Over on Tumblr, I was asked, in response to an offhand comment:
Hey, do you want to talk about your GOP theory? I grew up worshipping at the altar of Reagan.
Hoooooooo boy here we go.
Okay, so it’s really not that complicated, but we do need to lay a bunch of groundwork, which is the part that makes it look complicated, so bear with me.
First, you have to remember that there was once a GOP that wasn’t batshit insane. Yes, it’s always had batshit insane hangers-on, but that’s pretty much true for every party. (And in some parties, that’s all there is, Wildrose Party of Alberta, I am looking very pointedly in your direction.)
This was back when one of the big things that defined “Republican party” as separate to the “Democratic party” in the 20th century - back when the GOP was the anti-racist party, before Nixon and the Southern Strategy - was that a democratic government - small “d” - could not legitimately exercise unlimited power. It must be contained, and the best way to do that is through representation, not direct democracy, and by strict observation of constitutional law.
This comes from a variety of sources, and goes back to the American revolution, and was then hammered home by watching the French revolution which followed.
In practical terms, one can obviously talk about this being more seen in the breach than the observation. But it was still more than lip service; it was a legitimate philosophical tenant. The Democrats had thrown much of this idea overboard during the Great Depression, but the GOP held on to it.
Obviously, that shit is over. You see, after Richard M. Nixon lost the 1960 election, he decided that the New Deal alliance that built the mid-century Democratic Party couldn’t be broken unless the Confederacy stopped being a single-party all-Democrat bastion. So he, along with his cohorts, started steering the GOP away from anti-racism and towards coded pro-racism - the Southern Strategy - just as the Democratic Party was being lead in the opposite direction by its northern wing. And it got him elected in 1968.
Now, I realise all that’s all very well known, but I wanted it out there, because this set the groundwork for what happened later.
And that foundation having been laid, let’s skip ahead to the late 1970s and early 1980s - Reagan’s epoch and later.
The Southern Strategy has paid off, Reagan has broken the Democratic stronghold. LBJ’s prediction upon signing the Civil Rights Act - that the Democrats would lose the South for three generations - has effectively come true.
With that has come the beginnings of a cultural shift. Parties are, after all, made up of their constituents, and that culture shapes party culture.
The Democrats had a big enough alliance that Dixie culture was one part of many. You had the socially-very-liberal New Englanders, you had the quasi-Nordic social-democratic and socially-liberal northwest (small but material), you had the unions of the midwest, and so on. The fundamentalist Baptists of the South (and their expatriots in California) were equals amongst peers
That was not so much the case with the GOP. They’d attracted a lot of religious voters, and had done so quite intentionally, in taking on the South; that included a lot of fundamentalists - the size of the party grew substantially.
But those fundamentalists were new to the party, and in the early 1980s, even after working for Reagan, they found themselves not getting what they wanted, and not getting what they felt they’d been promised.
So in response to internal protest, what they were told, and what they believed and acted upon, was that they may have supported the party, but they weren’t of the party. The old GOP was very much turn-based and seniority-based; they needed to get involved in the rank-and-file and work their way up. Not just turn out and vote; start working for the party. They had to join the club, as it were.
So they did. And as the fundamentalist revival took over more and more of the Southern Baptist (and similarly-oriented) denominations, that interlink became more and more toxic.
That’s because - and this is probably the critical factor - not only is one of the key tenants of modern American fundamentalism that there is there no legitimate opposition (because the religious is the personal is the cultural, and the religious opposition is, literally, Satan), but that there is no legitimate middle ground. Compromise is criminal; excessiveness is a requirement.
Dig down a bit, and this comes out of Revelations, 3:15-16, and let’s go with King James because they love it so: “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”
Cold or hot; there can be no “lukewarm” middle ground; the middle ground is actually worse than Satan.
They’d harp on this constantly. You cannot findJesus except through ever-increasing fervour. And by the early 1990s, this had become a general cultural value - one spoken about openly. I didn’t have to dig for this; they were saying it outright. And then, as is inevitable, the cultural value became a political value, and the last remnants of the old GOP were swept away.
I monitored a lot of fundamentalist radio at the time, listening to the things they said to each other, things not intended for greater-public consumption, transcribing and emailing it around so people would know what the political fundamentalists were saying when they thought it was just amongst themselves. By then, they’d hammer on this explicitly as a political value - a political necessity.
Then, just a few years after that, they added “spiritual warfare,” which was spiritual “armour” you’d don in your mind to be impervious to the temptations of the enemy - the words of the enemy, the thoughts of the enemy, the discussions of the enemy.
That’s when I started sending up warnings to anyone who would listen, because I know how this goes. That didn’t go over any better than my warnings about that little experiment the Pakistani government was running in Afghanistan - but I digress.
And as the fundamentalist population took over the organisational structure, the day-to-day working of the party, this attitude became contagious - first common, then pervasive, taking over the secular members of the party as well. That’s just because humans are social animals - they go along with their friends, on most things. It’s what they do. And that’s the culture which spread.
And now, well, we’re here. You have a Democratic party which only now is beginning to understand the chasm and cultural issues; you have a Republican party which is functionally a fundamentalist movement on whatever axis it chooses to follow, whether that axis is actually “religious” or not, as that has become its cultural core.
Even if the religion part itself went away - if it vanished overnight - the cultural value of unipolar validity, of the intrinsic invalidity of middle ground or compromise and the illegitimacy of any opposition wouldn’t vanish. That isn’t going anywhere peacefully, except through long-term failure, followed by ageing out of the primary population - something that’ll take another decade or three. That doesn’t mean they’ll hold power that whole time; I mean it’ll take at least that long for this cultural phase to fade away to irrelevance.
So, there you go. If you made it all the way through this, congratulations! It’s a lot.