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Former Republican: How the GOP Turned Into a Racket Ripping Off Vulnerable Americans

How a party degenerated into a scam.

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Unchastened by its electoral drubbing in 2012, the GOP circled the wagons once again. Is their former colleague, the war-disabled Bob Dole, pleading with the Senate GOP to ratify a harmless United Nations treaty recommending international standards for treatment of the handicapped? No way, the UN's black helicopters might descend on America! Are hurricane victims still out of their homes in the depth of winter? Screw 'em, they're not our constituents. Is the GOP's filibuster of a nominee for secretary of defense (and a former GOP colleague to boot) unprecedented? Precedents were made to be broken, and traitors have to be punished. Indeed, freshman Senator Ted Cruz, visually and substantively reprising the role of Joe McCarthy, has even implied treason, slyly insinuating that nominee Chuck Hagel might be in the pay of North Korea or Iran. It doesn't even end there: the lunatic Right is now suggesting that John Brennan, the CIA Director-designee, and certainly a man involved in killing his share of Muslims, is himself a secret Muslim convert, just like his boss, the president!

Shocking as all this is, it should not be surprising. Belief in the rapture (a word found nowhere in the Bible) has been around as a formal theological precept since John Darby fabricated the notion in the early 19th century. Yet when the promised apocalypse fails to arrive on schedule, it is only the weak-willed who renounce the sacred dogma. The anointed remnant knows that the great disappointment was merely a test of their faith, so they redouble their adherence to the sacred text, whether the author is St. John the Divine or Ayn Rand. The refusal of the world to end on October 22, 1844 may have caused some disenchantment among the Millerites, but more than a century and a half later, the Left Behind series of apocalyptic novels has sold over 65 million copies (more than sales of Merriam-Webster dictionaries). In like fashion, the complete failure during the last 30 years of tax cuts for the wealthy to increase revenue, kick-start economic growth, or help the middle class has not dented the faith of the true believers -- nor has it reduced the personal wealth of hucksters like Karl Rove, Grover Norquist, or Dick Armey, who profitably dispense economic snake oil to the rubes wholesale.

As the GOP narrowed and hardened its dogma, the affluent, educated suburbs drifted away from the Church of Reagan, leaving the organization to an increasingly less educated, southern, rural, and downscale white voting base (needless to say, the executive wing of the party is decidedly not downscale in its personal finances; they know, just as surely as L. Ron Hubbard knew, that there is gold to be mined from the suckers). The slide among both voters and elected officials has been frighteningly steep since 2008. Compared to the current crop of congressional GOP freshmen and sophomores, even George W. Bush looks like Henry Cabot Lodge. The party of Abraham Lincoln (a genuine architect of popular enlightenment through his establishment of land grant colleges) has degenerated into Scientology for rednecks who think embryology, evolutionary biology, and geology are lies from the pit of hell.

The deeper causes of this lunacy lie beyond the GOP, for the party is a symptom of a peculiar American sociology as much as the Republican Party is a cause of many of the political ills we face. One suspects the real cause is ultimately a confluence of long-term historical trends. The 40-year-long deindustrialization of the country and the associated weakening of upward mobility for blue-collar Americans are significant factors. Along with deindustrialization came the catastrophic decline of industrial unions, which had once been a secular political outlet for constructive action and social assimilation for workers. The symbiosis of politics and religion in American life, a phenomenon almost unheard of in other advanced democracies these days, infused many politicians with a taste for self-righteousness and apocalyptic brinksmanship that are fatal to a system designed for separation of powers, compromise, and moderation. Finally, the Cold War lasted too long, and left a permanent garrison state; it also left a paranoid world view that demands enemies foreign and domestic. If the monolithic world Communist conspiracy is no longer with us, the Muslim caliphate will serve nicely in its stead. If there is no longer an internal Red menace boring from within, there is a secret Muslim poised to become CIA director.

Contrary to some observers, I do not believe the GOP is finished as a national party. It is too well entrenched in too many state legislatures due to gerrymandering. In turn, the state legislatures can gerrymander congressional districts thoroughly enough so that it is unlikely Republicans will lose control of the House at least until the census of 2020. Dixie and the Tornado Belt are prone to send candidates of the intellectual caliber and world view of James Inhofe to the Senate for the foreseeable future, thus assuring a veto over legislation via the filibuster. The voting base itself, endlessly stoked by talk radio and Fox News, thrives on its martyr-like self-image as a persecuted remnant of Real Americans; and all the would-be messiahs they adore are Republicans, not third party candidates. There is also just too much money to be made by hucksters, so it is doubtful that the GOP will go the way of the Whigs. And, who knows, another national catastrophe like 9/11 or an asset collapse could once again put them at the helm of the country to summon the demons lurking in the national id.