Full Populism

The day finally came. The Washington Post tells the tale. The Republicans have gone full populist. Now they hate big business. Now they hate corporations:

Republicans are attacking corporations over their decision to condemn the controversial Georgia voting law, part of the party’s embrace of the populism espoused by President Donald Trump even as it creates tensions with traditional allies in the business community.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday accused corporations of siding with Democrats’ portrayal of the law as the new Jim Crow, which he called an attempt to “mislead and bully the American people.” He argued that it would expand, not restrict, voter access to the polls, and his statement included a threat of unspecified “serious consequences” if companies continued to stand opposite Republicans on a variety of issues.

No one is being misled. The Georgia law simply makes it even harder for the wrong sort of people – those who aren’t white – to vote. And it does much more – but no big corporation should have said so. No big corporation should say much of anything:

“From election law to environmentalism to radical social agendas to the Second Amendment, parts of the private sector keep dabbling in behaving like a woke parallel government,” McConnell said in his statement. “Corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order.”

No one quite knew what he meant by that, but it sounded impressive, and there was this:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) made similar remarks in questioning why Republicans should pay attention to companies on policy issues after they embrace positions at odds with the party.

“Why are we still listening to these woke corporate hypocrites on taxes, regulations & antitrust?” he tweeted Friday.

Who needs them? Well, there are the massive corporate donations that finance the party. But who needs them? That’s the new message:

Beyond policy, the attacks on corporate America could prove useful to Republicans looking to energize the party’s base of supporters who embraced Trump’s anti-establishment rhetoric and focus on grievances over how the country is changing culturally and demographically.

Republicans “are signaling to their base that this is a cultural war, and that they are martyrs in the culture war,” said Andra Gillespie, associate professor of political science at Emory University in Atlanta.

So that’s the new rallying cry! We’re all martyrs now! That’s the general idea:

Trump jumped on the issue over the weekend, urging Republicans to take a stand against the companies. He released a statement calling on “Republicans and Conservatives to fight back” against nine firms that have said the Georgia law undermines election integrity, which Democrats accused him of doing after he refused to concede the presidential election while falsely claiming widespread voter fraud.

And now it’s war:

Companies based in Georgia have been buffeted by attacks concerning the law, first from the left and now from the right. Atlanta-based Coca-Cola went from facing the threat of boycotts from liberal activists last month for not speaking out before the bill was passed to facing a new set of problems when CEO James Quincey last week said the law was “wrong” and “a step backward.” Republican politicians and right-wing commentators took criticized the company and issued calls to boycott its products.

Delta Air Lines faced a similar reaction after CEO Ed Bastian called the legislation “unacceptable” and contrary to the company’s values.

But the outcry grew significantly after Major League Baseball on Friday announced that it is relocating the annual All-Star Game from the home of the Atlanta Braves because of the Georgia law.

“Guess what I am doing today? Not watching baseball!!!!” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tweeted Friday.

Go ahead. Hate baseball – and Coca-Cola – and apple pie and motherhood too. Knock yourself out, Enjoy your other world. That’s what this is. James Oliphant and Chris Kahn at Reuters have the data:

Since the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, former President Donald Trump and his Republican allies have pushed false and misleading accounts to downplay the event that left five dead and scores of others wounded. His supporters appear to have listened.

Three months after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol to try to overturn his November election loss, about half of Republicans believe the siege was largely a non-violent protest or was the handiwork of left-wing activists “trying to make Trump look bad,” a new Reuters/Ipsos poll has found.

Six in 10 Republicans also believe the false claim put out by Trump that November’s presidential election “was stolen” from him due to widespread voter fraud, and the same proportion of Republicans think he should run again in 2024, the March 30-31 poll showed.

So nothing much happened on that odd day in January and Biden isn’t really the president, Trump is. That’s their story now:

Hundreds of Trump’s supporters, mobilized by the former president’s false claims of a stolen election, climbed walls of the Capitol building and smashed windows to gain entry while lawmakers were inside voting to certify President Joe Biden’s election victory. The rioters – many of them sporting Trump campaign gear and waving flags – also included known white supremacist groups such as the Proud Boys.

In a recent interview with Fox News, Trump said the rioters posed “zero threat.” Other prominent Republicans, such as Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, have publicly doubted whether Trump supporters were behind the riot.

Last month, 12 Republicans in the House of Representatives voted against a resolution honoring Capitol Police officers who defended the grounds during the rampage, with one lawmaker saying that he objected using the word “insurrection” to describe the incident.

That was just some good folks dropping by the Capitol. That’s all that was. And that splits the country in two:

While 59% of all Americans say Trump bears some responsibility for the attack, only three in 10 Republicans agree. Eight in 10 Democrats and six in 10 independents reject the false claims that the Capitol siege was “mostly peaceful” or it was staged by left-wing protestors.

“Republicans have their own version of reality,” said John Geer, an expert on public opinion at Vanderbilt University. “It is a huge problem. Democracy requires accountability and accountability requires evidence.”

The refusal of Trump and prominent Republicans to repudiate the events of Jan. 6 increases the likelihood of a similar incident happening again, said Susan Corke, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.

“That is the biggest danger, normalizing this behavior,” Corke said. “I do think we are going to see more violence.”

Well, maybe not:

Allie Carroll, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said its members condemned the Capitol attack and referred to a Jan. 13 statement from Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. “Violence has no place in our politics… Those who partook in the assault on our nation’s Capitol and those who continue to threaten violence should be found, held accountable, and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” McDaniel said.

Her president said none of that happened. More than half of her party agrees with him. She’ll be gone soon. Or her party will be gone soon:

Some mainstream Republicans contend that after Republicans lost both the White House and control of both chambers of Congress on Trump’s watch, the party must move on from the former president in order to attract suburban, moderate and independent voters.

In the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, only about three in 10 independents said they have a favorable view of Trump, among the lowest level recorded since his presidency. Most Americans – about 60% – also believe Biden won the November election fair and square, and said Trump should not run again.

It seems that sticking with Trump is a losing proposition, but they’ve now run out of options:

“Congressional Republicans have assessed they need to max out the Trump vote to win,” said Tim Miller, a former spokesman for Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush. “That that is the path back to the majority.”

The window for the Republican Party to distance itself from Trump seems to have passed, Miller said.

“There was a chance after January 6 for Republican leaders to really put their foot down and say, ‘We can’t be the insurrectionist party,’” he said. “Now that opportunity is totally gone.”

So embrace the crazy. Maybe you’ll keep your seat. But to what end? Paul Waldman sees this:

Throughout the 2020 campaign, Joe Biden characterized congressional Republicans as suffering from a kind of delusion brought on by the illness of Donald Trump; once the president departed, they’d come back to their senses and find ways to work with Biden.

While many people derided this idea as naive, Biden stuck with it. Once Trump is defeated, Biden said in May 2019, “you will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends.” The next month, he said: “With Trump gone, you’re going to begin to see things change.”

Even with the election behind him and Republicans supporting Trump’s lie that the election was stolen, Biden kept it up, predicting in December 2020 that “I may have to eat these words,” but once “Trump’s shadow fades away, you’re going to see an awful lot change.”

How do those words taste now?

That Reuters poll says it all:

What we see now is that this “fever” was only partly about Trump or those Republican officeholders. Instead, the politicians and their voters are trapped in a seemingly unbreakable, mutually reinforcing cycle of not just partisanship but outright delusion, one that makes cooperation with Democrats all but impossible.

But that’s where they are:

If you were an average Republican and you wanted to believe the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, it wouldn’t be all that hard to convince yourself. You’d have lots of conservative media stars telling you it’s what happened, while lots of your party’s politicians alleged widespread fraud.

The very complexity of the American election system would help, too. An election involves so many agencies and people in so many places that you could imagine nefarious goings-on happening somewhere.

But now imagine you wanted to believe something else: That the Capitol was not attacked on Jan. 6 by violent Trump supporters, but instead it was actually a “false flag” operation organized by leftists. That would be harder, since it was a specific incident, we’ve seen all the video and the arrests of people deep inside far-right movements, and there is not a single iota of evidence that it was actually antifa or the Symbionese Liberation Army or anyone other than the obvious culprits.

And yet that’s what so many Republicans believe.

They believe this even though only a few Republican officeholders have gone so far as to claim that’s what happened. Unlike with the election lie, you don’t have dozens upon dozens of prominent Republicans claiming it was a false flag operation.

But that day will come:

Every Republican understands the radical delusions of their constituents. And even in cases where they know perfectly well that a good portion of their supporters have pretty much lost their minds, the numbers of those supporters are too big to ignore. So they indulge them or change the subject – while filing those opinions away for future reference.

Then when it comes time to consider other issues, it becomes part of the calculation. If you’re a Republican officeholder, you know that your supporters are deep into this kind of conspiratorial thinking, and you’ve probably responded to your base’s radicalization by feeding them a diet of culture-war nonsense, from Mr. Potato Head to Dr. Seuss, to show them that you despise the libs as much as they do.

Which, of course, has made them hate the idea of you working with Democrats even more – they want their representatives to fight! So you keep looking for ways to show them that’s just what you’ll do, which conditions them to keep wanting it.

This cycle no longer needs Trump himself to keep it turning.

And means nothing much gets done:

When some legislation is in the offing that in theory could be bipartisan – a COVID-19 relief bill or an infrastructure bill – whatever the Republican politician’s substantive beliefs about it, they know they won’t be rewarded for voting with members of the other party. Everyone may claim bipartisanship is worthwhile, but when they actually have a chance to engage in it, the risks look too great.

What else can they do? Daniel Drezner, that professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution sees this:

By conventional metrics, conservatives are down but not out in American politics. After a 2020 election that many predicted would be a Democratic blowout, Republicans still control a majority of governorships and actually increased their control of state legislatures. Things look worse for the GOP at the national level, but far from hopeless. Democrats hold bare majorities in both the House and Senate. If the midterms follow past patterns, it would not be surprising if the GOP controls at least one chamber come 2023.

But they don’t see it that way:

Jesse Kelly and Tucker Carlson agree that the right will soon embrace fascism because they have no other choice. Rachel Campos-Duffy argues that Michelle Obama was the secret agent of woke culture to take over the U.S. military.

And then there are Claremont conservatives like Glenn Ellmers, who wrote this super-chill essay about the state of America, which opens as follows:

Let’s be blunt. The United States has become two nations occupying the same country. When pressed, or in private, many would now agree. Fewer are willing to take the next step and accept that most people living in the United States today – certainly more than half – are not Americans in any meaningful sense of the term.

 I don’t just mean the millions of illegal immigrants. Obviously, those foreigners who have bypassed the regular process for entering our country, and probably will never assimilate to our language and culture, are – politically as well as legally – aliens. I’m really referring to the many native-born people – some of whose families have been here since the Mayflower – who may technically be citizens of the United States but are no longer (if they ever were) Americans. They do not believe in, live by, or even like the principles, traditions, and ideals that until recently defined America as a nation and as a people. It is not obvious what we should call these citizen-aliens, these non-American Americans; but they are something else.

That is an odd passage, but there is context. Hop on I-10 and head east back toward the rest of America and Claremont is the last small town in Los Angeles County, a green and pleasant college town with big white clapboard houses and deep shady streets – very New England and just about perfect – just before Upland and then dust and desert from Rancho Cucamonga on out to Palm Springs, and beyond that the world is existentially empty. Claremont is the last good thing before the wasteland, and the Claremont Colleges are superb, and as conservative as can be, at the edge of nothingness.

Glenn Ellmers belongs there, and Drezner adds this:

Have conservatives lost their grip on reality? Actually, no. Well, maybe a little bit. Okay, yes. But it takes a journey to get there.

During the Trump era, the standard lament was that liberals cared about power in the political realm but did not have it, whereas conservatives cared about power in the cultural realm but did not have it. And let’s be clear, conservatives have lost influence in the cultural realm. Academia has moved to the left. So has the mainstream media.

And now things are even worse:

The trouble for conservatives is that reliably conservative institutions have begun acting in a less conservative manner. Polling during the Trump years suggested that the military was moving away from the GOP. Since President Biden was inaugurated, conservatives have been banging on about the “woke military” because the defense secretary is committed to combating political extremism and general officers are pushing back on Tucker Carlson’s harangues about women in the military.

Meanwhile, conservatives now feel besieged by big business, too. They did not take kindly to Big Tech fact-checking and then deplatforming former president Donald Trump over the past six months. The negative reactions from corporate entities such as Delta, Coca-Cola and Major League Baseball to the new Georgia voting law have also prompted conservatives to criticize “woke capital” and cry foul.

This is not good:

Put yourself in the position of a Claremont conservative. Right-wingers have lost influence over liberal, elite institutions. Heretofore, conservative institutions are becoming more hostile as well. The last remaining holdout might be religion, but that trendline is also discouraging for faith-based conservatives. Democrats will retain control of the House, Senate and executive branch until 2023 at the earliest. Compared with four years ago, populist conservatives exercise much less power and influence. The country seems to be turning against them. When Trump was inaugurated, liberals were able to get record numbers of Americans to peacefully protest. The right-wing effort to replicate this led to… the events of Jan. 6. Suddenly the idea of an extinction-level event begins to come into focus.

Conservatives are not crazy to feel like they are facing some existential threats. They start to sound crazy in failing to recognize their own culpability in the situation they find themselves in.

Yes, they did this to themselves:

In recent years conservatism has not been putting forward its best. Instead, it has been putting forward the likes of Ellmers. His essay is worth reading in full to truly absorb how abysmal the state of argumentation is on the Trumpist right. On the one hand, he says that “authentic Americans want to work, worship, raise a family, and participate in public affairs without being treated as insolent upstarts in their own country. Therefore, we need a conception of a stable political regime that allows for the good life.” Which makes it even odder that earlier he says: “Practically speaking, there is almost nothing left to conserve. What is actually required now is a recovery, or even a refounding, of America as it was long and originally understood but which now exists only in the hearts and minds of a minority of citizens.”

In my experience, living the good life is difficult when trying to foment a revolution.

Mostly, what Ellmers does is categorically reject any effort to attract or persuade anyone outside the purest of MAGA souls into his movement. In his essay, he rubbishes Biden voters, centrists and conservative elites. That is his prerogative, but as a political scientist, I am pretty sure that alienating all but the purest of ideological heart is a surefire way to lose elections.

But that’s what runaway populism can do:

Maybe these identity wars will be better politics than Biden’s bread-and-butter policies. I honestly do not know. If, however, Republicans underperform in the next few cycles, then maybe someone still in the party faithful can point out the costs of declaring everyone who disagrees with you to be the enemy.

And they really should not have declared corporate America their enemy too. Yes, they’re strict populists now. But who are their friends?

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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