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Jonathan Weiler Headshot

The Republican War on Reality Reaches Its Terminal Phase

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The House majority has voted to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by $40 billion over the next decade. This cut, were it to be enacted, would imperil food support for three million Americans. It's a generally very well run program and is vitally important to millions of vulnerable Americans. It's also, as it happens, little more than a drop in the bucket relative to the federal government's overall budget. But this hasn't stopped Republicans from making SNAP the latest front in the GOP's war on common decency. They have insisted that the cuts are necessary to deal with an imaginary cheating problem in the program, much as they have passed a wave of voter suppression laws because of the imaginary problem of voter fraud. And of course, their apoplexy about Obamacare, which is increasingly being confronted by evidence that it will reduce costs and cover more people is based on an insistence that the Affordable Care Act is a trojan horse for Stalinism.

As I have written before, facts themselves represent the same impediment for conservatives today that political correctness did two decades ago -- as an appalling constraint on the right's God-given right to unabashed condemnation. The people GOP policies are intended to hurt deserve our contempt. Those who don't share that contempt are themselves, therefore, contemptible hypocrites. It's one thing to nurse grievances and to revel, at times, in a sense of righteous superiority. We humans are susceptible to such impulses. But it's another thing entirely for a major political party to have reached a point where virtually its sole purpose is to use its legislative agenda as an opportunity to express its bile and hatred (and please spare me attempts at false equivalency -- raising by four percentage points the tax rates on those earning more than $400,000 a year is not an expression of bile or hatred. It's barely an expression of anything at all). Because GOP officeholders are generally far more concerned about the extremist base in their own ranks than they are with the larger political terrain, the authoritarian takeover of that base has become a central political development. The authoritarian worldview bristles at change, diversity and complexity and needs, above all, for the world of political choices to be expressible in the most simple, black and white terms. In that worldview, facts will always play a secondary role to moral outrage. Again, folks across the political spectrum are capable of privileging their own moral predilections over evidence that contradicts their preferences. But authoritarian-minded folks are especially susceptible to such habits of mind. The result, in a party whose base they have come to dominate, is a particularly bracing fact-free zone, in which one is admired or not based almost solely on how much scorn one can heap on disfavored and marginal groups.

It's really beside the point to talk about debt ceilings, government shutdowns and efforts to defund Obamacare as if these reflect serious policy considerations, genuine concerns about the deficit, or whatever catastrophes the right insists will rain down upon us when Obamacare goes into full effect. For the GOP today, those are just the veneer covering the collective hissy fit of a party that hates the fact that not everyone shares their scorn for the less fortunate among us.