Before Arizona Republican senator John McCain passed away from brain cancer in August 2018, he said one of his biggest political regrets was selecting Sarah Palin as his running-mate in the 2008 U.S. presidential election against Democratic nominee Barack Obama and running-mate Joe Biden.
What that effectively did was legitimize an emerging strain of virulent populism that was formally codified with the founding of the Tea Party in 2009. Backed by the conservative advocacy group Americans For Prosperity bankrolled by Texas oil barons David and Charles Koch, the Tea Party quickly infiltrated the Republican party at the state and federal level.
The supposed focus of the Tea Party was to shrink the role of government in American life. That’s in line with traditional Republican ideology. But the actual movement championed a renegade mix of policy positions that can be summed up in six words: God, guns, gays, abortion and fossil fuels. Gays and abortion, it presumably goes without saying, were verbotten, while the other three were regarded as indispensable to American society.
Funded by wealthy conservative backers through Super-PACS, with an assist from conservative/libertarian think tanks such as the Heartland Institute, American Enterprise Institute and Cato Institute, and fuelled by a motley group of right-wing media enablers from Fox News and Breitbart News to InfoWars and The Gateway Pundit, the movement has effectively hi-jacked the Republican party.
From the outset, the movement has employed a shady mix of strategies to promote their message and demean and dismiss those who disagree with them. Buzz words include fake news, alternative facts, hoax, conspiracy and deep state.
The “Birther” conspiracy tied to Obama’s election win over McCain, and the “death panel” conspiracy Republicans touted in opposition to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare), are two early examples. While it’s not unexpected that people from different political camps will hold conflicting views on the state of their society and the potential benefit/harm of different policies, the rabbit hole that the far right has gone down in recent years is truly remarkable.
From claims that the Sandy Hook massacre of 20 elementary school students and six teachers in Connecticut in 2012 was a false flag attack by the Obama administration to drum up support for gun control to denial of 60 years of research by respected scientific organizations around the world validating the reality of climate change, it’s as if the radical right lives in an alternate world now.
During the early days of the pandemic, the Trump administration tried to employ the same playbook. Unfortunately for the American people, the virus has proven to be immune to the type of political spin and outright misinformation that Trump and his Republican cronies have become dependent on.
To put it bluntly, nature is delivering a bitch-slap to that charade. And as I noted in an earlier post on magical thinking, the pandemic is just a small taste of what we will be facing in years to come. So the question is, where do we go from here?