If you see a snake, don’t call committees, don’t call your buddies, don’t form a team, don’t get a meeting together, just get rid of the snake.
— Jim Barksdale‘s Three Rules of Business
The news of the day has been dispiriting. A runaway Supreme Court has decided that Justice, being blind, deserved to be gagged as well. A political party once known for standing up for conservative ideals that included smaller government and national defense has decided that those particular ideals were passe. Meanwhile, the leading candidate for the party’s 2024 nomination has been indicted by the NYC DA, accused of rape in a civil trial now underway in Manhattan, and is likely to be indicted by Atlanta’s DA and the Special Prosecutor investigating his serial crimes while president.
The focus on crimes and criminal behavior by those entrusted to serve at the highest levels of government may be unique in the annals of our history. What is more bewildering in my view is the level of tolerance among both GOP leaders and the party faithful for the lack of concern for the inappropriateness swirling about the party’s main actors on the court, on the campaign trail, and in Congress. What gives?
In times like these, the answers to questions that seem so far from the norm are best left to those with otherworldly intelligence- those with a parallax view:
“It may be possible to fight intolerance, stupidity, and fanaticism separately, but when they come together there is no hope.”
— Albert Einstein
Einstein has been credited with the above quote, but it doesn’t take a genius to see the obvious connections between the words and the current GOP hot mess. The implications are truly dire as we are witnessing Einstein’s trifecta, intolerance, stupidity, and fanaticism, play out in the dangerous and vulnerable macroscopic world.
The key to understanding the dangers inherent in the implosion within the GOP is that the current leadership embodied by the former president and his acolytes is their willingness to blow up everything to get their way. And it is their way. The egoism of their pursuit of power is bound up in the elevation of self-interest above the common good. Also evident in the indiscretions of SCOTUS and the amorality of Trump, it is what drives the naked ambition of Kevin McCarthy and the arrogance of others in the party like Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene. The GOP has spent years gnawing at convention and the popular will. Their views on important issues of the day have mainly looked backward to a time when what mattered most was what mattered to them- business, monetary policies, power, and wealth. Much of what they found endearing about the past was earned on the backs of the poor, the young, immigrants, and slaves. They have now become the party whose message to America is “our way or the highway.”
The power they wield is based upon an intolerance of virtue. They have chosen to raise the usual scheming and conniving engaged by political parties forever to a science while undermining values like honesty, family, and fairness. The “Christian values” they so loudly pretend to espouse are in practice overtly irreligious- downright ungodly.
Policies that are driven by self-interest yield intolerance, giving rise to Einstein’s trifecta of hopelessness. The GOP has created a permission structure out in the real world that imposes its intolerance on the rest of us. This, in essence, describes its positions on gun violence, civil and voting rights, abortion, and day-to-day governance. All are steeped in the self-interest of a minority of citizens. The “religious right” wants to impose its faith-based moral judgments on non-believers. The NRA local swap meets in rural parking lots have become the place where Jesus mixes with guns and where fervor enflames fanaticism. God and guns are fused transforming faith into blasphemous conviction:
Once you attempt legislation on religious grounds, you open the way for every kind of intolerance and religious persecution.
We Democrats must caution ourselves as well in the penchant of some of us on the left to tolerate nothing less than ideological purity within our own party. Self-interest is a reason to choose a party’s message because it serves to protect our interests from those who selfishly recognize only their own. The intolerance of the far right is an extremism that threatens all of us. This is not the time for purity tests among the left. There are suggestions (mostly subscribed to in the NY Times of late) that support for Biden within the black community is waning, that a major contributor to Biden’s 2020 victory may not be as energized in 2024:
“Folks are just tired of being tired,” said Travis Williams, a Democratic organizer in Dorchester County, S.C. “They’re just sick and tired of being tired and disappointed whenever our issues are never addressed.
Other Dems have shown their displeasure in supporting an octogenarian as the party’s standard bearer. Both arguments may have merit within the party deliberations on the future course of policies, but given realities on the ground, any weakening of resolve benefits a far more lethal outcome for the interests of the very groups making the complaints. To misquote Voltaire, the pursuit of perfection in general threatens the possible.
Intolerance in the form of extremism in all cases promotes the narrowest of interests of those for the only interest they acknowledge is their own:
The greatness of every mighty organization embodying an idea in this world lies in the religious fanaticism and intolerance with which, fanatically convinced of its own right, it intolerantly imposes its will against all others.
— Adolf Hitler
And so, the intolerance that has taken over a party is threatening to infect our democracy and impact the survival of the rest of Western democracies.
Donald Trump and his scandalous stain on our politics are reason enough to be concerned for the future, but he is a diversion- a shameless vessel for others whose work over time is about to bear fruit. Trump is the bright shiny object distracting us from very real perpetrators who have delivered us the current GOP and their vapid leadership. His sentiments have little conviction and few of his words have been his own- the perfect empty vessel. The forces that have invaded our politics are timeless and know no borders. They are opportunistic. Trump is a mere cog.
In stump speeches delivered during his first campaign, Trump shamelessly told audiences what they wanted to hear. He railed against intolerance while he attacked Muslims and immigrants. He promised to fight corruption and memorably pledged to build a wall. But perhaps his most telling speech was given often during his run-up to the presidency and afterward. For a president who loathes reading and researches less, his anti-immigrant screed included a reading of the Al Wilson song, “The Snake,” written by civil-rights activist Oscar Brown in 1963. The appropriation of a message meant to reveal injustice was obviously lost on Trump and also his speechwriters who either failed to see or delighted in, the irony its title and message suggest. The closing verse reminds us of the limits of tolerance:
…I saved you,” cried that woman “And you’ve bit me even, why? You know your bite is poisonous and now I’m going to die” “Oh shut up, silly woman,” said the reptile with a grin “You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in “Take me in, oh tender woman Take me in, for heaven’s sake Take me in oh tender woman,” sighed the snake
— The Snake, performed by Al Wilson (1968), written and performed by Oscar Brown (1963), spoken by Donald Trump, often
We knew damn well before we took them in that they were snakes.
And still we took them in.