of their birthright as citizens in a democratic society. It pretends to be conservative, while violating our traditions as no conservative would. It pretends to be patriotic while willingly damaging the nation for partisan advantage.
Put all those pieces together, and what do we see?
I am not afraid to call out this force for what it is.
This is not about liberal values vs. conservative values. The consistent destructiveness of all these pieces shows that something has gone awry at a much deeper level. America needs to see this picture, and understand the moral and spiritual crisis this force has forced upon us.
I’m asking you to give me the opportunity to show you — with this series just beginning — that I can make the case that America needs to hear against this Republican Party. And that I can make that case stick– not just as a soundbite, or even just at the level of the op/ed, but in detail and with an integrated picture of the various levels involved in the emergence and mode of operation of such a destructive force.
Together we have a real chance to use that message to get the national conversation to focus on this dark and disturbing picture, and to get the American people to drain away the power of this destructive force.
My History Shows: I’m Not an Us-vs.-Them Kind of a Guy
Let me address, straight-away, a concern I imagine –from my years of experience of discussing these issues — may have arisen in the minds of some.
Some readers may wonder — on the basis of my harsh characterization of today’s Republican Party — whether I’m someone who is predisposed by character to demonize opponents and exacerbate political polarization.
My history shows that’s not who I am.
In the 1980s, I was associated with a group in Washington called Search for Common Ground, whose purpose is to help people entangled in conflict find ways to get to mutually satisfactory solutions.
In the 1990s, I gave talks around the country with the title “Beyond Dispute,” encouraging liberals and conservatives – in our already-polarizing nation – to turn away from ideological combat and seek a higher wisdom that integrates the valid insights and principles of both sides.
My 1999 book (Debating the Good Society, from M.I.T. Press) had the subtitle “A Quest to Bridge America’s Moral Divide.” And I began my radio show with the suggestion that we – liberals and conservatives — should talk to each other in a spirit of mutual respect “as if we might actually learn from each other.”
During that same period, I investigated the problem of polarization, seeing it as a dangerous kind of brokenness in a cultural system. My hope was that we could heal our divisions before they broke us apart. (See my piece from that period, “The Dance of Polarization– How a Culture Breaks Down into Warring Half-Truths.”.)
Something has changed since then. But it is not I but the spirit that animates the other side that’s changed.
I much prefer our political world to be marked by mutual respect and the bridging of divides. But that requires that both sides deal in good faith, and that they prefer cooperation and compromise to conflict.
But something new and dangerous has seized hold of the political right, and that dark change requires of us a new response.
Wisdom requires different responses to different situations, and a tool-kit with but one tool in it is dangerously inadequate. The dark force I began to see in 2004 inspired me to set aside the tools of bridge-building for the tools of waging battle.
Interestingly, in our polarized polity one of the issues on which right and left are split into opposite extremes is precisely on attitudes toward “Us vs. Them” thinking. On the right, it tends to be considered a virtue to see the “other side” as the enemy. In liberal America, it is frowned upon.
That connects with the crisis in our times: In our polarized system, we see one side that makes a fight over everything, even when what the nation needs is cooperation. And we see the other side reluctant to fight over anything, even when the nation needs it to fight and win a battle over a destructive force.
There are those who have a need for enmity, who are comfortable only in a world in which they wage war against some “Them.” And then there are those who are willing, however reluctantly, to do battle when that is required in order to defend the values they hold sacred. FDR was no warmonger, but he understood what must be done and led America in doing it.
The nation now needs the same from us. That’s why I, though a genuine peace-lover, say that we are called upon to press the battle.
This series will be appearing here in installments. Or you can click here to see the whole series and here to learn how you can help this campaign to succeed.