Monday, September 28, 2015

Why Boehner's leaving is bad for America: It's a symptom of a movement populated by extremists and authoritarians

Heather Cox Richardson is a historian at Boston College. She's written an essay in Salon.com on the history of the conservative movement. The title: "It is time to get very afraid: Extremists, authoritarians now run the GOP — and no one can stop them."

Here is where her essay ends -- on our mad march to an Orwellian state. I include closing snippets as a teaser. The best parts of the essay is the history of how this came to be.

By the time of the George W. Bush administration, Movement Conservatives controlled the Republican Party, and they abandoned reality in favor of their simple story line. A member of the Bush administration famously noted to journalist Ron Suskind that "the reality-based" view of the world was obsolete. "That’s not the way the world really works anymore," this senior adviser to the president told Suskind. "When we act, we create our own reality."

That is exactly what today’s Movement Conservatives are doing. After the last Republican debate, astonished observers noted that many of the candidates’ assertions were flat-out lies. The New York Times editorial board mused: "It felt at times as if the speakers were no longer living in a fact-based world." But the lies are not random. They tell followers that America has fallen apart because enemies— minorities, women and liberals– have poisoned the government. Only a Movement Conservative leader can purge the nation of that poison and return America to its former greatness. Donald Trump, who currently commands a significant lead, is the salesman who puts it most clearly. He tells his followers that "the world is a mess." He promises to work outside the old order and replace it with something new and wonderful. He tells them a story in which Christianity is under siege, President Obama is a foreigner, and that immigrants—who actually commit crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans– are criminals. He refused to contradict a follower who announced that Muslims are a problem that we must "get rid of." And he promises to "Make America Great Again."

But Trump is not an outlier. Jeb! says that black people vote for Democrats to get "free stuff." Mike Huckabee insists that the United States is criminalizing Christianity. Bobby Jindal promises to "fire" Congress. Ted Cruz hints that President Obama is a Muslim and warns that no Muslim should be president. All of the candidates demonize undocumented immigrants.

And Carly Fiorina makes the outrageous claim, on national television, that political opponents murder babies to harvest and sell their brains. Think about that.

The fantasy world of Movement Conservatives is no longer fringe talk. The leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination embrace it. They are playing to a chorus of true believers, and they are preaching what that choir wants to hear. They are following the same pattern Eric Hoffer identified as the path to authoritarianism. Last week, 43 percent of Republicans polled said they could imagine a scenario in which they would back a military coup. This week, Movement Conservatives in Congress knocked off a conservative speaker because he refused to sacrifice the American government to their demands.

We should be very frightened indeed. If we are not careful, John Boehner’s will not be the only head on the block.

Don't mistake Richardson for another pundit. The real meat of her essay is the history leading up to this "conservative" unreal reality. Consider it required reading.

Heather Cox Richardson is the author of "To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party," amongst several other books, and a professor of history at Boston College.

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