Commentators have had some harsh things to say about the Republican Party of late, what it has become, and the direction in which it is heading. One observer, a clinical psychologist, characterized the GOP as the mainstreaming of political paranoia, with politicians who invent their own reality. The New York Times’ resident conservative said “the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.” And a Washington Post columnist called the party a cult, a “virtual political Jonestown” of intellectual stringency on issues such as taxes and abortion.
Now, these three writers said nothing within the realm of the unreasonable. Their indictment is warranted. There is no question, based on the evidence, that the GOP is that peculiar institution in which people thrive, based on an alternate set of facts, divorced from reality. To say, for example, that climate change does not exist, or that the New Deal did not end the Great Depression, is to operate under one’s own set of facts. Further, believing it is a good thing, even desirable, to allow the U.S. to default on its debt obligations – and that all tax cuts are and no revenue increases are good – is not the mark of an organization that should be anywhere near the reins of power. And there can be no denying that twisted ideas such as criminalizing miscarriage and forcing rape and incest victims to give birth are the stuff of Kool-aid drinkers.
But can we take this a step further and ask whether the Republican Party is a hate group? If not, does it run the risk of becoming one? First, we need a working definition.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics… Hate group activities can include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing… [but] does not imply a group advocates or engages in violence or other criminal activity.”
And the FBI says that a hate group is “an organization whose primary purpose is to promote animosity, hostility, and malice against persons belonging to a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin which differs from that of the members of the organization.”
Based on either definition, there is an argument to be made that the Republican Party – formerly known as the party of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, the Radical Republicans, and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments – has lost its way and is engaged in poisonous activity that is harmful to the social and political discourse.
As for the first definition, the GOP does attack and malign groups based on immutable characteristics. The efforts in Missouri, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Texas to ban Sharia law, and hearings on radical Islam in the halls of Congress amount to raw attacks on Muslim Americans. Arizona-style anti-immigrant bills are designed to foment white hostility towards Latinos, America’s largest and fastest growing minority group. Further, let us not forget the assault on the reproductive rights of women and control over their own bodies, with virtual Republican nullification of Roe v. Wade in states such as Kansas, Indiana and Ohio. Meanwhile, Texas and Arizona openly display their contempt for people of color by whitewashing the textbooks, banning ethnic studies, and removing the civil rights movement from school curricula.
These regressive laws remind me of what Martin Luther King said in Letter from Birmingham Jail: “An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself.” In 2011, the “minority” King referenced has been expanded to poor and working people of all backgrounds, as punitive policies and coldhearted austerity measures assault broader segments of the population.
As for the second definition, it is debatable whether the Republican Party’s primary purpose is to promote animosity, hostility, and malice towards certain groups that differ from their members. However, it is also arguable that the GOP’s primary purpose is to win elections – and advance a plutocratic agenda of upward wealth redistribution in the process – by promoting ill will toward Muslims, Latinos, African-Americans, the LGBT community and others.
Even if one refuses to accept that the GOP is a hate group, or well on its way to becoming one, at what point can we entertain the possibility? It is rather curious that members of that organization have no qualms about associating with known hate groups, yet manage to escape that designation. For example, the state legislators that sponsored Arizona’s infamous SB1070 immigration law, and Pennsylvania’s voter ID and anti-immigrant legislation, are affiliated with the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a white nationalist group. Texas Governor Rick Perry teamed up with the American Family Association, a homophobic hate group, for a so-called “prayer meeting.” And Newt Gingrich funneled $125,000 to the political wing of that group, which compared blacks to rabbits and called Native Americans savages, claimed Europe is “infested” with Muslims, and compared homosexuality to murder, adultery and theft.
How is it that a party which once boasted 1,500 black elected officials in the Reconstruction-era South has now become a de facto party of white nationalism in the twenty-first century? How is it that the party that enacted the Fourteenth Amendment now seeks to repeal it? Well, it took a lot of hard work.
Once a truly “big tent” party with liberals, moderates and conservatives, the GOP decided to hitch its wagon to Lee Atwater’s Southern Strategy. The Southern segregationists migrated from the Democrats to the Republicans after Lyndon Johnson enacted his civil rights legislation, and the Republicans enticed them with a warmed-over Jim Crow message of racial resentment towards black people. This race card strategy proved highly successful in winning elections, and extremely addictive. Then, the means became an end in itself.
Suddenly, the highly racialized Birthers and radical teabaggers came on the scene – armed with their hatred of facts, science, racial minorities and the nation’s first black-Muslim-Kenyan-fascist-socialist president. Lacking in empathy, these bullies have finished off any vestiges of moderation in the once Grand Old Party. They killed whatever common sense and sanity remained. Today, Reagan would be a bleeding heart liberal compared with this crowd.
So, the question remains, are the Republicans a hate group? I don’t know, I only ask the questions.