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Regular readers are familiar with my use of the term “fascism,” but regular readers may not quite understand why. Fascism is all-American. It’s native-born. And it describes the politics of the Republican Party more accurately than “conservatism” does. Sure, there are conservatives in the GOP (Mitt Romney comes to mind). There are conservative think-tanks, conservative policies, conservative legal theorists. But none of that captures the character of today’s Republican Party, which combines, in its never-ending search for enemies to punish, the elements of sadism and masochism.
In particular, I’m thinking of news coming out of Texas. The state, as well as parts of Louisiana and Oklahoma, is getting hammered by subfreezing temperatures. That’s due to an arctic weather system from the North Pole that was displaced there by warmer temperatures (as a consequence of global warming). This “polar vortex” has crept down the continent and is now sitting over the southern midwest. Four million Texans are without power during a time when they really need it. At least three have died. In Houston, wholesale electricity went from $22 per-megawatt hour to $9,000! The problem is a power grid maximizing low, low prices while skimping on reliability in cold weather, which the state is seeing more of as a result of climate change. One expert told the Post that decades of “disinvestment in electricity production reminds him of the last years of the Soviet Union, or of the oil sector today in Venezuela.”
As the late Rush Limbaugh said, if conservatism animated the Republican Party, there would be no President Donald Trump.
Before I go on, let’s put the crisis in Texas in a broader historical context. We long ago decided as a country to stop investing in public works. We long ago decided as a country to stop cultivating—which is to say, paying for—commitments to the public interest and the common good by way of local, state and federal governments. Instead, we as a country retreated into our private selves, chose to acquire as much as we could for ourselves, and settled into a reactionary individualism that became allergic and uncompromising over time to the responsibilities of citizenship, community and the social contract. The very idea of mutual obligation stank of Communism, which is, I’m guessing, why the former mayor of Colorado City, Texas, decided to respond to his state’s crisis with a Facebook post distilling perfectly 40 years of Republican thinking.
No one owes you or your family anything; nor is it the local governments [sic] responsibility to support you during trying times like this! Sink or swim, it’s your choice!
The city and county, along with power providers or any other service, owes [sic] you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn hand out! If you don’t have electricity, you step up and come up with a game plan to keep your family warm and safe.
If you have no water, you deal without and think outside of the box to survive and supply water to your family. If you were sitting at home in the cold because you have no power and are sitting there waiting for someone to come rescue you because your lazy is direct result of your raising! Only the strong will survive and the week [sic] will perish.– Tim Boyd
The former mayor. After Tim Boyd voiced his contempt for democracy and for the needy, his constituents cancelled him. (He resigned the same day.) But he wasn’t alone in deflecting responsibility. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Dan Crenshaw, the United States representative from Texas, blamed rolling blackouts on wind turbines freezing over. Abbott went on Fox to say this is why the Green New Deal is bad, bad, bad (though Texans must have been surprised to hear that their state had anything to do with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal). Crenshaw took to Twitter to say the same or similar. Fact is, about 10 percent of energy in Texas comes from wind, and colder places in the world that have invested in wind energy have turbines that don’t freeze over. The problem isn’t the technology. The problem is the people in charge of it.
I said “deflecting” blame, but what Boyd and Abbott and Crenshaw did was meaner and nastier. They blamed the victims. They blamed a “boogeyman” from the Bronx. They blamed people who have no power to fix the problem, who are themselves the real problem because of who they are—the weak, the helpless, the Black, the brown. It gets worse. California has the same problem Texas has. It won’t deal with its failing power grid either. But when California has rolling summer blackouts, Crenshaw and others are habitually quick to blame its politicians. Criticism that’s good for one state isn’t good for another, but this is worse than hypocrisy. This is a political worldview that not only fails to see the value of democracy (or the legitimacy of citizen claims on government action). It seeks out, on a never-ending basis, enemies to punish. And in the process of seeking them out, it fails to deal with problems at hand, whether they are a once-in-a-century virus, climate change or a power grid failing biannually.
Abbott and Crenshaw know well that lots of their Republican voters will suffer gladly through incompetent government as long as they keep punching down on the people they don’t like, because punching down on the people they don’t like feels good. As the late Rush Limbaugh said, if conservatism really animated the Republican Party, there would be no President Donald Trump. But conservatism doesn’t. What does? “A united, virulent opposition to the left, the Democratic Party and Barack Obama.” So “conservative” doesn’t capture today’s Republican Party. It does not combine, in a never-ending search for enemies to punish, the elements of sadism and masochism.
Fascism, however, does.
John Stoehr is a visiting assistant professor of public policy and liberal studies at Wesleyan University, and editor and publisher of the Editorial Board. Click here for original print.