Behold Your Roosting Chickens

[Content Note: Bigotry; wedge politics; scapegoating.]

Once upon a time, the Republican Party hid its despicable platform of bigotry and social Darwinism behind a thin veil of claimed decency. They were the "Party of Moral Values," the "Moral Majority," the "Compassionate Conservatives."

It was Orwellian hogwash, but it was, if literally nothing else, a nod to the expectation that politicians not behave like unleashed monsters; that they were elected to serve some ostensible greater good.

That time has passed.

Now, the Republican primary has yielded two frontrunners whose unfettered avarice, nationalistic militarism, and seething hatred of marginalized people is fully on display, without even a perfunctory euphemism of moral superiority slapped on for appearances.

To the contrary, such adherence to quaint pretensions of decency are regarded as a sickening weakness. Genuflections to political correctness.

Gone are the dogwhistles, replaced by bullhorns.

But this is not, as many "moderate" Republicans suggest, a Republican Party that has become unrecognizable. It is, instead, a party whose leading contenders for the presidency have taken off the mask, allowing the party to be seen at long last as its actual self.

Today, Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns for the New York Times report: "As Donald Trump and Ted Cruz Soar, G.O.P. Leaders' Exasperation Grows."

image of a fainting couch
Another day, another story about GOP elites taking to fainting couches over their gross candidates.

"The members of the party establishment," they write, "are growing impatient as they watch Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz dominate the field heading into the Iowa caucuses next Monday and the New Hampshire primary about a week later."

They don't want Trump or Cruz, because either one of them "could utterly destroy the Republican bench for a generation if they became the nominee."

Nothing is more dangerous to the GOP brand than a nominee who flatly refuses to pretend that their policies are anything but what they actually are. This is not about morality or compassion. This is about winning.

Winning by military might. Winning by hoarding resources. Winning by upholding unfair advantages conferred by privilege.

The Republican platform has always been about winning. Winning elections, yes. But more importantly the sort of personal triumph defined by treating life as a zero-sum game, at which there are winners and losers. Makers and takers. Haves and have-nots.

Survival of the richest.

The challenge for Republican elites has always been how you convince people who aren't obscenely wealthy to vote for a platform designed to exploit them.

So they developed a strategy based on appealing to bigotry, to othering and scapegoating and victim-blaming. And then they dressed it up in cynical language about morality.

Donald Trump in particular has no use for this masquerade.

He's quite content, proud even, thankyouverymuch, to blaze through the campaign trail without any of the requisite delicacy. Because he knows that decades of building a base by fomenting hatred doesn't require it anymore.

The Republican Party has traded again and again on the conjured idea of an American golden era, circa 1945 to 1960, after boys who were ripped from the arms of their virginal sweethearts and sent to another continent to fight a great war against tyranny and despair, had returned home as men, as heroes, and set to work, every last one of them, making babies with doting wives and grabbing the American Dream with both hands in the dawn of suburbia. Scientists in white lab coats and square, black-framed glasses toiled away to make American astronauts the first on the moon, and to fill all the pretty new homes behind perfect white picket fences with fancy, new-fangled household gadgets to make life easier and more fun. Teenagers hung out at sock hops and neon-lit diners, girls longing for lavaliers and boys wondering how to get laid. Elvis' pelvis was considered a scandal, and Marilyn Monroe a bombshell. Dad had a pension and the promise of a gold watch at the end of a long career with a single firm, and Mom had a Frigidaire. And everyone was happy.

Vote for us—and we'll give you that.

Long before Donald Trump had the chutzpah to make it his actual campaign slogan, the Republican Party was promising to Make America Great Again.

But the Republican promise has always had the very same flaw as their policies: It is contingent on pretending that the complexity and complications of human existence, and the flaws of humankind, don't exist.

It's an empty promise built on an illusion, carefully constructed to conceal that America's so-called golden age was imperfect like any other, and perhaps even more so than most. Half a million of those boys who went off to war never came home—and some of them weren't boys at all, but men, who left wives and children with desperate struggles in the place where their husbands and fathers had been. Some who had come home were never the same, their bodies or minds damaged beyond real repair. Women who had been called to duty in factories or faraway lands were forcibly driven back into domesticity, segregation was a legal fact, every gay or bi woman and man had a closet of hir very own, mental illness was treated with lobotomies, McCarthy was on his Communist witch hunt, and we fought an all-but-forgotten war in Korea for three years and lost over 35,000 soldiers. There were back-alley abortions, and the KKK, and Elvis and Marilyn both died of drug overdoses.

Vote for us—and we'll restore your waning privilege, so you'll maintain the luxury of never having to care about that shit. So you won't have to think about people who don't matter to winners.

The Republicans have held out this chimera to their base—this Leave It to Beaver bullshit—as if the typical family once was, and should be again, a model of white Christian perfection that never fought, never struggled, never suffered. And never had to be subjected to interactions with people of color, or LGBT folks, or any women besides Mom and maybe a nice lady to help sons take out books on the Boy Scouts from the local library. They have held it out as if it has actually been, and as if it could be again.

And they did so even knowing that the fantasy of this nonexistent perfect America is the very thing that created the beloved "traditions" of racism, sexism, and homophobia in the first place. It has been the dangling enticement of a happy family, supported by a single secure and well-paid job, in which no one is wracked with disillusionment, dispossession, or a lack of opportunity—an invitation to join for which most Americans are never given the chance to RSVP—which created the resentment and scapegoating that are the foundations of social conservatism.

"BOOTSTRAPS!" shouted the Republican Leadership, as they deregulated consumer protections and dismantled workers' rights. "BOOTSTRAPS!" shouted the GOP's Corporate Masters, as they relocated the bootstrap factory to China. The barrel-chested barons of a new Gilded Age stood astride the bodies of those who had been condemned to less fortunate fates, singing the praises of Social Darwinism and bellowing about the superfluity of a social safety net, declaring without a trace of irony, "The government never gave me anything!" as they deposited their million-dollar checks from their latest no-bid Defense Department contract then headed off to Tiffany's to get The Little Woman a bauble with their fat tax returns. "BOOTSTRAPS!"

And when working hard failed to deliver on its enticing promises, and the only thing the Invisible Hand gave its working class believers was the finger, the promise-makers deflected accountability to the targets of that attentively nurtured hate.

If it weren't for progressives... If it weren't for feminists and gays and undocumented immigrants... If it weren't for that dark-skinned president...

People who bought into the narratives of self-determination, of rugged individualism, of bootstraps, the uniquely American myths of achievement and goodness in Manifest Destiny and Social Darwinist and Prosperity Gospel morality tales, who believed that shit, have been left with nothing but impotent anger—and, having been encouraged to make no social contract, to depend on no one but oneself, to hoard all the rewards of the success that bootstrapping was supposed to yield and share naught, they were then left with no one to blame but themselves when it all went wrong.

Which, obviously, wasn't going to do.

Fortunately, even though wealth and opportunity and security failed to trickle down, blame did not. And the promise-makers who quickly said, "Don't look at us!" were happy to provide to their disaffected base a road map to where their ire should be directed.

Now the Republican establishment is stuck with the result—their revolting (in every sense of the word) base, who still believe, and must, lest they face their complicity in having been left with naught but their biases, that the responsible party for their struggles, their disaffection, their undefined but keenly-felt fury, is those people, not the Grand Old Party who promised them something better in exchange for their votes.

The political leadership taught their base too well whom to blame for what ails them, and thus cannot now move them from their fixed gaze and finger-pointing, even as it isn't helping the party anymore—and stands likely to hurt the party for the foreseeable future. They sowed the seeds of prejudice for decades, and now they reap nothing but the only crop such seeds can yield.

So here we are.

And now the party elites have the temerity to publicly lament that the genie won't go back in the bottle.

"What happened to my party?" wonder the vanishing moderates of the Republican Party, shaking their heads gravely and publicly wringing their hands, before shuffling off to wash them of any responsibility.

You happened to your party. You and your exploitation of the darkest prejudices, the worst of human nature. You and your greed. Your careless fearmongering. Your cynical scapegoating. Your endless denials of injustice.

You happened, with your insatiable appetites for more wealth, more power, more influence, more control. You and your voracious need to win.

You happened. You and your bumper sticker sloganeering in a complicated world.

And now you shamelessly deflect blame by pretending to by mystified by why your base is rallying around a billionaire with a bumper sticker slogan stitched in gold thread on tacky hats.

Have all the fucking seats on that fainting couch. And behold your contemptible chickens as they come home to roost.

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