The title of this article is intended to be slightly salacious and incendiary, but it’s also an honest diagnosis. The GOP, driven by a radical fundamentalist ideology, is unrecognizable as a traditional political party. “Cult” is a frankly accurate way to describe an organization that creates an alternate reality, worships power and seems to be following a suicide pact.
All this was on display in the most recent Republican debate. It was arguably the most heated debate so far, but not because of passionate disagreements on policy. Candidates battled less like diplomats determining the fate of the free world than like a chimp tribe choosing an alpha. The Republican Party is radicalized way beyond the point of debating sensible policy positions.
Republican opposition to raising the minimum wage, for instance, is based on one of two things, neither of which can be hashed out by discussion or evidence. First is simple contempt for the poor. More importantly is the dogma that raising the minimum wage – indeed, the minimum wage itself – is anti-capitalist, and anything anti-capitalist leads to disaster. It matters little that the benefits of a wage hike far outweigh the negatives, both for the economy and for workers.
Fears that just don’t match reality abound in the GOP. In their world, President Obama is a secret Muslim, born in Kenya, who wants to destroy America. Obamacare will bring government death camps to end society as we know it. Scientists are lying about the link between fossil fuels and global warming. Planned Parenthood gets rich selling fetus parts on the black market. A military exercise is really a gun-grabbing federal takeover.
Although it prominently uses Christianity to achieve many of its ends, the GOP cult is largely secular. It caters to evangelicals by emphasizing issues like gay marriage and abortion, but this is really about increasing voter turnout. There’s actually very little about right-wing ideology that fits in with the teachings of Christ, as conservatives’ rejection of Pope Francis affirms. Its idolatry is instead centered on wealth, power and the market.
That’s why their savior is Donald Trump. Despite being a whiny, draft-dodging, privileged, Ivy League frat boy – and almost certainly not much of a Christian – Trump is a billionaire who bullies into existence the myth that he’s completely self-made. Republicans imagine the country and their livelihoods as constantly under existential threat from liberal infiltration and any number of foreign enemies, so a tough guy who will take on the world is their ideal candidate, even if he’s completely full of shit.
Between its worship of wealth and its alliance with radical Christianity, the GOP can block progress on any issue. Climate change, for instance, is written off by religious fundamentalists on the basis that scientists can’t be trusted and it’s all in God’s hands anyway. Economic fundamentalism says what’s good for the economy is good period, even if it means wrecking the planet.
We’re all hostage to this suicidal ride. Republicans have threatened government shutdown in response to the Iran deal, Obamacare and Planned Parenthood funding. Apocalyptic delusions compel them to take dramatic steps, but they’re mostly afraid the end times will come from socialism or making deals with Iran. Ironically, by threatening shutdown over any disagreement and ignoring the perils of climate change, they’re probably the most dangerous element in the world today.
It’s a political cult that attracts millions of followers by politicizing nonpolitical issues and appealing to primal bigotries. On cable TV and talk radio its representatives warn that America is in danger of being destroyed by the green agenda, the gay agenda, Black Lives Matter, and government assistance programs. It refocuses anger toward the marginalized and blinds its base to the simple reality that it’s the rich and powerful we ought to be worried about.
Wall Street, Big Oil, pharmaceutical companies and the military-industrial complex have been shifting both parties to the right for decades. But Republicans seem to have broken through a barrier that freed them to drift rightward into infinity. In fact, three of the five Democratic candidates in the first debate – Lincoln Chafee, Jim Webb and Hillary Clinton – began their political lives as Republicans. Their positions haven’t changed so dramatically; it’s the GOP that’s gone off the rails.
Bill O’Reilly likes to talk about Kool-Aid-drinking liberals. If the nation doesn’t confront the GOP’s radicalization, that metaphor will be particularly apt. In its one-track obsession with removing any and all obstacles to private material gain, the GOP threatens to turn the whole world into Jonestown. Every minute Americans are turned against one another by the powerful, we’re drinking. The longer we allow industry to ravage the planet on the cynical grounds that we somehow have no right to intervene, the more we drink.
Radical elements in the GOP have captured millions of American minds. Like any victims of a cult, they must be deprogrammed. This isn’t an easy challenge, but those who haven’t been taken in owe it to our friends, relatives and countrymen who have been. We’re in this together; we can work it out. If we don’t, it won’t be necessary to actually drink the Kool-Aid to be poisoned by it.