How Republicans Shred the Republic

The anti-government ideology that drives today’s Republican Party claims to support the U.S. Constitution but is actually its antithesis. Rather than “We the People” providing for the “general Welfare,” the goal is to starve government and cede all power to the rich and ruthless, as Bill Moyers and Michael Winship explain.

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

For reasons hard to fathom, the Republicans seem to have made up their minds: they will divide, degrade and secede from the Union.

They will do so with bullying, lies and manipulation, a willingness to say anything, no matter how daft or wrong. They will do so by spending unheard of sums to buy elections with the happy assistance of big business and wealthy patrons for whom the joys of gross income inequality are a comfortable fact of life. By gerrymandering and denying the vote to as many of the poor, the elderly, struggling low-paid workers, and people of color as they can. And by appealing to the basest impulses of human nature: anger, fear and bigotry.

Mr. Moneybags from the "Monopoly" game

Mr. Moneybags from the “Monopoly” game

Turn on your TV or computer, pick up a paper or magazine and you can see and hear them baying at the moon. Donald Trump is just the most outrageous and bigmouthed of the frothing wolf pack of deniers and truth benders. As our friend and colleague Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch writes, “There’s nothing, no matter how jingoistic or xenophobic, extreme or warlike that can’t be expressed in public and with pride by a Republican presidential candidate.”

Like the pronouncement of the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984, ignorance is strength, whether it’s casting paranoid fantasies about thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering 9/11, or warning about terrorists in refugees’ ragged clothing and Mexican rapists slithering across the border.

Just 4½ years ago, Washington mainstays Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein shocked the inside-the-Beltway establishment (especially the press, with its silent pact to speak no evil of wrongdoers lest they deny you an interview) when they published their book, It’s Even Worse than It Looks.

The two esteemed political scientists wrote, “The Republican Party has become an insurgent outlier ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

In the years since, an ugly situation has only gotten increasingly dire, with right-wing radicals whipped into a frenzy by a Republican establishment that thought it could use their rage, only to find it running amok and beyond their control.

In a recent interview with Francis Wilkinson of Bloomberg View, Norman Ornstein said, “The future still looks pretty grim.” And Thomas Mann noted, “The burden is on the GOP because they are currently the major source of our political dysfunction. No happy talk about bipartisanship can obscure that reality. Unless other voices and movements arise within the Republican Party to changes its character and course, our dysfunctional politics will continue.”

The fever is pandemic not only among the party’s presidential candidates but throughout the House and Senate right down to our state governments. Witness erstwhile GOP presidential candidate and current Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker cutting off food stamps for the hungry and possibly bankrupting food pantries in his state just in time for Christmas because many of those on the lowest rung of the ladder haven’t yet found a job.

And here’s multimillionaire Bruce Rauner winning the governorship of Illinois after spending some $65 million, half of which came from himself and nine other individuals, families or the companies they control.

Now he’s calling once again on his wealthy friends and allies around the country who, The New York Times reports, “are rallying behind Mr. Rauner’s agenda: to cut spending and overhaul the state’s pension system, impose term limits and weaken public employee unions” even though a majority of ordinary citizens in Illinois are opposed.

Meanwhile, with just a few weeks until they adjourn for the holidays, Republicans in the U.S. Congress will try to cram in as much pettiness and vituperation as they can before they head back to their states and districts, no doubt to lead the home front in the fight against “the war on Christmas” launched this time every year by the Republicans’ propaganda arm (Fox News) and its shock troops on talk radio.

Congressional Republicans have vowed to free Wall Street from oversight and accountability and to prevent children fleeing the Syrian inferno from coming ashore on U.S. soil. And yes, they will once again be in full throat against gun control (despite the latest tragedy in San Bernardino, California).

They’re on constant attack against the science of climate change, with the latest salvo two House bills passed Dec. 1 that undermine Environmental Protection Agency rules (President Barack Obama will veto them). And believe it or not, once again they’ll try to scuttle Obamacare, as in Kentucky where the self-financed, wealthy Republican governor-elect has vowed to cut loose hundreds of thousands of people from health insurance.

Take a look at some of their other plans, including the riders congressional Republicans are contemplating for inclusion in the omnibus spending bill that must be passed by Dec. 11. The whole mess is a Bad Santa’s list of loopholes benefiting High Finance, tax cuts for the rich, and budget cuts for everyone else, even as they drive the nation deeper into debt and disrepair.

All of these sad examples are but symptoms of a deeper disease the corruption and debasement of society, government and politics. It is a disease that eats away at the root and heart of what democracy is all about.

Remember the opening phrase of the Preamble to the Constitution committing “We, the People” to the most remarkable compact of self-government ever for the good of all? The Republicans are shredding that vision as they make a bonfire of the hopes that inspired it and, in the process, reduce the United States to a third-rate, sorry excuse for a nation.

Why? For an analogy and an answer we have to go back to the slave-holding Democrats of the 1840s and 1850s who were prepared to destroy the Union if necessary to protect and expand the brutal system of human slavery on which their economy and way of life were built.

The extremism and polarization engendered made it impossible for politics peacefully to resolve the moral dilemma facing our country. If the Republicans and the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, had not championed and fought to preserve the Union and its government, the United States would have been no more.

Now it is the Republicans who are willing to wreck the country to maintain the gross inequality that divides us inequality which rewards the party leaders and their donors, just as slavery rewarded white supremacists. They would tear the Republic apart, rip to pieces its already fragile social compact, and reap the whirlwind of a failed experiment in self-government.

Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship. [Originally published at]

5 comments for “How Republicans Shred the Republic

  1. Abe
    December 4, 2015 at 20:43

    Trump’s brutal racism, cruelty, and Nazi-style policy recommendations are more than shocking, they are emblematic of totalitarianism’s hatred of liberalism, its call for racial purity, its mythic celebration of nationalism, its embrace of violence, its disdain for weakness, and its anti-intellectualism. This is the discourse of total terror. These elements of totalitarianism have become the new American normal. The conditions that produced the torture chambers, intolerable violence, extermination camps, squelching of dissent are still with us. Totalitarianism is not simply a relic of the past. It lives on in new forms and it is just as terrifying and dangerous today as it was in the past.

    Trump is not just a fool or an idiot, or ethically dead, he is symptomatic of a long line of fascists who shut down public debate, attempt to humiliate their opponents, endorse violence as a response to dissent, and criticize any public display of democratic principles. America has reached its endpoint with Trump, and his presence should be viewed as a stern warning of the nightmare to come. This is not the discourse of Kafka, but of those extremists who have become cheerleaders for totalitarianism.

    Trump is not a straight talker as some writers have claimed, he is a monster without a conscience, a politician with a toxic set of policies. He is the product of a form of finance capitalism and a long legacy of racism and violence in which conscience is put to sleep, democracy withers, and public values are extinguished. This is truly a time of monsters and Trump is simply the most visible and certainly one of the most despicable.

    Totalitarianism destroys everything that makes politics possible. It is both an ideological poison and a brutal mode of governance and control. It puts reason to sleep and destroys and viable elements of democracy. Trump reminds us in the most exacerbated and dramatic forms of totalitarianism’s addiction to tyranny, its attachments to the machineries of death, and its moral emptiness.

    Trump’s Embrace of Totalitarianism is America’s Dirty Little Secret
    By Henry Giroux

    • Abe
      December 4, 2015 at 20:51

      Do Donald Trump’s policies flirt with the ideals of fascism?
      By Rob Lorei (audio — radio program)

      Donald Trump is still leading the polls for the Republican presidential nomination, but those within his own party are beginning to call his platform “fascist”, a word that brings into mind the dictatorships of Germany and Italy from the 1930’s until the end of World War II. Republicans like national security conservative Max Boot, Jeb Bush adviser John Noonan and Iowa radio host Steve Deace have been critical of Trump’s call to deport millions of undocumented Mexican immigrants, monitor Mosques and Muslim-Americans, and endorse torture techniques in interrogation.

      Henry A. Giroux, McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and a Distinguished Visiting Professorship at Ryerson University. He recently wrote a piece for Counterpunch about the similarities of Trump’s positions with that of the totalitarian regimes of the mid 20 century.

      WMNF is a listener-supported community radio station that advocates for peace, social and environmental justice.

  2. Bob
    December 4, 2015 at 11:34

    The ideological descendants of the “slave-holding Democrats of the 1840s and 1850s who were prepared to destroy the Union if necessary to protect and expand the brutal system of human slavery on which their economy and way of life were built” are welcomed with open arms in today’s Republican Party, due in part to Nixon’s cynical “Southern strategy”. Nixon and others wanted to take advantage of disaffected Democrats who were unhappy with that party’s support of civil rights under President Johnson and encouraged them to switch to the Republicans. As a result, the GOP has become a refuge for those who, as this article points out, reject the notion of any sort of cooperative commonwealth in which government is supposed to promote the general welfare.

    Today’s GOP seems to have proudly taken on the job of protecting white privilege and property, and they’re only to happy to whip up the population into anti-government rants, because a weaker central government plays right into their hands.

    As Jay Gould, a robber baron of a previous Gilded Age, once said, “I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half.” Donald Trump and the Koch brothers are still using Gould’s playbook.

  3. Erik
    December 3, 2015 at 19:32

    A beautiful article, which might also note the abject corruption of judiciary.

    The corruption and debasement of society is due to the inability of the US Constitution to protect the institutions of democracy from economic concentrations that did not exist when it was written. But the necessary amendments to limit funding of mass media and elections to limited and registered individual contributions cannot even be discussed because those instruments of public debate are already controlled.

    The right wing has always invented foreign and domestic enemies to pose as protectors and accuse their opponents of disloyalty, as Aristotle warned millennia ago of the tyrants over democracy. Their abject selfishness, ignorance, hypocrisy, and malice rule the sheeple with propaganda and fear, of false accusations and economic starvation. With the rise of economic concentrations, they have hollowed out democracy to an empty suit of armor that blunders around the globe, swinging its sword madly.

    Is there a cure for Republicanism? There is no cure for selfishness, ignorance, hypocrisy, and malice but to educate the next generation, and no cure for tyranny but revolution, neither of which are feasible against our advanced totalitarianism. They have indeed reduced the United States to a third-rate, sorry excuse for a nation, which history will despise, and praise whatever slow or rapid process imprisons it economically or brings it down.

  4. Abe
    December 3, 2015 at 18:33

    The following joke circulated in Italy in the 1920s. According to Mussolini, the ideal citizen is intelligent, honest, and Fascist. Unfortunately, no one is perfect, which explains why everyone you meet is either intelligent and Fascist but not honest, honest and Fascist but not intelligent, or honest and intelligent but not Fascist.

    — Maurice Herlihy & Nir Shavit (2012), The Art of Multiprocessor Programming, p. 65.

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