In the 20th Century, our American nation realized that broad and destructive calamities required federal power to manage the business of disaster relief. Beginning even before the Great Depression, this collective response to natural and economic disasters characterized our liberal American state. In the 21st Century, a major political party uses its last grip on federal power to create a new disaster, one that fulfills their base need to reject the America we have become and replace it with the unmitigated emergency of their fantasies. A tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico now churns toward America’s shores while federal weather reporting and disaster response agencies remain shut down, hostage to the disastrous politics of people who actually cheer when eight hundred thousand federal workers are sent home. Indeed, the party of the right would rather see a full million federal employees get furloughed, and a thousand storms ravage our coasts, than accept an America with a black president and cheaper health insurance.
A nation so equal, so hardened against personal and public disasters, is their hell.
Disaster is not merely a means to an end for the modern conservative project; often enough, intentional disaster is an end in itself. It was not enough that this philosophy managed to win over so many Democrats that our laws allowed the economic disasters of recent years. They needed more than two parties could give, so the reactionary elements of our society have invested entirely in just one party. With the line long since erased between the lunatic fringe and the base, a few dozen gerrymandered Republicans now hold everyone else hostage in a stubborn act of nullification. This “suicide caucus” of the House Republican Party forms an echo chamber with its members’ most reactionary town hall participants and talk radio/FOX News voices.
These are people who actually believe their own propaganda, who actually do hoard guns and gold in full expectation of the American apocalypse, and who fantasize about tearing America down to replace it with an image of America’s past as they imagine it was. Do not underestimate the sway their dreams have over their waking minds. Even if they don’t know exactly what they want, they are sure they will get it by watching the world burn — and drown, and crumble, and come to pieces — because they think they can win a monopoly of power in the resulting chaos. In their rhetoric, right wing politicians constantly replace empowerment with firepower. After all, once everything goes to hell, he who has the guns and gold gets to make the rules, right?
If anything, the great marching-backwards of Southern strategy and culture wars has accelerated with the decline of the GOP. The whole party would return to a time when it was not easy to vote, especially if you were black or brown; when people knew their place; when Americans understood who was in charge. Their speech is libertarian, but their purposes are authoritarian, particularly on hot-button issues like abortion. Their universe is a moral one, filled with simple contrasts and zero-sum propositions that leave no room for the word “American” to mean anyone unlike themselves. In the mind of someone who cheers for government to grind to a halt, “patriotism” no longer means love of country. It has become shorthand for selfish interest, and more often than not, for prurient, paranoid interest.
Michele Bachmann is a “patriot” who worries that gay soldiers are the first step to Shariah law in America. Her magical thinking has become normal in the world of modern conservatism. The dangers of this trend still escape notice by mainstream media. Instead, gutless stenography transmits this point of view with little challenge out of a misguided sense of “fairness” and the need to cover “both sides,” even when one side offers nothing but falsehoods and insane conspiracy theories. One might as well set an encyclopedia against a Harry Potter novel and call it a debate.
Republicans are always the first to see a specter of disaster looming in any policy they dislike, then create their own disaster in order to prevent the one they imagine. For instance, they declare Obamacare a disaster, so they have created their disastrous government shutdown in order to extort concessions that would stop the Affordable Care Act from taking effect. Despite endless debunking, notional “death panels” are still coming to get your grandmother and turn her into Soylent Green, so the Republican solution is to starve grandma instead by cutting federal food programs.
Republicans insist fraudulent voting must be an enormous problem, even though it isn’t, and declare that new laws designed to prevent and obstruct voters are the only acceptable solution for their imaginary problem. Republican state legislatures see Bachmann’s mirage of Sharia law coming straight for us, and pass laws against it, too. The list never ends: Republicans would prevent the disaster of abortion by forcing an ultrasound wand into every woman’s vagina not once, but twice, or even three times, whether she needs it or not. They see birth control access for workers as a disaster for the religious freedoms of their employers, a position that logically makes every worker their master’s slave, and they recommend we prevent that supposed calamity by putting hundreds of thousands of American women out of their jobs.
A work force as large as four major corporations has suddenly stopped spending money into the economy due to these furloughs. This immediate and damaging impact draws cheers from people who blame Obama for sluggish economic growth; their solution is to stop all recovery in its tracks, then force the economy to back up and start all over from the beginning. The name for this miserly form of centralized economic planning, “austerity,” fails to adequately describe a response to economic disaster that deliberately deepens the crisis. They set themselves against “Big Government,” and in fact what they mean is that they oppose federal disaster response in all its forms.
Toys that kill children make us tolerant of government bureaucrats who examine toys. Meat that makes us sick also makes us tolerate USDA inspectors. Whether it was flood, fire, storm, earthquake, recession, unemployment, pollution, plane crash, or tornado, the American project used to be about answering these challenges, and by shutting down the federal government Republicans have succeeded in halting every one of these activities. In this decade, efforts to meet the rising challenge of personal disasters created by exorbitant health care costs, or home foreclosures created by banking industry malpractice, were named “socialism” and declared to be the gateway for a left-wing disaster. All collective response is denounced as collectivist — and again, that imaginary future disaster can only be prevented by creating a new crisis here and now.
Never mind that the collected sum of these individual disasters creates enormous social and fiscal disasters for all Americans. We are an atomized society, ideologically ripped from one another and granted illusory detachment from the whole. Once we are no longer responsible to one another as Americans, we are more easily led to believe that we share no stakes with anyone else who calls themselves an American. When we are more easily distracted by the phantoms of fear, we are less capable of recognizing that our polarized politics and our rampant inequalities work together to destroy us, or that these “values” have come to be centered in the Party of the Right. Enough with “a pox on both houses;” there is but one House putting us all in danger, and its purposes serve only one party.
They are the fear they want us to feel, the criminals they constantly decry, and the disaster they say they would prevent.