Republicans are assimilating corporations into an authoritarian collective — giving Democrats a big opening

Republicans are assimilating corporations into an authoritarian collective — giving Democrats a big opening

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Rep. Kevin McCarthy

The first bit of news today is that the United States Chamber of Commerce has been sitting in on strategy calls by the GOP leadership of the United States House of Representatives. That's news, because the chamber speaks for every major corporation you can think of. It claims to be nonpartisan and strictly business-focused. That was a lie.

The second bit of news is the decision by the chamber to flip-flop on its support of a Democratic plan for nation-building at home. After months of lobbying for a bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, at a cost of millions, it decided this morning to oppose it. That's news, because its decision was announced after reporters revealed the House GOP leadership was kicking the chamber off its strategy calls.

What can we take away from this news? First, as I said, the chamber has been lying to us. It has been an active participant in advancing the House Republican agenda, even when that agenda is a hit-and-run over democracy itself. (Many of its members have resumed making donations to Republicans who voted to overturn the 2020 election.)

Second, the interests of business are becoming subordinate to the interests of the party. That's a third bit of news, actually. For decades, wherever corporations went, so did the Republican Party. Now it's corporations, represented by the chamber, are struggling to hang on. Indeed, it was Mitch McConnell, the Senate GOP leader, who said earlier this year that corporations should "stay out of politics."

In reality, everyone benefits from federal investment in public works, but especially multinational firms that use the roads, bridges, airports and harbors to get their goods and services to consumers. Yet here's business saying its interests are secondary to staying on those calls.

I don't want to make too much of this. The GOP has long served the very obscenely rich. But rare is the moment in which one partner turns to the other and says, it's time for you to choose: us or them?

This seems to be one such moment. The biggest business lobby in the United States decided today that it's better to support the Republicans than oppose them, though its members lose. How much gain is there in staying on good terms? How much loss is there in being on the outside of the party looking in? This is something new. This is the Republicans assimilating corporations into an authoritarian collective.

Well, not that new. In 1964, Eugen Weber wrote Varieties of Fascism. In it, the late historian wrote that assimilation into the authoritarian collective, or "mass conformity," as he put it, was necessary to achieving the goals of fascism. A nation's "ideal cannot be one of individual freedom, free enterprise, and enlightened self-regard," he wrote, "because such concepts are disintegrating and divisive."

Fascists sought a "group ideal which will encourage the individual to transcend his private interests and give, abandon, and devote himself to the greater good of the greater whole."

That ideal was called "corporatism." It was organizing the economy such that "the state is no longer an instrument for the conservation of individuals and the achievement of their ends," Weber wrote. Instead, "individuals become means, instruments of the life of the State."

Benito Mussolini was clear about his vision. "The individual exists only insofar as he is in the State and subordinate to the necessities of the State," the Italian dictator said in 1929. "The more complex the forms of civilization become, the more freedom of the individual is restricted."

Where is capital in this scheme? Not good. "The Fascist tendency is towards collectivism," Professor Weber wrote, which welcomes "the gradual squeezing out of capital and the diminution of its influence."

So again, with feeling: What we saw today is something new. It's the GOP's assimilation of corporations into its authoritarian collective. The spokesmen of capital should bear in mind the possibility of "the gradual squeezing out of capital and the diminution of its influence."

This isn't new but it's unfamiliar. The greatest achievement among conservatives over the last half-century was getting a majority of (white) Americans to believe they stood for the rights of individuals, private enterprise and private property. Conservatives have always stood for ordered power, rights be damned, but pretending otherwise was useful during the postwar years during which Americans still had memories of right-wing collectivism (the Nazis) and, later with the Cold War, left-wing collectivism (the Soviets). It's been so long since its authoritarian wing dominated the party, no one remembers. But by forcing the chamber to choose sides, the GOP is returning to form.

Liberals have long accused the Republicans of being hypocrites. Why is it bad to give poor people "handouts" but good to give rich people "stimulus"? Why are one "welfare queens" and the other "job creators"?

My hope is that liberals will see today's decision by the chamber as an opportunity. Not only are the Republicans assimilating corporations into their authoritarian collective. The representatives of capital are willing to be assimilated, risking themselves and democracy along the way. So forget hypocrisy. A fully fascist target is coming into view.

Liberals should hit it. Hit it hard.

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