Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Change and Reaction

Much has been written about how the Republican Party has moved ever further to the Right. Even Bob Dole just said his party, the same party that nominated him to be their presidential candidate, "needs to be closed for repairs."  It is clear that the party's pols and operatives have become stridently right-wing; to call them mere conservative no longer seems sufficient. Moderates, which once dominated the party, no longer feel welcome. Republican primaries have become a testing ground to see who can appear more strident and uncompromising, a chance to swagger and sneer at people not like themselves. On this see Mike Lofgren's The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted (2012).

On a deeper level, not much has changed. Conservative politics has always had, and appealed to, far-right elements. Circumstances in recent years, and that certainly includes the election of President Obama, have merely aggravated an attitude that has always there, never hidden for long. On the varying but ever-present influence of America's deeply anti-democratic and intolerant right wing, see  Geoffrey Kabaservice, Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party (2012); Rick Perlstein, Nixonland: the Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (2008); and The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right, by Arthur Goldwag (2012).

For generations, indeed from the earliest days of the republic, the American Right generally had its way on the issues that gnaw at the authoritarian personality; and they weren't the national debt, tax rates, or regulations. There is resistance on those issues, to be sure, though primarily from Wall Street and the investor class. What really galls middle America's true reactionaries are the range of social changes that have allowed various people not accustomed to fair treatment --women, blacks, Hispanics, gays and more more-- to a more equitable share not only of the American Dream in some abstract sense, but of the right to visible public space, public office, and public prominence, whether it be as a priest, a CEO, a teacher, or the American President.

The American Right has always promoted an inequitable, unfair, and discriminatory creed, with select white males on top. And that meant if you could not be a corporate big shot, at least you were in charge of something; a small business, your church's policies, or the pecking order at your favorite bar. And failing that, you were master of your home and everyone in it had better know their place.

Reactionism at its core is an ideology of hierarchy, privilege, obeisance towards authority and established order, and, it must be noted, condemnation and violence to those who challenge it. It is, as I have noted earlier, the social economics of the Old South, a plantation mentality that has defined Dixie from colonial times. The Right is currently reacting, as it always has, to changes in society that offend its moral code, e.g., too many people, other people, are getting and becoming something they don't deserve. And they, meaning liberals and Democrats, are doing it with the wrong-headed and corrupting influence of government, mostly at the federal level.  
The current response of the Republican Party was predictable. The moral issues that animate the deeply conservative, whether it be the politicians or their voter base, have not changed much. The difference is that they see their world slipping away from them. As they confront the reality of say, a black president or gay marriage, they react once again with fear and loathing. Their forbears of just a few decades ago enjoyed the wholesale discrimination of women and minorities. Gays were brutalized and Jim Crow ruled throughout much of rural and small-town America. Republicans didn't need to scream and threaten. Even when they were in the congressional minority, their world seemed intact.  

That world is ending and Republicans are not handling it well.

No comments:

Post a Comment