Polarized, us-versus-them mentality – demeaning those who do not share their beliefs, sowing fear and mistrust amongst their members about such people
This point hardly needs any demonstration. Almost everything the GOP does and says is polarizing and demeans all those who dare to disagree. What’s particularly pernicious about the polarizing tactics employed by the GOP is that it has expanded well beyond the normal political fights regarding opposing candidates and political power to impact almost every major issue of American life. How people view issues as basic as: scientific education (to teach or not teach evolution?); environmental protection (should business be required to pay for environmental damage and commensurate health consequences?); civic participation (should the government encourage voting?); unions (should workers have the right to organize and improve their working conditions?) are now driven by people’s political identification.
It wasn’t always that way, I remember when Republicans didn’t demonize teachers and public employees, I remember when Republicans supported extending the voting age to 18 year olds, I remember when Republicans like Richard Nixon supported the EPA and touted their record as protectors of land, waters and air.
How did we get to this point? The history is nicely summarized in a Time article entitled, American Discontent: The Problem with Washington Politics:
The first shirts-and-skins President was Ronald Reagan, the first truly conservative Republican elected in 50 years. But it was only after Reagan and his GOP successor, George H.W. Bush, left office that congressional Republicans realized they could use political polarization to stymie government — and use government failure to win elections. And with that realization, vicious-circle politics started to become an art form.
In the 1980s, discrediting government was not the strategy of the congressional GOP, for two reasons. First, the sorting out hadn’t fully sorted itself out yet: the Senate alone boasted moderate Republicans from blue states like Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Oregon, where activist government weren’t dirty words … Second, because Republicans occupied the White House, making government look foolish and corrupt risked making the party look foolish and corrupt too.
All that changed when Bill Clinton took office. With the GOP no longer controlling the White House, a new breed of aggressive Republicans — men like Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay and Trent Lott — hit on a strategy for discrediting Clinton: discredit government. Rhetorically, they derided Washington as ineffective and conflict-ridden, and through their actions they guaranteed it. Their greatest weapon was the filibuster, which forced Democrats to muster 60 votes to get legislation through the Senate … Merely declaring their intention to filibuster derailed any bill that lacked 60 votes.
In Clinton’s first two years in office, the Gingrich Republicans learned that the vicious circle works. While filibusters were occasionally broken, they also brought much of Clinton’s agenda to a halt, and they made Washington look pathetic….
With these acts of legislative sabotage, Republicans tapped into a deep truth about the American people: they hate political squabbling, and they take out their anger on whoever is in charge. So when the Gingrich Republicans carried out a virtual sit-down strike during Clinton’s first two years, the public mood turned nasty. By 1994, trust in government was at an all-time low, which suited the Republicans fine, since their major line of attack against Clinton’s health care plan was that it would empower government. Clintoncare collapsed, Democrats lost Congress, and Republicans learned the secrets of vicious-circle politics: When the parties are polarized, it’s easy to keep anything from getting done. When nothing gets done, people turn against government. When you’re the party out of power and the party that reviles government, you win.
What began as political tactic has become the governing (or non-governing) principle of the GOP – do not cooperate with the opposition on any issue for any reason even if it’s in the best interest of the country or what the majority of voters want. As famously declared by Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – his most important objective is to “beat Obama and make him a one-term president.”
In order to avoid accountability for adopting a strategy of deliberate sabotage and obstructionism the GOP is constantly on the offensive – demeaning their opponents as ‘unpatriotic’, ‘immoral’ charlatans who only want to waste people’s money by giving it to the ‘undeserving poor’ in a misguided attempt to impose ‘socialistic’ views on the American people. The modern GOP has been both aided and guided in this goal by the Murdoch communications conglomerate and right-wing echo chamber who spew forth a constant stream of misinformation designed to sow fear and mistrust of anyone who is not an avowed conservative or any source of non-approved information. As noted by Media Matters for America the most recent survey about FOX viewers reaffirmed the results of numerous other surveys that consumers of this steady brain pablum are mentally malnourished:
The release yesterday of yet another survey indicating the more you watch Fox News the less they know, has once again shone a spotlight on one of the unique features that defines Rupert Murdoch’s cable news outlet – it is very, very good at misinforming people. And it’s very bad at reporting the news.
The fear and mistrust generated by conservative media found its highest expression in the emergence of the Tea Party. The Tea Party has been an ideal vehicle for conservatives to promote their anti-people agenda under the guise of populism. With help from the Murdoch empire the Tea Party and its political adherents in Washington and various states have accomplished the amazing feat of cloaking themselves in the mantle of the Founding Fathers who created government while working systematically to destroy it.
Photo from Mike Licht via flickr
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