For the GOP, fear is the point, it’s all they got…
Their obsession with guns
It has always been unclear to me why Republicans support such poor and politically unpopular positions — and thrive at the polls. Most of their policy stances are actually harmful to their base, and yet their candidates for state and local elections in red states dominate. For instance, the recent rash of mass shootings only highlights the continuing problem caused by guns of all makes and caliber. Overwhelmingly, voters understand the problem and its causes. It is an issue that impacts all of us but especially hits home in the schools, churches, shopping centers, and public venues across America. This is not a red state/blue state issue. When compared to the rest of the world, the United States stands alone as the nation whose blind adherence to an amendment written by men who carried muskets has made us the poster child for gun violence. By now we all know the statistics. One of the most disheartening facts regards the number of our children who are affected by gun violence. Each day, 22 of our children are shot, and 5 die of gunshots. Every year more than 7900 children between the ages of 1–17 are shot in the U.S. According to statistics compiled by the Brady United site. among those victims:
American deaths of all ages by gun violence are even more deadly. According to Brady every day 321 Americans are shot and about one-third of them die from their wounds. Each year more than 117,000 are shot and more than 40,000 die.
What seems incomprehensible is that the Republican Party, despite the obscene numbers of wounded and dead that make the U.S. a clear outlier among the rest of the developed world, stands in opposition to solutions that would curtail the death and violence. They cannot even find a justification for curbing the sale and ownership of semi-automatic weapons that are the weapons of choice for young angry mass murderers. These are weapons that have become so commonplace in our news cycles that we expect them to show up at massacres. The recent shooting at Uvalde in which 19 children died along with 2 of their teachers as law enforcement failed to act underscores the dilemma. The nation has indicated in poll after poll that we support common-sense gun laws that would make it more difficult for murderers to target us. Mass murders this year are occurring at a rate of more than once a day, and the fear of random violence is palpable. Why do Republicans choose to support the violence that even gun owners in recent polls denounce?
The answer may seem baffling, but there is a plausible strategy that answers the question beyond the most obvious collaboration between the party and its monetary sugar-daddy, the NRA. NRA members when polled disagree with the organization’s stance on sensible gun safety laws. So, what do party leaders know that we don’t? The answer may be in the realization that violence and the fear it animates among voters is good for Republicans. The fear is the point. Just as we came to understand that the cruelty the previous administration exhibited towards immigrants, their children, and the poor among others, was not simply a consequence but the essence of their policy. George Bush recognized the principle of using fear to entice citizens to act (and vote) in opposition to their own interests:
“[He] seeks to roll back the democratic progress of the past two decades by playing to fear,pitting neighbor against neighbor and blaming others for their own failures to provide for the people.”
— George W. Bush, 2005
Fear as policy
Bush was speaking about the Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez’s despotic rule, even as his administration was being accused of using fear and distrust to further its own anti-democratic policies in its undisciplined war on terrorism after 9/11. In a treatise written about those years by Arthur Lupia and Jesse Mennng entitled “When Can Politicians Scare Citizens Into Supporting Bad Policies? “ the authors note in their conclusion,
Fear affects politics. Many political actors are strategic. Those who believe these two statements should be open to the idea that strategic decisions influence how fear affects politics and the idea that attributes of citizens’ fear can affect the practical and policy consequences of strategic calculations by politicians. Our work offers a demonstration of how to integrate these factors in a research design that corrects popular beliefs about the ease with which politicians can scare citizens, refines theoretical claims about when politicians will act in accordance with voter interests, and clarifies the conditions under which important empirical claims about fear and politics generalize across contexts.
The authors, from the University of Michigan, have given us the template used by Republicans since the post-WW II “red scares.” Be afraid. It is a plausible explanation for what we are witnessing today. In 2015 we were being groomed by Donald Trump, a master purveyor of fear. His words were frightening, but more, his policies were mean and threatening. It is the tool of a bully, his shield against his own inadequacies, his inner doubts. Trump asked us to fear immigrants-humans with little more than scraps of food in their knapsacks as they invaded our southern border. Republicans seven years later argue that we should now be afraid to hamper the rights of monsters, protecting their rights to purchase and own AR 15s and attach large-capacity ammo clips that they hide in their knapsacks as they invade our schools and randomly slaughter innocents. Armed with weapons of war and shielded by body armor, they hunt our most vulnerable, children who now must be schooled in survival skills, using desks and books as their shields.
H.L. Mencken wrote,
“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
— Mencken, In Defense of Women
Lupia and Mennng prefaced their article with this quote and it works both ways, of course. Democrats have also used fear (see LBJ’s “Daisy Girl “ TV commercial during the 1964 campaign against Goldwater), but the Republicans of late have perfected the practice. Keeping us in fear of hobgoblins and raising their concern for protection of the second amendment above their concerns for human life, distracts us from the real fear we face. The GOP has become anti-democratic and racist in support of its base of white supremacist, anti-Semitic, and otherwise bigoted core. These heretofore American misfits who were relegated to the backwoods of our political landscape have taken over the national agenda of the Republican Party. Their craven hypocrisy is laid bare as they advocate for life while defending the spurious rights of maniacs, gun manufacturers, and the NRA. But that has worked well for the party of slaughter and insurrection. They have succeeded in sowing fear among our children, whose memories of this time in their lives will be of a great pandemic and an equally profound epidemic of gun violence.
They have a point. So far, fear has worked politically for the GOP. Their policies are corrosive and yet they wield enough power in state houses and Congress to threaten the Republic. There is a hope that this, too, will pass. Perhaps. If we are so lucky the end will come with an accompanying loathing of them-and by them of themselves. Hunter Thompson in his classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vega a barely fictionalized account of friends in search of a counter-culture American Dream. At some point, the journey goes too far, the search too debilitating.
In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.
The heroes were children
The GOP has long traded in their “shining city on a hill” for a crib on the strip. Fear is, in the end, their best shot. In a world that requires courage, they promote cowardice, their leaders depend on lies to conceal the truth. May 24th, on a day that begged for heroes, armed officers, shaken with fear and attentive to orders from a small-town political hack-ignored the cries of children. Deaf and heartless, they stood on the other side of a classroom door for forty-seven minutes while victims of their cowardice cried out for help. The bravery that day was demonstrated by third and fourth graders as their elders, armed with guns but without conscience, waited for them to die.
Greek Philosopher Epicurus was said to have stated that “A man who causes fear cannot be free from fear. “ Events at Robb Elementary School last week have demonstrated his wisdom. Fear is mercurial, like quicksilver, it is hard to contain. The Republicans think they know fear — -politically, it’s all they got. Then there are days like May 24th, a day when fear and terror reigned and the men with guns simply couldn’t pull the trigger.
Originally published at https://www.dailykos.com on June 8, 2022.