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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 10/25/21

Why the GOP Has Enthusiastically Embraced Cruelty

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In the latest example of cruelty-as-political-sport Lauren Bobert and JD Vance both tweeted genuinely deplorable things at the expense of the young woman who died on the set of Alec Baldwin's movie. Meanwhile, Marjorie Taylor Greene is shouting slurs at Liz Cheney and Congressman Eric Swalwell shares the death threats he's getting from Tucker Carlson viewers every day.

Meanwhile, the whole crew of Republicans in the House and Senate, and two Democrats in the Senate, are trying to take away dental and hearing from old people, force more young people into student debt, and prevent cleaning up the environment but keep the taxes very, very low and the subsidies flowing to the fossil fuel billionaires.

People are hungry and homeless in America, literally over a million children go to bed hungry, but all the Republicans care about is their tax cuts and deregulation.

Where, media pundits wonder out loud as they wring their hands, does this cruelty come from and why has the GOP so enthusiastically embraced it?

The necessary precondition to cruelty is dehumanization, the otherizing of people, reducing them from fellow-human status to an "other" and a "them." The ability to do this is a survival skill buried deep in our evolution: we have to set aside empathy to kill an animal for food, for example, and can't afford during war to see others as humans lest we fail to pull the trigger.

When Louise was growing up, her grandparents had a small farm in rural Michigan; the biggest sin she could commit when she visited was to name the cows. Similarly, when my dad joined the Army in 1945 to go fight "the Japs" and "the Krauts" he and his generation of young men had to view those they were trained to kill in battle as both monsters and less than human.

Otherizing is a reflex we all do in ways both big and small. When somebody cuts you off in traffic and you're laying on your horn while offering the one-finger salute, you're not thinking of that person as somebody's spouse or child, not considering the tough times they may be going through financially or emotionally, not hoping life turns out well for them.

Instead, your fight-or-flight brain has taken over in that moment of perceived danger and you're confronting a threat to your safety with anger that can even turn into deadly road rage.

On a massively larger scale, the way Hitler convinced his people to kill 6 million Jews and talk radio hosts in Rwanda convinced Hutus to slaughter 800,000 Tutsis was by characterizing the victims as less than human, an "other."

This is often the end product of otherizing, and when political leaders begin characterizing any particular group as "scum," "animals" or coming from "shithole countries" you know that politician has started down the road toward a very, very dark end.

Cruelty - deriving pleasure from causing or observing pain or fear in others - requires otherization. Strip the event of the otherization, and cruelty melts away and is replaced by compassion, the act of seeing the humanity in another person.

The Republican Party started down this otherization road in the 1950s in an effort to regain political power after being shattered by the Republican Great Depression. Republican rule during the 1920-1932 era led directly to the Great Crash, and everybody knew it; the GOP didn't regain serious control of Congress until the 1990s.

Republican Senator Joe McCarthy led the charge in the 1950s, warning America that "communists" had infiltrated the Army and the State Department and were preparing to take over our country on behalf of Khrushchev's Soviet Union.

John Stormer wrote the national bestseller None Dare Call It Treason giving depth to McCarthy's charges, and that book became the bible of the John Birch Society and the Goldwater campaign in 1964. It sure scared the hell out of me when I was 13 that year.

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Thom Hartmann is a Project Censored Award-winning New York Times best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk program on the Air America Radio Network, live noon-3 PM ET. His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights," "We The People," "What Would Jefferson Do?," "Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle (more...)

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