Republican Theocracy or the End of Neoliberalism?

“QAnon Fears That Greene’s Obsession with Jewish Space Lasers Is Distracting Her from Battling Baby-Eating Cannibals”! In an emergency meeting of QAnon elders, the conspiracy theorists issued a communiqué warning Greene to “stay on point.” (Not the News, Satirist, Andy Borowitz, The New Yorker).

The Greene referred to is Marjorie Taylor Greene the newly elected member of the US House of Representatives from Georgia and QAnon believer. As the QAnon story goes Jewish Space lasers are responsible for 2018 California Camp wildfire; Democrats are running a massive ring devoted to the abduction, trafficking, torture, sexual abuse and cannibalization of children, with the purpose of fulfilling the rituals of their Satanic faith; Tom Hanks and Bill Gates drink the blood of babies; the massacre of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School never happened; that Joe Biden is a Communist Chinese agent; and that invading the Capitol would trigger the “The Storm” where “Emperor Trump’s” enemies would be executed, Democrats and Republicans alike.

The summary above, under normal circumstances, could be confused with a psychiatrist’s charting the ravings of a patient on a psych ward diagnosed with paranoid delusional disorder.

This of course is not the first time “looney lies and conspiracy theories,” as Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell called them have leaked out into the public forum in the US, but this is of a different order. Greene represents a mass movement of tens of millions of Americans who believe in all or part of the Q narrative and other lies and delusions. She is overwhelmingly supported by Republican Senators, members of the House of Representatives with a shared faith in Trump the infallible.

A Cancer on the Republican Party?

McConnell accuses Greene of being a cancer on the Republican Party (aka ‘Grand Old Party’ – GOP) as these conspiracy theories have “nothing to do with the challenges facing American families or the robust debates on substance that can strengthen our party.” As if the Republicans have not been the enemy of American families for the past forty years.

As useful as the Republican base have been for neoliberal capitalism for the past 50 years, they appear to now be drifting away from that course useful to the business class. Old-fashioned right-wing Republicans opposed to Trump like Liz Cheney, McConnell and the Lincoln Project gang in support of privatization, cutting taxes, regulations, the welfare state and barriers to trade are losing their grip to a mass that cares more about white supremacy and strong men than any set of economic goals or useful democracy.

The gallows built during the January 6, 2021 insurrection had the always corporate reliable Vice President Mike Pence name on it as they hunted him in the halls of the Capitol building for defying Trump. This has led dozens of the largest corporate donors to withdraw their contributions from the Republicans for those opposed to certification of the presidential election after the capital riot.

Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman, an unofficial Trump adviser, called for a peaceful transfer of power to the Biden administration and amplified his disapproval after the attack on the Capitol. After the insurrection major corporations – Goldman Sachs, Google and Facebook – paused all donations to lawmakers. Other companies including AT&T said they were suspending giving money to members of Congress who voted against certifying the election results. The Charles Schwab Corporation, whose founder and namesake is a major Trump supporter, announced it would dissolve its corporate PAC (Political Action Committee) entirely and donate any existing funds in its PAC account. It seems that supporting the overthrow of US government isn’t good for business. (For now – we will have to see what happens with corporate donations if Biden keeps his progressive campaign promises?) From the perspective of the Social Structure of Accumulation School of Marxist economists, for profits to be accumulated there must be a stable set of interconnected reliable private and state institutions.

The Tea Party and Evangelicals

Who’s in charge of the Republican Party? Seventy-five per cent of Republicans still believe the election was stolen. Many of the Republicans under attack for accepting the democratic outcome of the election are much more consistent economic conservatives than Trump. It is possible to argue that this is more of a holy war than support for neoliberal capitalism. The white evangelical and ‘born again’ voters supporting Trump see fraud in all votes against Trump and all political opponents regardless of their economic deference to neoliberal economics as mortal enemies.

At present, some state legislatures controlled by Republicans (there are 30 of them), are introducing bills to restrict voting access so that the election cannot be ‘stolen’ again: in Arizona, a bill that would let the legislature override the presidential vote of the states increasingly Democratic citizenry; the chairman of Wyoming’s Republican Party said he would be open to succession. They are angry that the Republicans who stuck with their constitutional patriotic duty by counting the votes honestly even though these same bureaucrats and elected officials supported all the Republican economic and social positions from corporate tax cuts, deregulation and reductions to the welfare state, voted for Trump and other Republican candidates. The same is true for the ten Republican Senators who voted to impeach Trump. These conservative government officials have become apostates requiring unprecedented security due to death threats and the promise of electoral opposition from their right or more specifically those who promise fealty to Trump regardless of what he chooses as economic policy.

The Trump converts, the Tea Party first economic principles included cuts to government spending, deficit reduction and balanced budgets all thrown out the window by Trump who wanted, for example, to increase pandemic relief payments of $2000 to Americans (as well as leaving massive government debt in his wake) a larger sum than some so-called ‘profligate’ Democrats would support. The Tea Party’s commitment to eliminating deficit spending and the national debt and protecting free markets has given way to religious fundamentalism, having shifted their alliance to Trump independent of any discernable coherent economic policies.

Arguably Greene represents a cancer on neoliberal capitalism as well the Republicans who won’t pledge their loyalty to Trump. Trumpist worshippers represent a revolutionary reactionary movement in the US, a theocratic commitment to the savior of white supremacy. Trump’s most faithful supporters, white evangelicals, take the position that if the Bible and the will of people conflict, it’s the Bible that should have more influence on US laws. Trump now provides divine guidance and faith in the leader rather than a defined set of policies. Former Senator Rick Santorum defends the Crusades, Illinois Congressman John Shimkus former chair of House Environment and Economy Sub-Committee opines that “The Earth will end when God declares it’s time to be over.”

In her 2020 book Jesus and John Wayne, Kristin Kobes Du Mez provides an historical account of Trump’s base from John Wayne to Pat Buchanan, Newt Gingrich and Oliver North. Evangelicals idealized hyper masculinity where Christian gospel becomes “inextricably linked“ to a staunch commitment to patriarchal authority, “Christian nationalism and all of are these intertwined with white racial identity.” Looking for a protector, an aggressive heroic man, someone who wasn’t restrained by political correctness or feminine virtues, someone who will break the rules for the right cause, they found Donald Trump flaunting an aggressive militant masculinity, a ‘manly man’ to protect their wives and children and the American way of life.

Exit polls revealed that 81 per cent of white evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020. According to Pew Research, one in four American adults belong to an evangelical Christian denomination. In 2016 Trump stripped off whatever genteel veneer remained of Republican ideology, by actively cultivating the support of hyper masculinity and white supremacy. None of the other Republican candidates measured up to the Donald. (Which suggests the frequently repeated pundit argument that a smarter more disciplined and pious autocrat than Trump would be a more politically successful profoundly misunderstands his appeal as a racist, sexual predator, ‘manly-man’ who takes what he wants.)

While all Republican politicians were subject to the interests of the likes of Business Roundtable and the American Legislative Exchange Council, for some it is and was opportunism, but for the Republican majority it is a call to a different more theocratic social order, where defending capitalist needs never mind democracy, are not the first order of business. While the US capitalist class has been well served by both traditions in the Neoliberal era as I suggested in my recent article citing the evolution of the Lew Educated Whites as a political force since the 1970s, their recent attack on the US Capitol and their allegiance to Trump threatens the Republicans service to the neoliberal order. This is not about a mere schism in the Republican party but is a continued drift into theocracy. Fifty years of the Republican Southern Strategy has handed the party to the authoritarian Trump.

Neoliberal Republicans Part 1: The Koch Brothers

The diabolical Koch brothers and the McConnell’s of this great American experiment has given birth to a ‘lunatic’ cadre of theocrats like Marjorie Greene and their diehard supporters. There are now two kinds of Republicans: the traditional disciplined agents of ‘Capital’ and the undependable ‘Theocrats’.

So, who financed the scientist hating, patriarchal Tea party evangelical creationists in their war against Godless Darwinian evolutionists and immigrants? Who incidentally prefers elitist culture to the red state preference for NASCAR (the Tea Party sponsored a vehicle)?

David Koch, according to the Washington Post, the fossil fuel billionaire conservative donor and executive vice-president of Koch Industries, donated $35-million in 2012 for a new dinosaur hall at the Smithsonian’s Natural History museum. He had previously given $15-million to the museum’s hall of human origins that is named for him. In New York’s museum, he donated $20-million to the dinosaur wing that is also named after him. If you haven’t been to any of these museums I can assure you there are no T-Rex chasing homo sapiens exhibits and no evangelic biblical interpretations of world history permitted. After all the Koch brothers owe a lot to the dinosaurs. And to the science of humankind for getting their remains out of the ground for profit.

The David H. Koch Theater for ballet, modern and other forms of dance, part of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is named after their benefactor for contributing $6-million.

As widely reported in the news the Koch Brothers were major funders of the Tea Party “to educate” in order to turn their private deregulatory, tax cutting agenda into an organized political movement.

When asked about his support for the Tea Party, David Koch responded “We did not create the Tea party. We shared their concern about unsustainable government spending, and we supported some tea-party groups on that issue.” “I’m basically a libertarian. And I’m a conservative on economic matters and I’m a social liberal,” he told ABC’s Barbara Walters. Koch supports gay rights and women’s right to choose.

Koch industries, that had served as major contributors to the conservative movement’s piggy bank for decades, said that it is re-evaluating its political contributions, considering Democrats after the insurrection. Politico reports Charles Koch congratulated President-elect Joe Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris and said he’d like to collaborate with the new White House on “finding ways to work with them to break down the barriers holding people back.”

Neoliberal Republicans Part 2: Senator Mitch McConnell

When McConnell first entered politics in the 1960s, he started out as a progressive member of the moderate wing of the Republican party – pro-abortion rights, pro-union, in support of the civil rights movement. In his first election back in 1977 in Louisville, he got the endorsement of the AFL-CIO because he backed collective bargaining for public employees, which is something even a lot of Democrats don’t support till this day.

With time, McConnell shifted to the right with the Republican Party as the American capitalist class began its forty years of accelerated class warfare with McConnell as one of the most significant contributors, becoming their favorite Senator if measured by recent campaign contributions. Trump could not have done very much without McConnell’s leadership in the Senate where he was identified as Trump’s ‘enabler-in-chief’. He has subsequently denounced the unreliable Trump, and invited his prosecution. “We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former Presidents are not immune from being held accountable by either one.” If ever there was a declaration of war and a sign of a fight to the death for control of the Republican Party, this is it. And the corporate Republicans are losing.

The Theocratic Trump Loyalists

Thomas Frank in, What’s the Matter with Kansas, provides an early account of America’s changing politics: “Out here the gravity of discontent pulls in only one direction: To the right, to the right, farther to the right. Strip today’s Kansans of their job security, and they head out to become registered Republicans. Push them off their land and next thing you know they’re protesting in front of abortion clinics. Squander their life savings on manicures for the CEO and there’s a good chance they’ll join the John Birch Society. But ask them about the remedies their ancestors proposed (unions, antitrust, public ownership), and you might as well be referring to the days when knighthood was in flower.”

So, what to make of the Republican base that worships Trump at the expense of their material well-being to the point of insurrection rooted in a mass paranoid delusional world view. In my earlier article I suggested some explanations for this self-destructive behavior but didn’t speculate about the leaders they have summoned from the asylum.

For psychologist Bobby Azarian, Christian fundamentalists are taught to suppress critical thinking at a very early age when they are first taught to accept Biblical stories not as metaphors for living life practically and purposefully, but as objective truth. Mystical explanations for natural events train young minds to not demand evidence for beliefs. As a result, the neural pathways that promote healthy skepticism and rational thought are not properly developed. This inevitably leads to a greater susceptibility to lying and gaslighting by manipulative politicians, and greater suggestibility in general. The term ‘American Jihadists’ has become popular among the critics of this Christian faithful.

How then does this explain the two most prominent of the many US politicians overtly supporting the insurrectionary mobs and Donald Trump’s stolen election lie? Texas Senator Ted Cruz (once dubbed, ‘Lucifer in the flesh’), a crusading evangelical with degrees from Princeton and infamous debater at Harvard Law, along with fellow Senator Josh Hawley of Arkansas who has degrees from Stanford and Yale Law School, wouldn’t seem to fit Azarian’s model of being victims of incipient brain-damaging childhoods.

Pundits argue these Republican leaders like Cruz and Hawley “know better,” that they recognize the delusions of the mob, the character flaws of Trump (an earlier incarnation of Cruz once had called Trump “utterly amoral,” a “serial philanderer,” “pathological liar,” and “a narcissist at a level that I don’t think this country has ever seen”) suggesting they are mere opportunists fostering their own political ambitions in the wake of Trump’s populist allure. While they may well be opportunists as are the Koch brothers and McConnell but of a different order – they are spawns of the same world view as those that want to live in a patriarchal, theological promised land.

Corey Robin’s arguments in a Vox interview in 2019 suggests how it might be possible to reconcile this coalition of Ivy League graduates and those angry at liberal elites. They share a view that it is not about rich and poor but about white and black/men and women, that threats to social hierarchies and established power relations will destroy the basis of civilization because there are greater and lesser beings and they must all remain in their ordained place for society to flourish. Unequal relationships in society are essential to the preservation of human excellence and greatness and that this is not cynical manipulation but they are true believers. Social prestige is how “economic elites continually persuade lower- and working-class whites to buy into a system that so clearly disadvantages them.” Whether they know it or not.

These white supremacists’ obeisance to Trump represents their need for maintaining their balance of power at home and in their social world. Emancipation of women and blacks is a threat to that power and Trump the emperor assures them that he is between them and the liberals-socialists-feminists-black-lives-matter coalition out to emasculate them. They are enraged about this loss of hierarchy and embrace Trump and the authoritarians he respects regardless of the consequences for their material well-being and democracy. You can purchase a t-shirt “I’d rather be a Russian than a Democrat” from them to prove the point.

The Self-Appointed Ivy League Father for the Evangelical Children

In an article in The New York Times, Katherine Stewart tells us of “The Roots of Josh Hawley’s Rage” and asks why so many Republicans appear to be at war with both truth and democracy? It seems Hawley blames society’s ills on Pelagius (354 – 418), a British monk who lived 17 centuries ago because he believed human beings have the freedom to “choose how they live their lives and that grace comes to those who do good things, as opposed to those who believe the right doctrines.” For Hawley, the achievements of modern, liberal, pluralistic societies must give way to the Lordship of Jesus Christ over every sphere of life, every square inch, including the political realm to seek the obedience of nations, including our own. Stewart quotes Trump’s attorney general William Barr blaming “‘the growing ascendancy of secularism’ for amplifying ‘virtually every measure of social pathology,’ and maintained that ‘free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people’.” And so “even a corrupt sociopath was better, in their eyes, than the horrifying freedom that religious moderates and liberals, along with the many Americans who don’t happen to be religious, offer the world.” Caliphate anyone?

At the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Trump threatened the Republicans who have turned against him (Republicans in Name Only, RINOs) with election defeat and that they along with the Democrats will destroy America suggesting he will run again in 2024 to save America. (You can run for president from jail.)

Theocracy or Social Democracy?

Trump received over 74 million votes in the 2020 presidential election – an all-time record only exceeded by Biden’s 81 million plus. The Republicans picked up House seats and did well at the state level. The Democrats did manage the thinnest of Senate majorities by taking two seats in Georgia (one Jewish and one Black Senator) after a remarkable grass roots campaign. US demographics are trending against the Republicans as the more progressive young and people of color (it is predicted they will be the majority by 2044) are growing in proportion to the white population whose majority have voted for Republicans in every presidential election for the past 50 years. Biden knows that is how he won and who is pulling him to the left, especially with the recognition that the private sector has collapsed again in the new crisis requiring the state to intervene on a massive scale to save the system once again.

A Vox headline reads “Progressives don’t love Joe Biden, but they’re learning to love his agenda.” He has certainly earned their distrust as a life-long right of center Democrat. But his $1.9-trillion Covid relief package, significant commitments to low-income housing, Pell Grants to students, low-income schools, expanding Medicare, and trillions for a green economy looks more like New Deal economic policy than anything the Democrats have offered since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.

At the time of this writing, Bernie Sanders has thanked President Biden for his open support of Alabama’s Amazon workers union drive, which Paul Krugman argued was “the most pro-union speech by any modern president, maybe by any president ever. And it might, just might, represent a turning point in American economics and politics.” In 2013 Obama gave a speech identifying Amazon warehouse employment (with its wages of $11-$13 per hour) as a way to rebuild the American middle-class.

Biden offered Sanders the position of Secretary of Labor but they both agreed it was too risky to lose the Senate majority. All the while the FBI, CIA, Homeland Security and the generals identify the right-wing as the greatest danger to American society/democracy. It may not be ‘Barbarism or Socialism’ but it may be ‘Theocracy or Social Democracy’? •

Robert Chernomas teaches economics at the University of Manitoba. He is co-author of the book To Live and Die in America.