With the 2022 midterms only 19 days away, the oddsmakers tell us that the GOP remains favored to retake the House, while the Senate is a razor thin contest that could go either way. This, after Democratic hopes rallied in late summer off the latest barrage of scandals battering the Republicans’ undisputed maximum leader, even though he is not on any ballot anywhere, and the manifest poor quality of GOP candidates like Herschel Walker, Blake Masters, Don Bolduc, and Mehmet Oz. (But don’t take my word for it: Mitch McConnell will tell you.)
We shall see. Previews like the August referendum in Kansas, in which voters shut down an attempt to make abortion flatout illegal in that ruby red state, suggest that the usual midterm shellacking for the sitting President’s party may be mitigated by Republican own goals like the Dobbs decision. But then again we are told that furor over Dobbs has dimmed somewhat of late as more prosaic issues have risen in the collective public mind.
I myself remain hopeful, even as I am worried that the polls that are optimistic for Democrats may be undercounting the right wing vote, as just happened in Brazil. A lot of reactionaries love to fuck with pollsters, while more shame-faced others are simply embarrassed to admit who they intend to vote for. And the polls have lately swung slightly back in Republican favor in any case.
At the risk of sounding like Pauline Kael (at least apocryphally), I cannot for the life of me understand why any thinking American would want to return the Republican Party to power. Why would anyone vote for a group of people who less than two years ago tried to seize power in a violent coup? Or who willfully—criminally—mismanaged a historic pandemic, spreading anti-scientific disinformation and outright lies that resulted in the needless deaths of hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans? Or who has openly announced that, should it regain power, intends to shitcan democracy as we know it?
Naturally, we can leave out those ten millions of American cretins who enthusiastically support that agenda, many because they believe themselves to be part of the privileged class—white Christians—whom that autocratic regime will favor. (Good luck with that.) But what of the mythical “ordinary Americans,” including independents, middle-of-the-road types, and other low information voters who don’t own red baseball hats, but are not fiercely opposed to Trumpism and the Trumpified GOP either?
The usual answer is that for many of these so-called “regular” Americans, any concern for the defense of our democracy against homegrown autocracy is outweighed by quotidian kitchen table concerns about economics, inflation, gas prices, and so forth.
I understand the blunt urgency of those financial issues—believe me, I do. Viscerally. (Unlike Trump, I will show you my tax returns.) But to sacrifice the fundamental liberty and human dignity of living in a republic of, by and for the people? Low gas prices don’t mean much if you’re driving around in a dictatorship. The idea that “democracy is a luxury” is a pretty convenient canard for people who have a vested interest in taking our democracy away from us.
(Ironically, a majority of Americans report that they are in fact deeply concerned about the state of our democracy—but for opposite reasons.)
Because make no mistake: the Republican Party has abandoned any pretense of commitment to democracy. It is instead engaged in an unprecedented assault on the fundamental principles of the American experiment, an assault aimed at establishing itself in permanent authoritarian control of these United States.
A friendly reminder: Across the country, a majority of GOP candidates are unabashed “Big Lie Republicans,” questioning the validity of the 2020 presidential election. Many of them have brazenly said that, were they in power at the time, they would have bowed to Trump’s outrageous demands and delivered the election to him in defiance of the vote. They have also promised that, if they gain power, they will do so in 2024 and beyond—actively campaigned on it, in fact. And they will be able to achieve that goal if they can win just a handful of key offices, governorships and secretary of state positions in particular.
Everybody cool with that?
So the idea that there are bigger issues that outweigh this monstrousness on the part of the Republican slate is pretty hard to swallow.
But more to the point, I’d argue that the notion that we must choose between democracy and the pocketbook is a false choice, one that those Republicans are very much invested in deceitfully foisting on us.
LOST IN SHERWOOD FOREST
Even if economics is your paramount concern, what on God’s green earth makes anyone think the GOP is better equipped to manage the US economy and give us all a better life?
Its record on that count is abysmal. The signature economic achievement of the Trump years was a Robin Hood-in-reverse tax cut that disproportionately benefited the 1% and shifted more of the tax burden onto the middle and working classes—that is to say, the rest of us— while exploding a deficit that Republicans once claimed to care about. This, of course, is in keeping with previous tax cuts for the rich under Bush 43 and Reagan before him, all part of the brazen and long-running confidence game that claims such goodies for the wealthiest Americans will “trickle down.” (From the “pro-business” party that brought you the Crash of ’08 and Great Depression before that.)
Lately Sen. Rick Scott of Florida has proposed an 11-point Republican agenda that would raise taxes on about half of all Americans, and not the rich ones either. (Among those it would hit: working families, seniors and active-duty military.) The plan also would cut or end federal support for numerous state and local programs, resulting in the defunding of jobs for public school teachers, police, and firefighters, and health programs such as CHIP and Medicaid. It also calls for Congress to re-authorize every federal law after five years, a provision that would imperil Social Security and countless other programs. (See the debt ceiling for how that re-authorization promises to play out.)
The plan was so outrageous that even McConnell angrily rejected it, not because he’s overflowing with the milk of human kindness, but because he knew it would be poison at the polls. Jesus, between that and his assessment of the GOP’s Senatorial slate, I can’t believe we have entered a world where Mitch McConnell is the voice of reason.
The GOP wants you to be hot and bothered about inflation, but they don’t want you to think about how that inflation is largely the result of price-gouging and corporate greed in the wake of a pandemic that has created massive demand and a constricted supply chain, a situation that its own policies engender. (Remember: corporations are people, and the Republican Party is all about the people.)
The GOP may be riding a wave of “populism”—a misnomer if there ever was one—but it remains the party of plutocracy, and always will be. That it has managed to hoodwink so many of our countrymen into believing otherwise is mind-boggling, the same way it managed in 2016 to convince some 70 million Americans that a lifelong grifter and serial bankruptcy filer like Donald Trump was a real billionaire and competent businessman and not just a dude who plays one on TV. I think we saw how that worked out.
The rich, of course, might have a self-aggrandizing reason to vote Republican, even though it requires a despicable degree of selfishness and lack of regard for the broader republic. For the rest of us, it’s absolutely irrational in every possible way, unless you’re a masochist, or a nihilist. Siding with the GOP as the better alternative only makes sense if you’ve swallowed whole the Fox News fairy tale about the alleged unfitness of the “Democrat” party. Which is to say, if you’re deluded and in the thrall of “alternative facts.”
It is not news that, for decades, tens of millions of Americans have consistently voted against their own economic self-interest. What is new, and deeply disturbing, is that this time it might help bring on the collapse of the republic full stop.
In March 2021, in the wake of the Insurrection, I wrote a blog called “Why Do Republicans Deserve to Heard At All?” In it I wrote:
Call me naïve, but for some reason I foolishly thought that after Trump was unceremoniously evicted from office, and competent grown-ups who had not sworn allegiance to Evil™ once again took charge of the federal government, there would be a wholesale repudiation of the Republican Party as a force that had any credible claim to national leadership. Need I count the reasons why? (I refer you to the previous two hundred and two posts on this blog.)
The GOP did so much damage to this country in so many different ways over the past four years (we can go back further if need be, but four years will suffice) that by any rational measure it ought to be disqualified from raising its voice at all for the foreseeable future. Not in the sense of any kind of formal exclusion, of course, only in the sense that no sentient American ought to give the Republican Party the time of day unless and until it undergoes a radical reformation of a kind it seems unlikely to undertake.
That remains more true than ever, now that 22 months have gone by and the GOP, far from repudiating Trump, has instead bound itself to him tighter than ever.
What is even more astonishing is that about half of Americans seem at the very least not to care, and about a third actively endorse it.
Please don’t try to tell me about any “good Republicans.” It is a precondition of membership in that party to swear allegiance to Trump and the Big Lie. The only ones who have stood up and defied the party, like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger (and to a lesser extent Mitt Romney), are pariahs and not reflective of what the GOP intends to do.
Should the Republicans win big next month, Kevin McCarthy may or may not become Speaker; it would be a delicious moment of schadenfreude if, after all his bootlicking, he did not. The downside is that his replacement is likely to be someone even more loathsome. Marjorie Taylor Greene is not out of the question. Nor is Donald Trump. (Under the US Constitution, the Speaker does not have to be an elected member of the House.) In that case—and bear with me, because in my day job as a screenwriter I get paid to imagine the most outlandish nightmare scenarios possible—he would be second in line of succession, and Joe and Kamala best sleep with one eye open.
Even if McCarthy does manage to get the job, he will be beholden to Greene and the rest of the Seditionist Caucus, who will have his balls in a vise and be able to make him cluck like a chicken for their entertainment, if they so wish. What seemed like a humiliating ejection for John Boehner in 2015, on the eve of the Age of Trump, now looks pretty good, as he kicks back from retirement in Cincinnati, sparks up a fatty, and watches the circus.
So what else can we look forward to if Republicans do in fact re-take the House, let alone the Senate? Here’s a selected preview:
- They will impeach both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, maybe more than once. (Maybe every week.) For what? Doesn’t matter. Will they be convicted? No—the Republicans can’t get 67 votes in the Senate, but it won’t matter. They will have succeeded in gumming up the works, and fulfilled the goal of Trump’s 2019 attempt to blackmail Volodymyr Zelenskyy with investigations of Joe Biden that give the illusion that he is corrupt. And that will be only the beginning….
- They will deluge us with frivolous partisan investigations of every Democrat they can, and their loved ones as well, starting with corrupt, crack-smokin’ Hunter Biden. Also: exposés of Joe Biden’s dog Major pooping on the White House lawn at taxpayer expense! Naturally, these investigations will be covered 24/7 on Fox News and its fellow travelers even lower down the journalistic food chain.
- They will strip AOC, Ilhan Omar, and the rest of the squad of their committee assignments, and maybe other prominent Democrats as well, and reward fiercely pro-Trump Big Lie Republicans like MTG, Gosar, and Gaetz with plum leadership positions. That will be fun!
- They will refuse to raise the debt ceiling and as a result cause the US to default on its global financial obligations, triggering international economic chaos. (So much for the better party to be the steward of your economic well-being.)
- They will bring the full power of the federal government to bear to shut down any criminal investigations of Donald Trump. As part of that campaign, they will likely defund the Department of Justice to starve it of its ability to carry out its duties. (Good job, party of law & order!)
- They will vote to repeal Obamacare. Again.
- They will cut off aid to Ukraine, which is effectively a death sentence for that country, allowing Putin and Russia to re-gain the initiative in a bloody, grinding, war crime-filled march toward Kyiv.
- They will pass legislation making abortion illegal nationwide. If they control the Senate, they will pass it there too, because—in a gutting irony—they will have done away with the filibuster on day one. Biden will veto it, but that will only fuel the right wing push to unemploy him in two years’ time. Which leads us to the most important point of all, which is:
- They will weaponize every available lever of governmental power to make sure that they gain control of all branches of government, permanently, and thus are able to dictate the outcome of the 2024 presidential election, and of all federal elections going forward. I don’t know that they will succeed, but I know they will absolutely try.
And I’m sure there will be a lot more, and a lot worse, that we haven’t even thought of.
The rosiest scenario is that a Republican-controlled House will behave in such monstrous fashion, and so badly screw the pooch, that a midterm win will actually backfire on the GOP and help the electoral prospects for Biden and the Democrats in ’24.
Maybe. Or, for the same reason that they put the GOP back in charge of the House in the midterms, will voters inexplicably blame Biden anyway? You can be damn sure that the right wing media machine will spin like a dervish to try to make them do so. And plenty of ‘em will.
In closing, let me quote myself again, from last March:
So let’s be clear. The Grand Old Party has no business presenting itself as any kind of reliable steward of the public trust. Their efforts to do so ought to be dismissed out of hand. So say five hundred thousand dead, children in concentration camps, and the first non-peaceful transfer of power in 240 years of American history, to name just the greatest hits.
Still, I am not astounded that Republicans are brazen enough to say and do the things they are currently saying and doing: their shamelessness is well-established. But I am astounded that we are letting them get away with it.
Why do people continue to support this openly neo-fascist, would-be theocratic party that is openly rife with corruption, eager to suppress your vote, and espouses a long-discredited snake oil brand of economics that hurts the very people it claims to champion?
I dunno. Why does Radio Shack ask for your phone number when you buy batteries?
So let us follow my advice of last spring and “refuse to let the rotting zombie corpse of the GOP act like it has anything valuable to say, or any moral credibility to say it.”
If not, if we awaken on the morning of Wednesday November 9th to find that the GOP has retaken one or both houses of Congress, we will have no one to blame but ourselves. And we will get the government we deserve.
Source for photo illustration: John Moore / Getty, in The New Yorker, March 2017
Copy editing by the great Gina Patacca