How zom­bies ate the GOP’s soul

Antelope Valley Press - - OPINION - Paul Krug­man

Is this the week Amer­i­can democ­racy dies? Quite pos­si­bly.

Af­ter all, every­one in Wash­ing­ton un­der­stands per­fectly well that Don­ald Trump abused the pow­ers of his of­fice in an at­tempt to rig this year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. But Se­nate Repub­li­cans are nonethe­less about to ac­quit him with­out even pre­tend­ing to look at the ev­i­dence, thereby en­cour­ag­ing fur­ther abuses of power.

But how did we get to this point? Part of the an­swer is ex­treme par­ti­san­ship and rightwing po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness (which is far more vir­u­lent than any­thing on the left). But I also blame the zom­bies.

A zom­bie idea is a be­lief or doc­trine that has re­peat­edly been proved false, but re­fuses to die; in­stead, it just keeps sham­bling along, eat­ing peo­ple’s brains. The ul­ti­mate zom­bie in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics is the as­ser­tion that tax cuts pay for them­selves — a claim that has been proved wrong again and again over the past 40 years. But there are other zom­bies, like cli­mate change de­nial, that play an al­most equally large role in our po­lit­i­cal dis­course.

And all of the re­ally im­por­tant zom­bies these days are on the right. In­deed, they have taken over the Repub­li­can Party.

It was not al­ways thus. Back in 1980, Ge­orge H.W. Bush called Ron­ald Rea­gan’s ex­trav­a­gant claims about the ef­fec­tive­ness of tax cuts “voodoo eco­nomic pol­icy.” Ev­ery­thing that has hap­pened since has vin­di­cated his orig­i­nal as­sess­ment. Deficits bal­looned af­ter Rea­gan cut taxes; they shrank and even­tu­ally turned into sur­pluses af­ter Bill Clin­ton raised taxes, then bal­looned again af­ter Ge­orge W. Bush’s tax cuts.

Voodoo has also crashed and burned at the state level: The Kansas ex­per­i­ment in rad­i­cal tax cuts was a dis­mal fail­ure, while Cal­i­for­nia’s tax hike un­der Jerry Brown, which con­ser­va­tives de­clared a case of “eco­nomic sui­cide,” was fol­lowed by a rev­enue and eco­nomic boom.

Yet voodoo eco­nomics has be­come un­chal­lenge­able doc­trine within the Repub­li­can Party. Even fake mod­er­ates like Su­san Collins jus­ti­fied their sup­port for the 2017 Trump tax cut by claim­ing that it would re­duce the bud­get deficit. Pre­dictably, the deficit ac­tu­ally ex­ploded, and now ex­ceeds $1 tril­lion a year.

The pol­i­tics of cli­mate change have fol­lowed a sim­i­lar tra­jec­tory. Global tem­per­a­ture keeps set­ting records, while cli­mate-re­lated catas­tro­phes like the Aus­tralian wild­fires are pro­lif­er­at­ing. Yet a ma­jor­ity of Repub­li­cans in Congress are cli­mate de­niers — many of them buy­ing into the no­tion that cli­mate change is a hoax per­pe­trated by a vast in­ter­na­tional sci­en­tific con­spir­acy — and even those, like Marco Ru­bio, who grudg­ingly ad­mit that global warm­ing is real op­pose any sig­nif­i­cant ac­tion to limit emis­sions.

It’s im­por­tant to re­al­ize that the zomb­i­fi­ca­tion of the GOP isn’t a re­cent phe­nom­e­non, some­thing that hap­pened only with Trump’s elec­tion. On the con­trary, zom­bies have been eat­ing Repub­li­can brains for decades. Voodoo eco­nomics had com­pletely taken over the party by the early 2000s, when then-House ma­jor­ity leader Tom De­Lay de­clared, “Noth­ing is more im­por­tant in the face of war than cut­ting taxes.” Cli­mate de­niers have ruled since at least 2009, when only eight House Repub­li­cans sup­ported a bill to limit green­house gas emis­sions.

What re­cent events make clear, how­ever, is that zom­bie ideas haven’t eaten just Repub­li­cans’ brains. They have also eaten the party’s soul.

Think about what is now re­quired for a Repub­li­can politi­cian to be con­sid­ered a party mem­ber in good stand­ing.

He or she must pledge al­le­giance to pol­icy doc­trines that are demon­stra­bly false; he or she must, in ef­fect, re­ject the very idea of pay­ing at­ten­tion to ev­i­dence.

It takes a cer­tain kind of per­son to play that kind of game — namely, a cyn­i­cal ca­reerist. There used to be Repub­li­can politi­cians who were more than that, but they were mainly holdovers from an ear­lier era, and at this point have all left the scene, one way or an­other. John McCain may well have been the last of his kind.

What’s left now is a party that, as far as I can tell, con­tains no politi­cians of prin­ci­ple; any­one who does have prin­ci­ples has been driven out.

Now, the news me­dia, with its con­stant urge to seem “bal­anced,” has a hard time cop­ing with this re­al­ity; it’s al­ways look­ing for ways to por­tray at least some Repub­li­cans as ad­mirable fig­ures. This has made it easy prey for char­la­tans like Paul Ryan, who pre­tended to be se­ri­ous about his fis­cal prin­ci­ples. But he was al­ways an ob­vi­ous flim­flam man.

Any­way, a re­sult of decades of zomb­i­fi­ca­tion is a Repub­li­can cau­cus that con­sists en­tirely of soul­less op­por­tunists (and no, the fact that some of them like to quote Scrip­ture doesn’t change that fact).

I guess you might have hoped that there would be some lim­its to what these ap­pa­ratchiks would ac­cept, that even they would draw the line at gross abuses of power and col­lu­sion with for­eign au­to­crats. What we’ve learned, how­ever — and per­haps more im­por­tant, what Trump has learned — is that there is no line.

If Trump wants to dis­man­tle democ­racy and rule of law (which he does), his party will stand with him all the way.

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