Some progressives and liberals may cheer at a rudderless and shrinking GOP but as a nation we should be concerned. Recent events illustrate why: The killing of Dr. George Tiller by an anti-abortion extremist. The recent shooting of the Holocaust Museum by a white supremacist. President Obama receiving more death threats than any US president in history. Even some newscasters from the conservative media network Fox News have begun to backpeddle on their critiques of the Department of Homeland Security report on right-wing extremism (Fox News’ Shepard Smith recently admitted that the emails he has been receiving in the last few months have been getting “more and more frightening”). Are the Morlocks on the march?
In HG Well’s “The Time Machine,” a time traveler goes to the future to find that the wealthy elite have evolved into the carefree, childlike and ineffectual “Eloise” and the working class has become monstrous angry beasts called “Morlocks” who live below in dark caverns and feed on their above-ground neighbors. HG Wells intended to warn of the dangers of turn of the century industrialization but it may as well be a cautionary tale of a leaderless Republican Party with moderates being cannibalized or jumping ship.
Today, as many have observed, the GOP has become the Party of Rush Limbaugh. Former Secretary of State and Republican Colin Powell asked, “Can we continue to listen to Rush Limbaugh? Is this really the kind of party that we want to be when these kind of spokespersons seem to appeal to our lesser instincts rather than our better instincts?” The very essence of political conservatism is a yearning for a more idyllic past. The likes of Sarah Palin and the chorus of shock radio talk show hosts hark back to a “Leave it to Beaver” 1950s small town but people of color and immigrants weren’t welcome in those places at that time. The problem for the GOP is that yesteryear offers little for a country in which people of color will outnumber whites nationally in the future. Consequently, the Republican Party can only pull out and dust off their arsenal held in a Cold War-era vault and take aim with their warnings of “socialism” or reach into the 1980s and 1990s and play their “reverse racism” card.
However, if you turn the dial to any right-wing radio talk show host and listen carefully, a much older and apocalyptic narrative emerges that marries economic populism and social conservatism into a single coherent world view. They describe an America weakened by political corruption, moral decay, corporate greed, and mass immigration—“This is not the America we grew up in.” They equally deride overly-compensated CEOs, “latte-drinking” effeminate electeds and impoverished “illegal aliens” alike. At closer inspection, we are transported further back in time and find white working people of the 1800s, displaced or dehumanized by the factory, persecuting Chinese immigrants and fighting the corporate elite. They associated Chinese immigrants, who were recruited by the employer as a cheap unskilled workforce, with “unfree labor” that threatened the “American dream” of pulling yourselves up by your own bootstraps.
Eventually, it led to the first laws restricting people entering the US based on race (e.g. 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, 1917 “Asiatic Barred Zone,” etc) and subsequent outbreaks of local violence towards Asian immigrants. When you establish Judeo-Christian European-influenced cultural practices as the superior standard for a civil society and then conflate it with the “American Dream,” the further any group stood from the “Eurocentric” standard, the more they would be seen as a threat to posterity.
A simple internet search through the most highly visited conservative blogs uncovers racism at the core of the most violent rhetoric (I don’t mean “prejudice” which is a specific individual’s subjective feelings. I’m talking about structural inequalities based in history). Senior analyst Chip Berlet concluded, “How the Republicans reconstitute themselves will affect how racism plays out. A core group of Southern white Christian voters could emerge in control, and then struggle over race as an issue. Also, when Democrats are in power, and Republicans seem weak, it may kindle acts of terrorism and assault by the most zealous racists who want to mobilize potential recruits to step outside the electoral process.”
Ironically, a more progressive future may depend on the type of leadership that emerges on the right.
Originally published by the Asian American Action Fund.