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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 3/12/16

Building the Republican Base: Sowing the Seeds of Fragmentation

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The Republican Party long made its potentially valuable case for small government, and some Republicans still wave that flag even as the party splinters around them. But the argument for small became an argument for parochialism, and public well-being became a diminished value. The Republicans adopted the free-market ethic of pursuing self-interest and expanded it to include all areas of public endeavor. Their rhetoric and policies increasingly made the common well-being not just subservient to but contrary to their standard of pursuing self-interest, which should be done, the argument goes, without regard to public harm or to one's level of understanding, because that is what individual freedom does. God, or an Invisible Hand, or frankly Who Cares can take care of the commonweal.

Pursuing smallness, the GOP cultivated the narrow, the short-sighted, and the selfish. Smallness--including racial, religious, economic, and political bigotry--found its fertile ground.

Racism has always been with us. The fear and abuse of "other" is not even uniquely human. It is, however, something that humane civilizations try to overcome. At our best, we know that we are about "freedom and justice for all;" that, as Lincoln put it in his day, "In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free;" or Jesus in his, "Whatsoever you do to the least of your brethren, that you do unto me." Our well-being is fundamentally mutual.

But the Republican Party, so far from Lincoln now, has not seen it that way. Beating the drums of fear, it has supported racial profiling; it calls for deportation and walls, knowing they can't work but also knowing that the appeal for them will build political support, regardless of the cost of building racism within that support. When the Party recognized the political need to cultivate Hispanic votes, they proposed trotting out some darker faces in their promotion but did not develop Hispanic-friendly policies, notably blocking immigration reform and favoring breaking up struggling families. Now the base that the GOP has cultivated is propelling the rise of a politician who, at least as a campaign tactic, is racially derogatory and demeaning, and only shruggingly disavows the KKK.

Racial bigotry so easily keeps company with religious bigotry. The lead Republican candidate calls for a religiously based ban on immigration. The rest of the Republican field vies for Christian votes not by asserting defense of religious freedom but by asserting their own Christianity. The second-place candidate particularly vows to promote Christianity, and seems unable to leave a political stage without publicly invoking his god. Beaten into the holy Republican dust is the idea of true religious freedom and government neutrality toward it. Instead, Republican leaders turn Christianity into an argument for office and a preferred government faith. They twist an inclusive religion into a tool of fragmentation.

Economic selfishness is probably the root of most areas of discrimination. It is not unique to Republicans, but most vigorously practiced by them. Aside from policies that reduce economic mobility--opposing living-wage requirements, not allowing students to refinance college loans, and favoring personal income-tax rates that keep wealth to the wealthy and poverty to the poor--the GOP is the palace of dark money in politics, replacing the value of voters with the value of dollars, and creating a government with those same priorities. They squelched a single-payer plan that could have simplified and improved health care, protecting insurance-company profits over public health. They similarly fight environmental regulations that would also offer long-term public benefit. They wave the banner of corporate deregulation that helped usher in the Great Recession and the S&L crisis before it, protecting the corporate lords no matter what harm they do to public health or prosperity. They complain politically and litigiously when the president at long last circumvents their politics of public impoverishment. As a party, they follow an ideology of unregulated capitalism that serves to concentrate wealth and extend poverty.

Politically, Republicans have worked to reduce voting and overthrow its results. They proclaimed voter fraud that didn't exist, and used the claim to pass laws that restrict voting access. Billboards in poor neighborhoods were posted with messages designed to limit voting through fear of repercussions. In 2014, Republicans claimed victory in the House of Representatives, even though most voters, by over a million, voted Democratic; Republicans had gerrymandered their votes away. More recently, efforts to minimize gerrymandering were met with a GOP lawsuit. Republicans want to keep their ability to steal elections.

But not satisfied with thwarting voters, Republicans proceed to thwart government. The Party of No successfully makes government small not by passing legislation but by refusing to--even refusing to do their part to fill a Supreme Court vacancy. Then they further promote political frustration by decrying the gridlock they create and proclaiming that people are angry. Voters, adopting the anger, are readily steered to the non-solutions of fear and bigotry.

So now Republicans see their party fracturing into its cultivated splinters of racial, religious, economic, and political smallness. That smallness hurts not just their party but the nation and the world.

But the Republicans get the "small" they want. Sort of.

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Dan Greaney is a graduate of Stanford and UC, Davis, now semi-retired from middle school teaching. He continues to work in university outreach and a variety of community, nature appreciation, and sustainability efforts. His novel The Worst (more...)

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