The Dark Underbelly of the Republican Party
The racist thugs who stormed the US Capitol on January 6th are sadly not fringe elements but fairly representative of Trump’s base in the Republican Party. The white supremacist and right wing evangelical strain in the party has been in the ascendancy throughout Trump’s term in office. The fact that over 74 million Americans voted for Trump, understanding full well what he represents, is a grave threat to US pluralism and society itself.
Well-educated middle and upper class Americans still continue to tout Trump as the best thing that has happened to America, and claim that the election was stolen. The Republican party filed dozens of legal claims challenging the results of the vote, but nearly all have been rejected by the courts. About 90 judges, including Trump appointees, ruled against Trump according to a Washington Post review. Thirty-eight of those judges were appointed by Republicans.
But Trump continues to propagate the lies of voter fraud and a miscarriage of justice. Former US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Chris Krebs was fired by Trump for calling the election “the most secure in American history.” Even Trump’s loyalist former attorney general William Barr said “he had not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election.” Even after the intense pressure Trump put on Georgia’s secretary of state Republican Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn Trump’s defeat, Raffensperger recently wrote in an oped for USA Today that “those who had so long been beneficiaries of the electoral process sought to tear it apart at its very foundations.”
The only way that one can explain this trend of Americans continuing to believe Trump’s grand lies is to point to the propaganda effect of Fox News and other right wing news outlets which have propagated Trump’s lies for years. While on the campaign trail Joe Biden had likened Trump to the Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, saying “You say the lie long enough, keep repeating it, repeating it, it becomes common knowledge.” Trump repeatedly tried to paint Biden as a socialist which is so far from reality it is laughable, but mainstream educated Republicans have nevertheless swallowed the lie, and lament that somehow Biden is going to usher in socialism. This shows the immense power of the right wing media to make fake news believable on a grand scale.
If one looks at the array of Trump supporters that stormed that Capitol, they are a sampling of those who have attended his mass rallies and who comprise the core of his base - white supremacists, many carrying the Confederate flag, some whom on January 6th erected wooden gallows at the Capitol with an orange noose hanging from them. Then there were the anti-semites, one of whom wore a hoodie with “Camp Auschwitz” emblazoned on it. Then there were the right wing evangelicals who bore crosses and talked of Trump doing God’s work in America.
Rioters were seen beating a police officer with a flagpole and another officer was repeatedly crushed into a door. It was a shocking reality check of the extremist tendencies that have taken over the Republican party. But what is most alarming is the failure of Republican leaders to repudiate them.
Only a handful of Republican Senators and some governors explicitly called for Trump’s removal. Only ten Republicans voted on Wednesday for impeachment. Most Republicans have been silent on the mayhem and sedition that their foot soldiers carried out in their name. An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll has consistently found that more Republicans identify as supporters of Trump than of the party itself, and an overwhelming majority say he is not responsible for the riots. Several Republican state officials participated in the riots themselves.
Perhaps what is most disconcerting is that despite everything Trump has done over the past four years he actually increased his vote share among Republicans in this election. Today’s Republicans have not disavowed Trump’s racist and sexist comments, his racist immigration policies, his inhumane separation of migrant children from their parents, his illegal withholding of Ukrainian aid for his own political agenda, his incompetent pandemic response, in addition to a long list of other misdemeanors. The fact that 147 Republican members of Congress voted to overturn the democratic election results is a disgrace.
This makes the elected officials of the Republican party complicit in Trump’s long list of scandals and disasters. The incredible polarisation of US politics is a great danger to the body politic, just as George Washington had warned it would be. In his farewell address, Washington had warned of the danger of hyper partisanship and a spirit of revenge turning into “frightful despotism.”
Today’s hyper partisanship has doomed American democracy, and fundamentally weakened the US on the world stage. No one will listen when American politicians try to preach their version of democracy or the superiority of their democratic system. The dark underbelly of US conservatism - its ugly racism and intolerance - is on full display.