For reasons hard to fathom, the Republicans seem to have made up their minds: they will divide, degrade and secede from the Union.
They will do so with bullying, lies and manipulation, a willingness to say anything, no matter how daft or wrong. They will do so by spending unheard of sums to buy elections with the happy assistance of big business and wealthy patrons for whom the joys of gross income inequality are a comfortable fact of life. By gerrymandering and denying the vote to as many of the poor, the elderly, struggling low-paid workers, and people of color as they can. And by appealing to the basest impulses of human nature: anger, fear and bigotry.
Turn on your TV or computer, pick up a paper or magazine and you can see and hear them baying at the moon. Donald Trump is just the most outrageous and bigmouthed of the frothing wolf pack of deniers and truth benders. As our friend and colleague Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch writes, "There's nothing, no matter how jingoistic or xenophobic, extreme or warlike that can't be expressed in public and with pride by a Republican presidential candidate."
Like the pronouncement of the Ministry of Truth in Orwell's 1984, ignorance is strength, whether it's casting paranoid fantasies about thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering 9/11, or warning about terrorists in refugees' ragged clothing and Mexican rapists slithering across the border.
Just four-and-a-half years ago, Washington mainstays Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein shocked the inside-the-Beltway establishment (especially the press, with its silent pact to speak no evil of wrongdoers lest they deny you an interview) when they published their book, It's Even Worse than It Looks. The two esteemed political scientists wrote, "The Republican Party has become an insurgent outlier - ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition."
In the years since, an ugly situation has only gotten increasingly dire, with right-wing radicals whipped into a frenzy by a Republican establishment that thought it could use their rage, only to find it running amok and beyond their control. In a recent interview with Francis Wilkinson of Bloomberg View, Norman Ornstein said, "The future still looks pretty grim." And Thomas Mann noted, "The burden is on the GOP because they are currently the major source of our political dysfunction. No happy talk about bipartisanship can obscure that reality. Unless other voices and movements arise within the Republican Party to changes its character and course, our dysfunctional politics will continue."
The fever is pandemic not only among the party's presidential candidates but throughout the House and Senate right down to our state governments. Witness erstwhile GOP presidential candidate and current Wisconsin governor Scott Walker cutting off food stamps for the hungry and possibly bankrupting food pantries in his state just in time for Christmas - because many of those on the lowest rung of the ladder haven't yet found a job.
And here's multimillionaire Bruce Rauner winning the governorship of Illinois after spending some $65 million - half of which came from himself and nine other individuals, families or the companies they control. Now he's calling once again on his wealthy friends and allies around the country who, The New York Times reports, "are rallying behind Mr. Rauner's agenda: to cut spending and overhaul the state's pension system, impose term limits and weaken public employee unions"- even though a majority of ordinary citizens in Illinois are opposed.
Meanwhile, with just a few weeks until they adjourn for the holidays, Republicans in the US Congress will try to cram in as much pettiness and vituperation as they can before they head back to their states and districts, no doubt to lead the home front in the fight against "the war on Christmas" launched this time every year by the Republicans' propaganda arm (Fox News) and its shock troops on talk radio.
Congressional Republicans have vowed to free Wall Street from oversight and accountability and to prevent children fleeing the Syrian inferno from coming ashore on US soil. And yes, they will once again be in full throat against gun control (despite the latest tragedy in San Bernardino, California). They're on constant attack against the science of climate change, with the latest salvo two House bills passed December 1 that undermine Environmental Protection Agency rules (the president will veto them). And believe it or not, once again they'll try to scuttle Obamacare, as in Kentucky where the self-financed, wealthy Republican governor-elect has vowed to cut loose hundreds of thousands of people from health insurance.
Take a look at some of their other plans, including the riders congressional Republicans are contemplating for inclusion in the omnibus spending bill that must be passed by December 11. The whole mess is a Bad Santa's list of loopholes benefiting High Finance, tax cuts for the rich, and budget cuts for everyone else, even as they drive the nation deeper into debt and disrepair.
All of these sad examples are but symptoms of a deeper disease - the corruption and debasement of society, government and politics. It is a disease that eats away at the root and heart of what democracy is all about. Remember the opening phrase of the Preamble to the Constitution committing "We, the People" to the most remarkable compact of self-government ever - for the good of all? The Republicans are shredding that vision as they make a bonfire of the hopes that inspired it and, in the process, reduce the United States to a third-rate, sorry excuse for a nation.
Why? For an analogy and an answer we have to go back to the slave-holding Democrats of the 1840s and 50s who were prepared to destroy the Union if necessary to protect and expand the brutal system of human slavery on which their economy and way of life were built. The extremism and polarization engendered made it impossible for politics peacefully to resolve the moral dilemma facing our country. If the Republicans - and the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln - had not championed and fought to preserve the Union and its government, the United States would have been no more.
Now it is the Republicans who are willing to wreck the country to maintain the gross inequality that divides us - inequality which rewards the party leaders and their donors, just as slavery rewarded white supremacists. They would tear the Republic apart, rip to pieces its already fragile social compact, and reap the whirlwind of a failed experiment in self-government.