One disturbed Republican staffer put it this way: “It should have been evident to clear-eyed observers [during the debt ceiling crisis] that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe. This trend has several implications, none of them pleasant”.
Perhaps the most widely-felt ramification of the GOP’s transformation is the disorder within our society which their un-tempered embrace of ideological economics—driven less, it would seem, by an affirmative vision of what our society should look like than a dead-eyed doctrine and the soiled dollars of their corporate sponsors—are inflicting on our society at all levels.
They are intent on redrawing the scope of political participation for two primary groups—the working class and spectacularly-wealthy corporate interests.
The latter will see the scope of their participation widened dramatically. As we know, the corporation is the institutional vehicle of advancement for the very wealthy in our society. In their handling of the real estate, energy, financial, military, industrial, and environmental sectors of our society, these institutions have behaved compulsively irresponsibly during the past decades. Their machinations drove our nation to the brink of economic ruin. They wrote misleading contracts to deliberately entrap aspiring homeowners. They count among their number war profiteers and serial polluters. They have refused to retool the private energy sector in recognition of the threat posed by global climate change. They have relentlessly outsourced jobs, generating unemployment across the United States.
But the Republican Party is intent on bestowing on these institutions a legal recognition—Corporate Personhood, already largely achieved through the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling—which gives them enormous political power, transforming money into the basis of free speech, and definitively supplanting the power of the pen or the passion of the voice with cold, hard cash. Indeed, the project is nothing less than the casting of corporations as humans—that is, the very same as you and I, with our emotional needs and material desires. Indeed, more than human given the way that the GOP is attempting to reconfigure the sphere of political participation for the working class.
Because if the GOP seeks to bestow ‘human’ rights on these interests which relentlessly work to exempt themselves from the demands and responsibilities of associational life and the civil society described as essential by both conservative and expansive philosophers during the seventeenth century, they seek simultaneously to take rights of participation away from the working class. Over the years, the ability of workers to organise themselves and to make demands on the basis of morality and democracy and material needs of those who regard themselves as our social betters, has been systematically eroded. Our rights to associate politically and act on the basis of our labour’s value have been foreclosed, by acts forbidding general strikes in the 1940s, and by new legislation such as that recently passed in Wisconsin and that put on the ballot by the Republican Party’s allies this year in California. Our political participation, we are increasingly told, should be limited to rote participation in elections shaped primarily by the financial efforts of PACs and Super-PACs, and driven by social and economic interests far removed from those of working class people.
So on the one hand the GOP attempts to circumscribed the sphere for democratic action. On the other, it pushes a program dedicated to the exacerbated of economic inequality.
What this means is absolute opposition to any, all, and every tax measure. It doesn’t matter what the tax will fund, it doesn’t matter what the economic conditions in which it is proposed might be, and it certainly doesn’t matter what the effects of disinvestment would be for the public. The political right arrogantly pretends to know the answer to each and every question of politics—before the questions and their circumstances have been either asked or established.
There is a real cost to this wholesale disinvestment from our society. Political disenfranchisement of the sort described above makes people detached from formal politics, causes them to withdraw from society as they feel that their needs are not being met. When one group of people count and another doesn’t, that drives a wedge into our society of a character very different and much more dangerous than the ideological divide often decried by commentators. Social alienation has not, as a rule, had pleasant consequences in history.
There are also the more practical and obvious consequences of deliberate and systematic disinvestment. Economic inequality leads to a strained society, to the rise of crime, to a workforce increasingly lacking educational qualifications and unable to meet its own economic needs. Labour becomes casualised, ironically by the same people who preach the virtues of work—so long as that work is on the terms, for the time, and on the pay scale established by their corporate paymasters. Employment, and the access to the benefits stemming from wages, becomes a luxury. And if being discarded from the workplace by neoliberal economic doctrine isn’t enough, the unemployed are castigated in vicious moral terms by the right—as leeches, dead-beats, welfare frauds, and a host of other class- and race-based epithets.
Then, too, there is the cost of turning a society—supposedly based on shared values and mutual responsibility—into the kind of market-place which brought our country to its knees in the 1930s and again just a few years ago. Access to education, to open spaces and fresh air, to safe food and water, to healthcare, to childcare—to all those things, in other words, which make living a good life possible—becomes predicated on wealth. And that wealth, as we’ve just seen, has been made increasingly unattainable by an economic doctrine which makes working people’s raison d’être the servicing of the economic needs of a small and already-very wealthy and powerful group of people at the top of our society.
This same philosophy is characterised by an allergy to forethought and planning that only becomes explicable if we accept that it is a philosophy driven entirely by a mercenary search for short-term profit. Their presidential candidate attacks the President for not regulating gas prices. But if the President breathed a word about long-term planning, and state regulation, the right goes into paroxysm of fury. Having refused to learn from past environmental catastrophes, neoliberal philosophy decries efforts to anticipate environmental or energy-related problems, instead insisting that we proceed by experimentation—experimentation which takes the shape of working people becoming sick from drinking polluted water, finding their homes underwater in the wake of hurricanes, suffering from diseases thanks to irresponsible industrial behaviour, and so on.
The right often talks about the adverse effects of taxes on the “business climate”. But the budgetary hostage-taking, the financial brinkmanship, and the political turmoil foisted on us by the behaviour of the GOP—whether it’s in the minority or the majority—is the greatest cause of uncertainty for businesses. Serial uncertainty is best explained by the GOP’s serial irresponsibility. Because at the end of the day, business owners have the same social and economic needs as the rest of us—good schools for their kids, a fair and affordable system of healthcare, world-class teaching and research universities, and social services to give them a leg-up if they slip down—and are obligated, just as the rest of us are, to pay into the system which supports the provision for those needs.
If you want to know what the immediate future under the political right would look like, you need look no further than California, which the GOP runs from the sidelines, having cynically used the state’s misguided enshrinement of minority rule to put in place its noxious programme of Darwinist disinvestment. Our politics, like our social contract, has been broken. We are constitutionally unable to have a reasonable conversation about our values, our ambitions, and our priorities. We are steadily widening the gap between the rich and the poor, and are failing to deal with the social consequences, which manifest themselves in high unemployment, spectacular prison populations, and an education system which is beginning to fail for a lack of investment. Unionised workers, teachers, students, and immigrants, are subject to a debilitating barrage of hateful commentary, and are being turned into scapegoats for each and every of the state’s ills.
Our state’s current trajectory is the GOP’s model for the nation, and it’s not a happy one. We’ve been set up for failure, and the Republican Party has been using the same tactics and pursuing the same ends at the national level during the last four years. We can best begin to reclaim our democracy by showing a party whose leadership is populated by irresponsible fanatics to the door.