Today, we offer up a guest post from Adam Wasserman a member of our Transformation Study Group. His post focuses upon the deplorable state of the GOP. We also offer a link to our interview with Dahr Jamail. Stay hopeful.
Tomorrow, we will lay out just how dire the NM state water crisis is and just how badly we have fiddled since 2006. This analysis is to prep you for our Zoominar on the water crisis with four outstanding NM state water experts. This is perhaps the most important Zoom Retake has ever moderated. Click here for more info and to register.
Sept 12 Retake Conversation with Dahr Jamail. Dahr Jamail is an award winning climate crisis author who penned The End of Ice, identified as one of the ten best science books in 2019 by the Smithsonian. We’ve had Dahr on the show before and he has been part of one of our first Zoominars. If you haven’t seen Dahr speak, you will want to watch this 40 minute discussion of how horridly NM is regulating the out- of-control gas and oil industry. We also range on to speak of still larger climate-related issues. A MUST watch video.
Bitches, Suckers & Today’s GOP
From Adam Wasserman
Sometimes small incidents lay bare the truth of things. Two recent episodes reveal how modern conservatism has gone morally awry, and the limitations of the liberal response.
Back in July, Representative Ocasio-Cortez was reportedly called a “fucking bitch” by a colleague on the steps of the Capitol. As the Washington Post explained, “In a confrontation overheard by a reporter Monday outside the Capitol, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) called Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) “disgusting” and told her “you are out of your freaking mind” for describing poverty as a root cause of crime…”.
Subsequent commentary, including Ocasio-Cortez’s speech on the House floor, focused on Yoho’s sexism and disrespect. But largely lost was any discussion of what it was that caused Mr. Yoho to come undone in the first place. Apparently it was the notion that poverty might cause crime. Not a position that most of us would think all that controversial, much less ‘disgusting.’ But this is the conservative worldview, distilled into a 10-second encounter on the Capitol steps.
Every good conservative knows that crime is caused by Bad People, who need—for their own good, of course—to be dealt with forcefully by heroic men in blue. Saying it might have something to do with poverty challenges a whole set of moral assumptions. Maybe people are not just autonomous individuals, but members of society who can be shaped by circumstance. Maybe they would respond better to assistance and support, than the threat of punishment. Maybe fellow citizens have a duty to offer help, even—gasp—through the government. Maybe arresting millions of people for petty crimes and locking them up in jail and ruining their lives isn’t “doing them a favor” by building their character.
Having this pointed out by a young, progressive woman of color was apparently too much for Mr. Yoho. No, no, my head hurts—make it stop, b**ch!
That is what spun up the good Congressman. And that is what Democrats need to point out, over and over: the narrow and flawed moral universe inhabited by today’s conservatives. A universe that sees even the suggestion of compassion as “disgusting” and worthy only of obscenities. A universe that rejects any positive role for government in addressing the underlying causes of crime. A universe divided, as Mitt Romney told us in an earlier offhand reveal, between virtuous “makers” and parasitical “takers.” A universe willing to spend unlimited amounts on policing, but eager to cut programs to help the poor.
According to reports that surfaced in August, Donald Trump reportedly called American soldiers buried at Normandy “suckers” and wondered why they would sacrifice themselves. Biden correctly and emotionally responded on behalf of his own son, who volunteered to go to Iraq. What he and Democrats more generally also need to do is show what this comment reveals about today’s conservatism.
Trump’s views ring true not only to his own character (a person who has never done anything in his life that was not self-serving) but also to the core principles of the Republican Party. The most important of those principles is selfishness. This is disguised as love of ‘freedom’ and ‘individual liberty,’ but what it comes down to is doing everything to empower individual acquisitiveness while ridiculing the slightest sacrifice for the common good, like wearing masks. It is 100% about ‘rights’ and 0% about duties.
Trump’s views on military service, or any public service, are the logical conclusion of a worldview that sees any choice that subordinates self-interest to some broader concern as stupid and incomprehensible. This encompasses not just soldiers but teachers, nurses, social workers, firefighters—these are chumps in Republican eyes. Trump without doubt privately scorns them all, in accord with the teaching of his favorite thinker, Ayn Rand, for whom altruism was the greatest of all sins (Rand is Steve Mnuchin’s favorite as well, and Mike Pompeo’s, and Clarence Thomas’s, and Alan Greenspan’s, and on and on).
Democrats must make central to their messaging the underlying selfishness and scorn for the public interest, and therefore for government that reflects that interest, of the modern Republican Party. This is a Party that for four years has neglected and undermined the Federal Government it is supposed to lead. It has not bothered to undertake any of the hard work needed to pass legislation, even on issues, like fixing America’s infrastructure, that Trump promised to prioritize during his campaign. There is no Republican healthcare plan. No Republican climate plan. No Republican plan to deal with policing and the racism that continues to plague our institutions. There have only been tax cuts, which of course have further weakened government capacity, and various grifter schemes to privatize education and other government functions. This is a kind of political nihilism.
There is a dangerous tendency with Biden to see Trump as a ‘bad apple,’ who can be defeated, after which we heave a sigh of relief and return to normal and make deals with decent Republican Senators. But President Trump is no more a bad apple with respect to the Republican Party than Officer Derek Chauvin is with respect to the Minneapolis police. He is the stripped-bare essence of a broken institution.
Continued American Decline
Trump has continued America’s decline, but he didn’t start it. When I say ‘decline’ I do not mean primarily our international standing, though that too is in free-fall. I mean the quality of life, of day to day experience, for fellow American citizens.
- In their recent book Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism, the Nobel Prize winning economist Angus Deaton and his wife, Anne Case, explain that life expectancy for working class white Americans, people with high school educations, has been dropping under the weight of “deaths of despair”: suicide, alcoholism, drug overdoses. This is unprecedented for the United States and for any modern advanced nation. It is due largely to a dysfunctional healthcare system, run for profit at the expense of actual health; and to the callous disregard shown over decades by America’s One Percent for the impact of de-industrialization on working Americans.
- The most recent iteration of the Social Progress Index, which takes into account 50 measures of well-being that go well beyond the standard metric of “GNP/capita,” shows the US in 28th place globally, down from #19 in 2011. We are #100 when it comes to discrimination and violence against minorities. We are #97 for access to quality healthcare, and #119 for environmental quality.
- According to the annual Economist Democracy Index, since 2016 the United States has been categorized as a “Flawed Democracy,” instead of a “Full Democracy.”
At the root of our decline is not simple selfishness, it is an ideology and moral framework that exalts selfishness and rejects the very possibility of collective action for the public good. This is the conservative equivalent of Orwell’s “boot stamping on a human face—forever,” the oligarchic vision that conservative strategists hope to make permanent through Constitutional amendments and control of the Supreme Court. Democrats must connect the dots to point out the underpinnings of seemingly offhand remarks about ‘bitches’ and ‘suckers.’