OK, imagine you’re a Democratic legislator, and you’re rushing to the chamber to cast your vote on a crucial bill. An old lady collapses in front of you, clutching her chest. If you stop to help her, you will likely cost your party a vote and send the bill to defeat. Do you stop?
Now imagine that you are a Republican legislator in the exact same situation. Do you stop?
This scenario comes courtesy of Rick Perlstein, a historian who theorizes that most Democrats would help the old lady, while most Republicans would step over her writhing body.
Perlstein argues that this is not because Republicans are indifferent to human suffering. It is because they are focused on winning and advancing their agenda at all costs. Democrats, in contrast, are focused on fairness and bleeding-heart concepts such as, for example, helping out old women who have heart attacks.
Now, I disagree with this assessment in just one respect: Many Republicans are indeed indifferent to human suffering, with a fair amount of them actively gleeful about it.
But Perlstein’s thesis appears to be otherwise sound. Republicans tell blatant lies, insult their opponents, disregard political norms, and dance with hypocrisy on a level that defies belief. Yet one can argue that all of this is consistent with their principles. Because those principles consist of power for its own sake, owning the libs, and creating a plutocracy and/or theocracy.
So the Democratic rep who stops to assist the old lady is living up to his standards of helping the downtrodden. But the Republican rep who ignores a person’s cardiac arrest is also true to his or her own ethics, because nothing is more important to right-wingers than solidifying the right-wing agenda.
You say that you don’t believe this theory? Well, let me ask you this: Which political party insisted that senior citizens should be happy to die to keep the economy running?
It’s suddenly not so hypothetical.
And in case you think this is a recent phenomenon, keep in mind that a decade ago, researchers sounded the alarm that Republicans were morphing into authoritarians or “an apocalyptic cult” that was “ideologically extreme, scornful of compromise, unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science, [and] dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”
This puts the whole filibuster kerfuffle into perspective. Some Democrats (OK, just two Democrats) believe that the filibuster “protects the democracy of our nation” and encourages “senators from both parties to work together,” a view that is hilarious in its naivety and, depressing in that this is the complete opposite of how the filibuster has been used. Oblivious to both historical evidence and common sense, Democrats insist that “we’ve got to work together” because of, you know, fairness and civility and other liberal ideals.
Republicans, meanwhile, have no illusions about the value of compromise and bipartisanship. They laugh at these ideas, in the most sneering manner possible. Even the concept of democracy is a joke to them.
In addition, Republicans are under no constraints when it comes to winning because, as stated, that’s the whole point of their existence. For the GOP, it’s not simply that the ends justify the means. This phrase implies that they are somehow torn about their actions or face moral dilemmas. No, for Republicans, the means are completely irrelevant. You might as well ask if they are conflicted when they cut their fingernails. Who cares how it gets done?
So it’s worth pondering if this approach has worked for conservatives. After all, “the Republican Party is in the midst of the worst run that any party has endured—across American history—in the popular vote of presidential elections, having lost seven of the past eight.”
Yet Republicans care not at all if people vote for them, or even hate them. The GOP “benefits from a large built-in advantage in the Senate, which gives more power to rural and heavily white states.” And while both parties have gerrymandered, “Republicans have done more of it.”
The GOP loves the Electoral College, which gives voters in conservative Wyoming more power than voters in liberal California. And the GOP has enacted voter-suppression laws in numerous states, leading them to be “optimistic they can retake control of both the House and the Senate next year (even if they win fewer votes nationwide).”
Just in case that doesn’t work, Republicans have seized a “huge advantage in post-2020 redistricting and are poised to redraw over twice as many districts than Democrats.” And as the coup de grâce, the GOP has established a system “that would have been unfathomable a few years ago,” in which it can “overturn the outcome of a future election.”
And that’s just when it comes to voting. Keep in mind that Republicans have been “more aggressive about putting judges on the bench and blocking Democratic presidents from doing so.” In fact, “Republican-appointed justices dominate the Supreme Court.”
Meanwhile, despite enjoying popular support, Democrats “have failed to enact many of their biggest priorities—on climate change, Medicare, the minimum wage, preschool, gun control, immigration, and more.” Even getting rich people to pay their fair share—a wildly popular idea—is a flop, evident by the fact that “taxes on the wealthy are near their lowest level in a century.”
Yes, the GOP “has figured out how to succeed with minority support,” to the point that conservatives can insist that a bloody insurrection never occurred—even though we all saw it happen—and that a guy who won an election by 7 million votes is not the legitimate winner.
Democrats are simply not equipped to fight this opponent. They are begging for hugs from someone who is punching them in the face.
Both Democrats and Republicans will likely stick to their principles as the political situation deteriorates. But only one side’s principles center on doing whatever it takes to win.