|Armed with corporate wealth, the GOP is coming for our democracy. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore|
Midterm elections in the United States are less than a month away, and their imminent approach offers an opportunity to reflect once again on the agenda and behavior of the twenty-first century Republican Party. It is a party governed less by thinking men and women and their individual consciences than by a series of interlocking pledges that tie their hands and compel the abdication of free-thought on questions of the economy, energy, and the environment.
These pledges are designed to tie the hands of elected representatives around key questions of action on climate change and revenue. They essentially require their signatories—the overwhelming majority of the GOP caucus—to foreswear the use of their brains. They require signatories to promise their corporate handlers that they will never take serious action against climate change or raise revenue for our public sphere come hell or—quite literally—high water.
But these pledges only function against the backdrop of the central premise of the Republican Party, the largest and most fundamental of all its many lies.
That lie is that “Government” doesn’t work. It is the lie that the GOP uses to explain its failure to sustain and support the public sphere. It is the lie that the GOP uses to justify its roll-back of regulation. It is the lie that the GOP deploys to argue against intervention to restore equity to economic relations governed by a class of ruthless plutocrats. And it is the lie on full display as the party looks to take control of the Senate in November on behalf of its key constituency, the super-rich and the massive corporations to which the party is giving the same life and political power it denies the working class in the United States.
It is a lie so patently absurd that it is extraordinary that anyone gives it any credence. But it is worth debunking. So think about this idea that “Government” doesn’t work as it pertains to people’s everyday lives.
If you call 911, someone picks up. If someone dumps toxins into water, there are consequences. If a house catches on fire, a fire truck will show up. If you have children, there are schools, school buses, curricula, and teachers to ensure that they are provided an education. There are roads that you can use to navigate the country, and safety measures to ensure that your journey will be a comparatively safe one. If you need to get away from the city, you can visit a National Park, staffed by hospitable ranger staff who maintain networks of campsites and trails. There are publicly-subsidised universities. Water and electricity are widely-available.
If you send a letter, it will arrive at its destination in a timely fashion, as will your social security check if you are over a certain age. If a river catches on fire, someone is going to look into that and work out what happened. If the government believes you are a threat it will—legally or otherwise—monitor your calls and e-mails. If the government perceives a threat abroad, it will use violent force to neutralize that threat.
You might not agree that the government should do all of these things, but it is impossible to rationally argue that “Government”—that series of interlocking public agencies and representative bodies ranging from Congress down to your local city library—“doesn’t work”.
Some people take great umbrage at the idea that the U.S. or state governments should set a minimum wage to protect people from the depredations of corporate power. Others get hot and bothered at the thought of drinking clean water and breathing safe air, so sure are they that in the absence of public regulation large corporations would ensure the health of our air and water out of the goodness of their frozen hearts and stunted souls.
I personally have a weird thing about extrajudicial killings, torture, aggressive wars, kidnappings, and illegal spying.
But because one of the two major parties in the United States denies that government “works”, we spend most of our time doing things other than discussing the merit of particular government policies at whatever level of civil society and their relationship to the public good. Instead, we spend our time on one side or other of a massive, steady, and well-funded assault launched by the Congressional mercenaries of the Koch Brothers and their ilk who are determined to reduce government to the size at which—as one of their hired guns memorably described—it can be drowned in the bathtub.
Because the GOP and its backers know that their party is based on a lie, they have decided that their best bet is to bring that lie to life.
Their lie and their efforts to bring it to life explain not only their policies—erecting a vast welfare system for the super-rich and corporate America while stripping protections and rights away from most citizens—but also their tactics.
Filibusters, government shutdowns, and bizarre pledges: these are not the methods of a party dedicated to working within a democratic framework for the common good. They are the methods of an organization working to subvert that democracy by sabotaging its institutions. They are the methods of an organization which has lost the debate and is instead trying to undermine public trust in democratic institutions by waging a political guerrilla war, sponsored by corporate power. They are the actions of an organization that is trying to bring its lie to life by ensuring that government cannot function and fails its citizens.
I’m no fan of the Democratic Party which, bullied by corporate power and economic fundamentalists, has abandoned the working and middle classes on most fronts. Too often the party defends corporations from scrutiny and backs our government's international terrorism.
But there are a handful of Democrats who have not abandoned their progressive roots, and there are other parties to support in those states where they are allowed to contest increasingly-undemocratic elections.
To vote for the Republican Party in this or any other election is far more than a statement of support for any particular policy. It is to be complicit in a project of actively dismantling democracy to demonstrate its failure to an electorate which will then, if the actions and rhetoric of the GOP’s backers are to be believed, be stripped of its civil, economic, and human rights.
The stakes in November are high.