Why the Republicans Will Only Talk About “Big Lies” & Culture Wars

More & more Americans are figuring out their feigned-outrage 40-year scam


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Now that “conservative ideas” have been so badly discredited, Republicans are resorting back to Big Lie and faux outrage techniques to try to hold their base together.

Back in 1981, when Republican strategist Lee Atwater was advising Reagan, he pointed out that using the N-word post-1965 was counterproductive.

But, he told a group of GOP activists, “Now you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, Blacks get hurt worse than whites… ‘We want to cut this’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing and a hell of a lot more abstract than” the N-word.

At least, in their shout-outs to their white racist base, the Republican Party pretended to be advancing ideas that they said would help America.

They solemnly swore to us that cutting social safety net programs would “encourage” otherwise “lazy” (their favorite word for Black) people to find a good job and go to work every day.

They insisted that cutting taxes on rich people would raise the income of ordinary working people and cause those “job creators” to use their saved tax money to build new factories and open new stores.

It was all lies, of course, but at least they pretended to have ideas for the better part of three decades.

The façade slipped slightly when Atwater played a role in helping George HW Bush put together his infamous Willie Horton ads.

But soon Bush Sr., and later Bush Jr., would return to the GOP lie that keeping healthcare, food and decent housing away from people would “incentivize” them to work, but, paradoxically, that reducing the wealth of very rich people through raising top-bracket taxes would “de-incentivize” them from maintaining their businesses and thus cause a massive loss of jobs.

As we saw from the Republican response to the American Rescue Act, President Biden’s $1.9 trillion program to help out unemployed people and small businesses all across America, Republicans no longer even bother. Other than “it’s too big,” they offered no substantive argument against the legislation, even as they did everything they could to slow it down or kill it.

Instead, they’ve decided to fall back on the other old trope they pioneered in the 1980s: feigned outrage.

Joe Biden suggested last week that Texas governor Greg Abbott’s decision to lift that state’s mask mandate, and thus condemn thousands of Texans to die a horrible, gurgling, strangling death suffocating in their own lung fluid, was an example of “Neanderthal thinking.”

As Media Matters for America pointed out, Fox News used the word “Neanderthal” 98 times just on Thursday of last week, and 35 times on Fox Business that day. Of Fox News’s 15 daily news shows that day, 13 of them gave time to that story, along with six out of the nine Fox Business shows.

And, of course, it was all over rightwing hate radio and rightwing news sites and blogs that ranged from mainstream conservative to openly Nazi.

This sort of faux outrage has worked for Republicans for almost 40 years, from their persistent efforts to twist any little thing Democrats or progressives say or do into a scandal, to their hysterical outrage over Hillary Clinton pointing out in 2016 that Donald Trump had “lifted up” a part of the Republican base that is “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it,” and that those people represented a “basket of deplorables.”

Republicans are falling back on outrage almost exclusively because the rest of America has figured out their scam.

Forty years of massive tax cuts — equaling well over $20 trillion shifted out of government and into the pockets of the ultra-rich— have not increased the wages or wealth of the working class, but have exploded the wealth of the top 1%.

Cutting the social safety net through making it harder to get unemployment or even food stamps and housing support have not increase the ranks of working people, but have given America the developed world’s worst poverty rate and the highest levels of child malnutrition and maternal death.

Keeping the minimum wage at a level where full-time workers qualify for food stamps and housing support has not helped the economy, gotten more people into the workforce, or done anything other than keeping around 30 million full-time working people in poverty.

Many of us warned back in the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s that the policies of Reagan and both Bush’s would lead to this outcome, but the media seemed oblivious to it at the time, giving lots and lots of free airtime every week for thirty years to Republican politicians who promoted these lies.

Now, it’s pretty hard to deny the evidence. The experiment is done.

Reaganomics has gutted the American working class, given oligarchs a chance to take over much if not most of our political system from the state to the federal level, and made America a cautionary tale for the rest of the developed world.

So, Republicans and their billionaire-owned media aren’t even bothering to sell “conservative ideas” anymore. They’re just trying to crank up the outrage, appealing to people’s emotions, and hoping to get them so worked up that they’ll forget how badly Republicans and their billionaire buddies have picked their pockets.

Their back is against the wall. The old “conservative ideas” hustle to rip off the working class is no longer working with a large section their base.

They have learned, however, that the old “big lie” strategy that Hitler pioneered in the 1930s can work. Instead of promoting “ideas,” just promote something that was visibly invented out of whole cloth.

Republicans even did this back in the the day against FDR. As he pointed out in a speech on September 23, 1944:

“The opposition in this year has already imported into this campaign a very interesting thing, because it is foreign. They have imported the propaganda technique invented by the dictators abroad. Remember, a number of years ago, there was a book, Mein Kampf, written by Hitler himself. The technique was all set out in Hitler’s book — and it was copied by the aggressors of Italy and Japan. According to that technique, you should never use a small falsehood; always a big one, for its very fantastic nature would make it more credible — if only you keep repeating it over and over and over again.”

FDR went through three major examples of Republicans Big Lies, from saying that Democrats caused the Republican Great Depression to suggesting that he was going to force GIs to stay in the Army after the war was over. But, he said, Americans had figured them out.

“Well, I think we all recognize the old technique. The people of this country know the past too well to be deceived into forgetting. Too much is at stake to forget. There are tasks ahead of us which we must now complete with the same will and the same skill and intelligence and devotion that have already led us so far along the road to victory.”

But the generation that remembers that day and those speeches is largely dead or dying, so the GOP is trotting it out again.

Greg Abbott last week tried lying to Texans that their Covid problem had to do with Mexican immigrants. Donald Trump continues to lie about his 7 million vote loss to Joe Biden. Republican politicians refuse, when directly asked if Biden won the presidency fair and square, to give a straightforward answer.

Similarly, they’re trying to dress up their attacks on people who are not straight or cis with the same kind of phony science they used to sell with things like former Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann’s husband’s brutal and life-devastating “gay conversion therapy.” And attacks on Hasbro Toys for their (no longer Mister) Potato Head product.

They try to dress up their naked racism by pointing to the rare incidents of violence or looting, often provoked by white supremacist militia members or police, as the universal norm across the tens of millions of people who peacefully protested police violence and the killing of George Floyd.

While openly advocating policies that strip Americans of healthcare and cause hundreds of thousands to die from coronavirus, Republicans continue to promote misogyny with their cruel lie about being “pro life.”

While one of the primary outcomes of the widespread possession of handguns is the highest gun suicide rate in the world, and men insecure about their masculinity strut about with giant weapons across their chests, the GOP continues to promote the fantasy that the founders, having just created a government, also wrote the Second Amendment so that Americans could easily take down that very government.

Expect them to return to more of these old tropes they have used in the past, as many will still work with some elements in their base. The challenge they face is holding that base together with these fairly thin single-issues and a large dose of feigned outrage.

Democrats, with not one single Republican vote, successfully passed legislation that will save hundreds of thousands of American lives and lift millions out of poverty. Republicans desperately fought this, because they know that if Joe Biden has successes like this it will hurt their electoral chances in 2022 and 2024.

The challenge Democrats now face is to continue passing legislation that benefits America and average, working class Americans.

The challenge Republicans now face is finding new culture war themes that will animate enough people to get to the polls.

Get ready: we’re in for an interesting ride…

First published at https://thomhartmann.medium.com/why-the-republicans-will-only-talk-about-big-lies-culture-wars-6dc28b43e884