https://www.forbes.com/sites/chrisladd/ ... 2a09a0245c
On the night of March 23, 1997, Marshall Applewhite prepared to achieve his life’s mission. He had already supervised the successful “evacuation” of several followers. The leader of the Heaven’s Gate cult would be the last of the chosen few to join the alien spacecraft trailing the Hale-Bopp Comet speeding past the Earth.
As he mixed a lethal dose of phenobarbital into his apple sauce, did he experience doubt? Did he wonder whether his psychiatrists had been right? Maybe there were no aliens waiting to whisk him away. He had failed to uncover any empirical evidence to support his worldview. Perhaps that was because his worldview was flawed and false. No, he probably ate his poison and slipped the bag over his head with a smile on his face.
Republican Roy Moore, removed from the Alabama Supreme Court for his erratic behavior and banned from the mall for harassing teenage girls, has cloaked his campaign for the Senate in the language of “spiritual warfare.” As such, he is the most apt representative of the Republican Party in our age of cult politics. Moore is pitching himself as God’s candidate and his voters are slopping it up like poisoned applesauce. The party of “family values” is about to send a known sexual predator to the Senate because God wants them to. This would be startling, except they already used the same reasoning to put a known sexual predator in the White House.
The same magical reasoning infects Republicans tax reform plans. We are in the eighth year of continuous job growth, the eighth year of economic expansion, and the eighth year of a head-spinning stock market boom. Corporate profits are at record levels and the economy has been redlining at full-employment for almost three years. By any marginally credible economic reasoning, this would be an ideal moment to raise taxes, curb debt, make investments in public infrastructure, and just generally do the things one does at the peak of a long economic expansion.
At this moment, why are Republicans trying to slash taxes for the wealthy? Why would someone castrate themselves and commit suicide? Because that’s what the cult demands.
There are no bright economic minds suggesting that this is a good idea. There is no difference of opinion among sane, credible people about whether America needs a massive tax cut for the rich. An effort by Republican leaders to claim support among economists devolved into unabashed lying. One of the “economists” listed as a supporter, Gil Sylvia, has yet to be identified and may not even exist. When one of the president’s minions pitched this idiotic tax plan to a panel of American CEO’s - men who will be getting fat tax cuts - they balked. In public. On camera. Director Cohn’s stunned response after soliciting their backing should be etched on the tombstone of the former Party of Lincoln, “Why aren’t the other hands up?”
Cohn didn’t pause to hear their answer, because that isn’t how a cult works. Like a Soviet Commissar, he wasn’t soliciting feedback but measuring loyalty. He noted the disbelief of the apostates and simply moved on in righteous oblivion. No reasoning accessible on the plane of logical thought supports this plan, just like no one outside the cult would ever let Roy Moore make decisions on their behalf. Tax cuts, along with slashing government services, ending government support for health insurance, burning more coal, and a whole collection of other loony ideas, are now unconsidered articles of faith. Republican Jesus wants a tax cut. The faithful will comply.
Nothing in traditional Republican thought made this descent into madness inevitable. In fact, most of what passes for current Republican orthodoxy contradicts the party’s ideological heritage. Just twenty-five years ago, when Roy Moore was trolling the sidelines at homecoming for sweet young things, he was a member of the Democratic Party. At the same time, Elizabeth Warren was a Republican. Something happened, and it had nothing at all to do with the traditional priorities of the Republican or Democratic parties.
Countries experience moments like this from time to time. We are long overdue for such a crisis, as our last major partisan breakdown occurred in the 1850’s. Faced with tumultuous cultural, technological and economic upheaval, political systems may find themselves bottlenecked, unable to keep pace with evolutionary demands. Parties and ideologies are contorted into strange shapes under the pressure of rapid transformation. Communism, for example, began as a ruthlessly empirical, atheistic approach to politics and economics. Influenced by the turmoil of the 20th century and the urgency of revolutionary demands, it quickly took on the trappings of a fanatical religion. By the time the Khmer Rouge unleashed their wave of slaughter on Cambodia, Communism had devolved into little more than ideological window dressing for a tribal death cult. Ideology does not constrain fanatics.
How did the Republican Party became a dangerous cult? Desperate to halt a terrifying tide of social transformation, the political heirs of Jim Crow flooded into the weak and nearly empty infrastructure of the Southern GOP. Men like Alabama’s Roy Moore and Texas’ Rick Perry were the last generation of white Southern men to begin their careers as Democrats. The flight of millions of Dixiecrats into the GOP shifted the balance of power inside the party nationwide. Their fear-soaked, delusional fervor converted that institution from a conventional political party into a white nationalist cult. The Party of Lincoln now exists to help Neo-Confederates win the Civil War politically, long after losing it on the battlefield.
Anyone evaluating Republican plans for tax policy, health care, climate change, immigration, or almost any other subject, will struggle to identify logical explanations for GOP positions. Our politics has not always been so divorced from facts. It was possible to find room for logical arguments about the merits of Reagan’s 1981 tax cuts. There were logical arguments on both sides of the 1986 tax increases Reagan realized had become necessary. People engaged in rational disagreements over priorities and potential consequences of those plans based on facts and reason.
No such basis exists for Republican policies now, explaining the absence of efforts at bipartisan agreement. Support for GOP plans is premised on cult allegiance and enforced by cult loyalty. Unbelievers would be no more likely to support Republican tax plans than to drink poison to catch a ride on a spaceship.
By all accounts, the members of the Heaven’s Gate cult were nice people who avoided harming others. They kept their sickness inside their ranks. By contrast, Republicans are forcing an entire country, and to a certain extent the world, to choke down their poisoned applesauce. It is possible to see in Marshall Applewhite a suffering soul, tormented by mental illness, who drew a small number of similarly troubled individuals into his fatal orbit (pardon the pun). It is increasingly difficult to extend the same sympathy to nice people like Paul Ryan. We don’t look back at Pol Pot or Jefferson Davis as “troubled souls” because the scale of the harm they inflicted obscures any sympathy. Those who survive the poison will one day look back on Republicans of this era with a similar disgust.
Chris Ladd, former GOP Precinct Committeeman, author of The Politics of Crazy and creator of PoliticalOrphans.