I want to write an essay, some of which I’ve written before, the rest of which I have explained in person many times; it’s about how the Republican Party lost the idea of the loyal opposition. But it’s hard to write.
It’s not hard because it’s all that complex; it’s not hard because it’s difficult to explain. It’s just too intimidating, too nerve-wracking in the context of an authoritarian movement wagon-hitched to a misogynistic racist who likes to talk about jailing his political opponents, ordering war crimes, reinstituting torture, throwing nuclear weapons around in the middle east, and still pulling 45% in polls.
It’s not supervillainy; I could, obviously, get behind that. But supervillainy… supervillainy is a whole different story to this kind of raw lust for oppression, this clamour for unrestrained power, and the ending of opposition in any form.
We like to talk big, vampires do. “I’m going to destroy the world.” It’s just tough guy talk. Struttin’ around with your friends over a pint of blood. The truth is, I like this world. You’ve got… dog racing, Manchester United, and you’ve got people. Billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs. It’s all right here. But then someone comes along with a vision. With a real… passion for destruction.
— Spike, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
No, this isn’t supervillainy; this isn’t art. This is the slow, grinding, boot in the face. I mean, sure, almost every election of my adult life is existential to one degree or another; that’s what happens when a political movement decides your existence is an offence to their ravenous, all-consuming god of lust for violence. It’s not fair, and it never gets better, because fundamentalism never gets better, and it grinds.
(A lot more people than usual are feeling that grind this year. Folks, this is every election, for queers. Welcome to the horrible, horrible party. I’m sorry.)
The thing is – this wasn’t inevitable. It was a process, one that started decades ago, with the rise of modern political fundamentalism in the 1970s. They helped get Ronald Reagan elected, changing the course of American politics, launching a long Republican cycle.
But they didn’t get what they wanted out of Reagan. Not really. Sure, they got anti-abortion/anti-equality votes, and they got a government that was perfectly happy to let AIDS kill tens of thousands of queers while they crowed about it as God’s Punishment Upon the Homosexual, a particularly specific plague – if you ignored Africa, which they didn’t care about either – and they got a long-term squeeze put on women’s health. But not what they wanted.
And they’re not stupid; they didn’t get all that much of what they wanted because they didn’t get the real force of the party behind them. So they complained about that, inside the party, and they were told: you’re with us, but you’re not of us, you haven’t put in the work to build the party, like everyone else has. “Put in the work,” they were told, “and you’ll get your turn, just like us.” That’s how party politics works.
So they signed up. They started putting in that work, filling out those volunteer positions, moving up the ladders of power.
But the funny thing about political parties is that they aren’t just workplaces. They’re social environments. They’re clubs. They’re circles of like-minded friends. Arguably, as of late, they’ve been tribes, which is every bad.
The same is true of fundamentalist movements, and – particularly in the American South – churches, which are often the social nexus of smaller communities. They have norms, informed by their beliefs. They have assumptions, and rules, and ideas about themselves and others, and such ideas are contagious.
Now, American evangelical fundamentalism has a long history of being enamoured with the Book of Revelations. They like it about as much as they do the old testament books, particularly those which lay down punishments upon others, like Leviticus. Being obsessed with the end of the world, and the return of Jesus, it’s very attractive.
And back as they were working their way into becoming the GOP – and going into the end of the millennium – they started spending a lot of time on Revelation 3:15-16. You’d hear it on fundamentalist radio, a lot, specifically in religious-political programming. To wit:
(15) I have known thy works, that neither cold art thou nor hot; I would thou wert cold or hot. (16) So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
That’s Jesus (or Jesus as channeled by John), if it isn’t clear. The way they’ve taken this – and the way they were teaching this, most specifically in a political context – is that there’s no such thing as moderation. There is no neutral ground, be hot or cold in my mouth, or I will spit you out. You embody fervent support with no upper bound to the fervency – more is always better – or you’re the opposition. Moderation is as bad as opposition to JESUS.
That’s problematic enough before you add in that for these religious evangelical fundamentalists, religiously speaking, opposition is literally Satan himself. And since fundamentalism is all about living your religion, is that religion incorporated into your social life? Oh my yes, absolutely.
That is the social and political culture the fundamentalists brought – already fully formed – into the Republican party. Hot, or cold. Fervently LIVING JESUS, or demonic evil incarnate, with no limits, respite, or quarter morally justified.
And politics are social. It’s also policies, some, sure, but mostly, there’s a lot of who you get on with, and how. As the evangelical fundamentalists moved into the party ranks, and made friends, they brought their culture with them, and those attitudes – well, in a competitive political environment, they’re going to be awfully useful. Awfully useful, and awfully attractive, even if you don’t really believe it.
Which is how you get claims that Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama are literally, personally, demonic entities floated around by people close to the Republican nominee.
Can you imagine – ever – Warriors For God, self-assigned paladins, accepting the literal devil winning an election? Is that ever going to be recognised as legal? As legitimate?
Of course not. There is truly no such thing. And while there’s a good chunk of the GOP that knows better, that genuinely aren’t lying when they say that’s not how they see it…
…that’s still how they react to opposition victory, emotionally, because that’s their social environment now. And the non-fundamentalist Republicans will invent reasons, find rationalisations*. Excuses that would hold absolutely no traction applied to their own tribe become INCONTROVERTIBLE! when applied to the Enemy, and they’ll build up opposition into the evil that is socially necessary to force them to vote for their side’s candidate – even if it’s a candidate they kind of hate.
Myths about Ross Perot costing Mr. Bush an election? Myths about birth certificates and secret homosexuality? Conspiracy theories about mass election thievery where the lack of evidence becomes proof of fraud? All obviously true** in that mindset.
Because Satan. Because pure, unmitigated evil, and all the rage that goes with it, whatever that is. Currently, it’s assigned to Ms. Clinton. But it will be assigned to any opposition leader.
If all this sounds overblown, consider, if you would:
Hillary Clinton faces intense animosity as she approaches White House
The Toronto Star – October 30, 2016
WARRENTON, VA.—”She’s a whore,” said Jim Brewster, a 62-year-old farmer, as he walked into the bakery for some coffee.
“Murderous, rotten, no-good, pious … bitch,” said Waldo Ward, a 60-something retiree, as he left Walmart with Halloween candy for the neighbourhood kids. “She should be taken out and shot. Absolutely.”
“I confess that I’m a Christian, and I shouldn’t hate, but it’s awful close,” said Charles Graves, a smiling 71-year-old recently retired from a career in logistics.
“It’s not like I’m not a Donald Trump fan,” said Rusty Gibson, 47, an electrician. “But it’s like good versus evil.”
It’s like good versus evil.
Because, in their social environment, it is. It is good versus evil. That is the social climate brought to the Republican party by the evangelical fundamentalist movement. Scratch off a couple of layers, and the opposition is Literally. Satan. Because Jesus.
To expect acceptance of opposition victory (on any front), to expect quarter, to expect them not to be mapping out their impeachment proceedings before the election even takes place is naive at best.
How else could a party which claims to participate in a republican form of government talk seriously about a “permanent majority”?
Well, spoiler: it doesn’t. It has to give up on one, or the other, and what they’re giving up on right now is democratic elections. That’s why they’ve nominated a demi-strongman, that’s why they’re forthrightly engaged in massive voter suppression (and being sued in three states and counting)… and that’s why they’re falling back into line behind Mr. Trump.
This is a fantasy; it doesn’t actually happen. Most of Mr. Trump’s rise in the polls
is Republicans abandoning Mr. Johnson and coming home.
And all of that is why the overtly racist, misogynist, and demi-fascist “~~alt-right~~” loves all of this so very, very much. Mr. Trump is a crisis, but Mr. Trump isn’t the crisis. Mr. Trump is a symptom. The cultural implosion that is a religious fundamentalist ethnoparty’s growing abandonment of democratic politics – that is the crisis.
*: There’s a whole ‘nother article to be written about how the recent generalised recognition that people are more likely to rationalise non-rational decisions than make rational decisions to begin with is making it easier to abandon rational decision-making by providing an excuse, an “out,” a reason not to even try to apply rationality. This also feeds into authoritarianism.
**: There’s another ‘nother article to be written about how fundamentalism judges the truth and value of evidence based upon whether it supports pre-existing “Biblical” conclusions; it’s their entire response to empiricism. It’s the core of “scientific Creationism” and “Biblical science,” and everyone else calls it “confirmation bias” but held up as an ideal. Knowing confirmation bias exists in order to compensate for it to see more clearly is one thing; embracing it as the only valid approach to truth is another entirely. But that, too, is an effect of the social and cultural merger of the evangelical fundamentalists and the GOP. Everyone has confirmation bias; fundamentalism turns it into a deep, deep fetish. But, well, neither this nor the immediate above fit here.