Republicanism is Dead: How Today’s Global Challenges Invalidate Current Republican Politics
Elections and Politics Policy Brief # 24 | By: Adrian Cole | August 16, 2021
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Many people on the Left have for decades considered Republican politics anathema. But as the twenty-first century advances into ever-more perilous territory, Republicans are clinging to political and ideological stances which simply defy common sense, logic, reality and efficacy. Bearing in mind the existential nature of the problems facing the country and the world, it is clear that the foundational pillars of today’s Republican party are all premised on untenable positions, false assumptions, bad science and ill-faith, and will, if pursued, lead us all into further crisis.
They are already largely responsible for wasting several decades in the struggle to control our climate; climate obfuscation is almost a religion among today’s Republicans, such has been their determination to deny reality and obstruct positive change in terms of fossil fuel emissions.
Recently, probably in response to a summer unlike any other in human history, a few Republican lawmakers have begun to deviate from the party line on climate change. The penny, as my mother would have put it, referring to my teenage brain, is beginning to drop. As ten-thousand-year floods inundated subways in Henan Province, rivers in Germany washed away villages, and a heat dome hovered over the perennially temperate Pacific Northwest, a few lawmakers who had hitherto insisted that any discernable change in weather was attributable to natural cycles, began to sing a different song.
Senator Rick Scott, former governor of Florida, known for his inaction on climate change in a state which has spent more than 100 billion dollars on climate-related disasters (according to the federal government) now appears to recognize the reality of climate change, but—because of his tenacious adherence to Republican positions—is unable to propose any solutions. Said solutions, according to the global scientific community, begin with de-cabonization. But to Scott, de-carbonization rhymes with economic instability (even if it doesn’t). As the recent IPCC report makes crystal clear, the planet needs to effect radical change, now. But for Scott: “I’m not doing anything to raise the cost of living for American families.”
Several assumptions—and deeply held Republican positions—are at play here. The first assumption is that Republicans like Scott care about American families (and not the large corporations that extract fossil fuels). That’s a low blow, I know, but one strongly suspects that any reluctance to impinge on the dominance of the fossil fuel industry is about just that, not American families. Another assumption is that American families won’t be affected by climate change. Strangely enough though, they already are being affected by climate change, and disproportionately amongst the poor. Talk to survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
Another assumption—and this is perhaps the big one—is that investing in our planet’s future will actually hurt American families, presumably by taxing them more to pay for a “Green Revolution,” or whatever solutions are proposed by the “socialist” democrats. The notion of rising taxes—and by extension expanding government—is a key Republican hot-button, which, as Scott demonstrates, is responded to by knee-jerk, flat-out rejection.
Republicans are more afraid of tax increases than they are of the prospect of an uninhabitable earth. The Republican religion of business uber alles is what has gotten us into this pretty pass. Adherence to neoliberal, laissez faire economics has, and will continue to, present obstacles to the business of slowing the warming of the climate.
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Laissez faire economics and the cult of business are cozy bedmates with Republicans’ other obsession: small government. Seeing government, as Reagan put it, as “the problem” is very unhelpful these days; the problems we face as a global community cannot be resolved with an anti-government ideology.
The two recent Republican administrations, that of King Donald, and his vastly preferable predecessor, G.W., both worked assiduously to reduce the size of government based, not on a scientific approach to government and economics, but a slavish adherence to an ideology originating in a quasi-scientific dogma birthed by Milton Friedman, and harking back to his predecessor Friedrich Hayek. G.W. only failed to reduce government to a skeleton crew because he chose to go to war, twice, and needed all the resources available to humanity to do so. To riff on Reagan’s epithet, however, one could say that Laissez faire economics is not the solution to our problems, it is the cause of our problems. We have, for decades now, let be, to revert to English for a second. And, as they say in Spain, aqui estamos.
Laissez faire economics and small government are hand-in-glove conspirators in the ending of the world as we know it. The more you let go, the less government you need. Justice is then meted out by militias. Or vigilantes. Corporations regulate themselves, financially, environmentally, which is great, because for business and industry to rule, in a free market, nothing must get in their way, not even clean air, water and soil. In the real world, however, Government, with all its bureaucratic meddlesomeness and inefficiency, is necessary in order to guarantee a semblance of equality and to protect the vast majority of the population from the acquisitive, rapacious minority. To paraphrase Winston Churchill on Democracy, government is the worst system of social organization that we have. Except for all the other systems of social organization.
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The Other way in which Rick Scott’s rhetoric about “American families,” represents key, unhelpful, Republican pillars is the “American” bit. As we found with Trump and his America First priorities, modern Republicanism like other nationalisms around the world these days, cannot get to grips with global problems because they don’t really recognize the global community and cannot see past their own borders. Such borders are of course largely invented, because nations are fictions. “Nationalism,” said the preeminent historian of nationalism, Ernest Gellner, “is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness: it invents nations where they do not exist.”
Having said that, there is nothing per-se wrong with nationalism. Nations developed for a reason. Historian Yuval Hariri writes about how ancient tribes along the Nile Valley could not cope, individually, with the river’s annual flooding. But together as a much larger entity—a nation—they could effect change for everyone. But the problem starts, says Hariri, “when benign patriotism morphs into chauvinistic ultranationalism. Instead of believing that my nation is unique…I might begin feeling that my nation is supreme…” Hariri is referring to the difference between patriotism and nationalism, the former often defined as love of country, the latter as hate of other people’s.
But in terms of effective governance, nationalism might have been just that in the pre-war period. After 1945, in the new era of nuclear weapons, there were reasons to look for a more overarching authority to control the world’s propensity for self-destruction. For the first time in history there were global problems which required global solutions. Now, with ecological collapse and climate change, that is more true than ever. There are notable differences, however, between the nuclear crisis and the environmental crisis, as far as nationalist politics are concerned. Nuclear weapons are an immediate and imminent threat that cannot be ignored. Climate (perhaps until very recently) has been more abstract, allowing some politicians to ignore the threat, or even deny the existence of it.
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“It isn’t a coincidence,” writes Hariri, “that skepticism about climate change tends to be the preserve of the nationalist right…Since there is no national answer to global warming, some nationalist politicians prefer to believe that the problem does not exist.”
The recent softening of some Republican positions on climate tend to recognize climate change, and even humanity’s role, but fall short of doing anything meaningful about it. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, for example, (“We cannot live without fossil fuels or chemicals. Period. End of Story,”) helped craft the recent 1 trillion-dollar infrastructure bill which included billions to protect coastal states from sea level rise.
He will not, however, support policies to curb the amount of oil drilled off the Louisiana coast, the burning of which contributes to ice caps melting and rising sea levels. Other Republican senators, like Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, promote mitigation policies, such as cleaning up the gases produced by burning fossil fuels, instead of limiting the burning of such fuels themselves. All of this is to protect the fossil fuel industry, which pushes the same line: we’ve got this; we’re going to use science to mitigate the problem.
In summation, then, this little handful of core beliefs, to which Republicans cling like a group of seals on a rapidly-melting chunk of ice, laissez faire economics, small government and nationalism, have been extraordinarily destructive. Such ideologies cannot provide a way out of humanity’s current predicament.
If we are to limit warming to well below 2 degrees, and still have a habitable planet, there will have to be governmental action and public spending on a huge scale and it will have to be carried out by a community of nations who act cooperatively for the same goal, all the while listening to scientists. Republicans, however, if they cannot think themselves out of the box of their own narrow economic status quo, will take us all down with them.