Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Why Do Republicans Hate America?

Steven Johnston
University of South Florida

The political struggle over the nation’s debt, for Republicans anyway, is a battle over government itself. At least since Reagan, Republicans have not really cared about deficits, not as a matter of fiscal principle or prudence anyway. Rather, they seek to wage internecine war against both the idea and reality of government and in this ideological battle the issue of deficits can be a useful weapon, especially if it can be linked somehow to the issue of taxes, which must always be cut. Revenues can never be understood, let alone experienced as a form of social investment. Creating and accumulating large deficits enables Republicans to call for, even demand large reductions in government spending and programs, regardless of their consequences. The strategy is referred to as starving the beast.

Republicans, of course, cloak themselves in the rhetoric of freedom and necessity and express concern about future generations. That the beast they would slay ultimately translates to the lives of American citizens, including some of the most vulnerable who depend on government social programs to which they enjoy legal, political, and moral entitlement, is irrelevant. Hatred of government is a disease with them. They loathe common purpose and project, especially when channeled through the state. Their hatred of government, it seems to me, is tantamount to hatred of country.

It’s time to rethink Republican ideology, aspirations, and rhetoric and ask: why do Republicans hate America? I would ask: why do Republicans hate their country, but I don’t think Republicans, crystallized in the so-called Tea Party, have any sense of belonging to, taking pride in, or sharing a greater common enterprise, that is, a country. Rather, they tend to worship at the altars of casino capitalism, this or that fundamentalist church and its social dogmas, and, perhaps most of all, the untrammeled self.

Consider the following. Republicans have suggested dismantling Medicare and would like to do the same to Social Security. These are two of the greatest public collective accomplishments in American history. Modest as they are when compared to many European countries, they have nonetheless provided generations of Americans with financial security and protected many of them from impoverishment. Yet it is the very success and popularity of these programs that incense Republicans such as Paul Ryan and fuel their furious determination to be rid of them. The same dynamic is at work in Republican hostility toward landmark Civil Rights legislation and protections, remarkable public achievements on behalf of racial equality, which they routinely seek to eliminate and portray as obsolete and infringements upon fundamental freedoms. Why do they hate America?

Republicans also regularly work to subvert America’s system of public education. They try to divert as many dollars as possible to charter schools and other mechanisms that privatize secondary education. Chronic under funding enables Republicans perpetually to condemn the many shortcomings in American education that fiscal starvation itself helps create. Current financial crises allow them to fire teachers and invoke poorly performing schools as evidence that public education doesn’t work in the United States. As for state university systems, Republicans seek to convert them into corporatized spaces where education is reduced to mere instrumentality. Train, don’t educate. Reduce faculty (nothing but leftists anyway), enlarge classes, accelerate graduation schedules, and raise tuition rates so students won’t be such a drag on state budgets. It is the very success of public education (training future generations of citizens and professionals) that infuriates Republicans. Why do they hate America?

Republicans detest public transportation. Governors such as New Jersey’s Chris Christie refuse federal (stimulus) money for light rail and commuter trains in metropolitan areas that desperately need it. That investment in critical infrastructure would put people to work, relieve traffic congestion, benefit the environment, stimulate the economy, and make for a better future count as strikes against it. America’s greatest cities (New York being the most famous instance) would be unthinkable without vast networks of public transportation and other services, but Republicans detest cities such as New York and resent the public collective genius they represent. Why do they hate America?

You might think that the national landscape would be of concern to everyone. The United States possesses countless distinct natural wonders and the government enjoys responsibility to preserve them for generations to come. But rather than make them accessible to Americans to enjoy in common, Republicans would prefer to sell them to the highest bidder and see them developed for crass commercial gain. A form of public or common treasure must be converted into individual assets. As for protecting gifts of nature from pollution, the country from self-poisoning, and the planet from self-destruction, Republicans tend to be aggressively hostile—just drill, baby, drill. At times, this takes tragicomic forms. The House of Representatives recently passed a bill to prohibit funding a 2007 law increasing light bulb efficiency. One indignant Republican Congressman insists: “the federal government has no right to tell me or any other citizen what type of light bulb to use at home.” As for the Republican who authored the light bulb measure and secured its passage into law, he now opposes it. Why do Republicans hate America?

The only collective public activity that Republicans endorse is war, on behalf of which they suddenly become spendthrifts (prison-building has been another growth industry). They demand the right and power to exercise violence at will across the globe on behalf of the national interest. That habitual aggression and expansion leads to catastrophe not only for others but for the United States, as in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, seems to escape their notice—or, given its contribution to deficits, maybe not. And even in this domain protecting the national interest means guaranteeing the right of individuals to live lives of consumptive ease and abundance, assuming they can “earn” it, of course. Why do they hate America?

What, then, is America to Republicans? It’s a non-place where unencumbered individual (including corporate) interest reigns supreme, which requires for them the minimization, if not elimination, of government. This is not to suggest that a country should be equated with its government. It is to suggest that when Republicans express distaste for public life and institutions (including government), for collective aspirations and achievements, for service to the common good and a sense of social and civic solidarity, especially with those less blessed than they, they evince hatred of America.