Can the GOP Survive Without an Enemy?

Senator Ted Cruz raised eyebrows earlier this year by implying that Sec. of Defense nominee and former GOP Senator Chuck Hagel might be on the North Korean payroll. Last year Congressman Allen West found 81 members on the Communist Party in Congress. In 2010, the State of Oklahoma banned Sharia Law, finally halting the effort to impose an Islamic Caliphate on a place few Muslims knew existed.

The far-right hunt for enemies is growing more desperate by the day. The End of History has been hard on the GOP. Like Norman Bates harboring his mother’s corpse, Republicans can’t face the terrifying prospect of living in a world without a nemesis. Whether it’s Agenda 21, George Soros, the Muslim Brotherhood, or something else we found on YouTube, we can’t be satisfied until we’ve filled that aching void, that craving for comic-book terror.

The fight against the Soviets was only just ramping-up as the core rationale of a new Republican governing coalition when the Russians ruined everything by packing up their barbed wire and going home. We’ve been off-kilter ever since, groping toward some new purpose, still undefined.

Sen. Cruz’s recent comments have earned comparisons to Joe McCarthy, but frankly, McCarthy deserves more credit than that. Back in the ‘50’s the Communist threat was real. Soviet spies actually existed. It is true that McCarthy destroyed good people with false allegations in order to further his own career, but he was merely dishonest, not delusional.

The Soviets were the best friend the Republican Party ever had. By the late 70’s, Reagan shaped them into the magnetic center of the party, using them to temper the contradictory and sometimes odd impulses of certain elements of the coalition. In opposition to this enemy Republicans not only unified the party, they found an avenue to expand the coalition beyond traditional barriers.

The Communists served another strategic goal for conservatives as a proxy for less popular agendas. Over the years, unpopular fringes of the conservative movement learned to subsume their more unpalatable goals under the banner of “anti-Communism.” It’s in this function that conservatives ache most sharply for the lost Communism threat.

Strom Thurmond (then a Democrat) was an early master of this technique, claiming that the push for black Civil Rights came straight from Stalin himself. Religious extremists down through the years tarred nearly all of their opponents as closet Communists. Opponents even managed to paint Martin Luther King pink.

The end of Communism as an organized force in the world was a catastrophic surprise for which Republicans were completely unprepared.We’ve tried to manufacture new enemies – Muslims, immigrants, George Soros, the French. None of them can combine rugged hateability with a real-life, plausible threat. It takes too much imagination to transform them into a credible ideological alternative to Western market democracy. Communism, how we pine for thee.

Without the focus inspired by a good enemy, the discipline that defined the Republican Party in its brief Golden Age has broken down into a confusing calico. Business interests and traditionalists still anchor the core, but as you move out from the center this crazy quilt very quickly grows tattered and ill-smelling. Plus, it only covers a small section of the farthest right-hand corner of the bed.

The reliable, pragmatic party of markets and business has devolved into a final redoubt for those terrified of the future. Without a new rationale to hold the party together it has proven impossible to keep the tinhat brigades at bay. The Republican Party is on strike against the 21st Century, preferring the enemies of the past to challenges of our time. For a lot of Americans, modern America is a place in which they have no desire to live.

The desperate campaign to manufacture a new enemy took an ominous turn this spring. Sen. Rand Paul used his filibuster of the Brennan nomination to field-test a new enemy of freedom – the United States of America. We’ve become hungry enough for a villain to start casting our own government in that vacant role. Doing so requires a level of paranoid delusion that most of the population is unable to sustain, but it’s enough to spawn some serious problems if we don’t sober up soon.

Without an enemy there is only us, left here with no one else to blame for our problems and no choice but to engage them. The Republican Party could reorganize behind a new agenda of ownership, personal liberty, and capitalism, but only if we are willing to confront some ideologically uncomfortable challenges.

There is no sign yet of the Republican Party mustering the courage to face the responsibilities of a world without enemies. So, for the time being we’ll remain stuck here, gripping our shotguns, vigilantly watching the skies.

Chris Ladd is a Texan living in the Chicago area. He has been involved in grassroots Republican politics for most of his life. He was a Republican precinct committeeman in suburban Chicago until he resigned from the party and his position after the 2016 Republican Convention. He can be reached at gopliferchicago at gmail dot com.

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Posted in Political Theory, Tea Party, Uncategorized

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