Understanding Republicans

Preface From Wikipedia

The Republican Party, also referred to as the GOP (Grand Old Party), is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with its main, historic rival, the Democratic Party.

The GOP was founded in 1854 by opponents of the Kansas–Nebraska Act, which allowed for the potential expansion of slavery into certain U.S. territories. The party supported classical liberalism, opposed the expansion of slavery, and supported economic reform.[14][15] Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president. Under the leadership of Lincoln and a Republican Congress, slavery was banned in the United States in 1865. The Party was generally dominant during the Third Party System and the Fourth Party System. After 1912, the Party underwent an ideological shift to the right.[16] Following the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the party’s core base shifted, with Southern states becoming more reliably Republican in presidential politics.[17] The party’s 21st-century base of support includes people living in rural areas, men, people without college degrees, the elderly, white Americans, and evangelical Christians.[18][19][20][21]

The 21st-century Republican Party ideology is American conservatism, which incorporates both economic policies and social values. The GOP supports lower taxes, free market capitalism, restrictions on immigration, increased military spending, gun rights, restrictions on abortion, deregulation and restrictions on labor unions. After the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, the Republican Party opposed abortion in its party platform and grew its support among evangelicals.[22] The GOP was strongly committed to protectionism and tariffs at its founding but grew more supportive of free trade in the 20th century.

There have been 19 Republican presidents (including incumbent president Donald Trump, who was elected in 2016), the most from any one political party. As of 2020, the GOP controls the presidency, a majority in the U.S. Senate, a majority of state governorships, a majority (29) of state legislatures, and 21 state government trifectas (governorship and both legislative chambers). Five of the nine sitting U.S. Supreme Court justices were nominated by Republican presidents.


What Most Liberals don’t realize about Republicans, by Peter Kruger

I’m in a bit of a unique position to answer this, I suppose. I’m a never-Trumper and I believe in careful, measured, restrained, deliberate progress. My more liberal friends are convinced I’m a conservative, but most conservatives seem convinced I’m somewhere left of Karl Marx.

I grew up a short distance away from the birthplace of the Republican Party in Wisconsin, which was a liberal and highly progressive party when it was created, I might point out. I had immediate family in the Grange, a progressive Republican organization of farmers for most of its history. I was probably in college before I met a Democrat.

But, by the time I was old enough to be aware of politics, most people around me listened to WTMJ and Charlie Sykes and Republicanism had turned conservative and reactionary. The Tea Party was highly active and successful in my hometown and school district. My home county broke 60–30 for Trump.

How did an area of LaFollette progressive farmers barely 100 years ago become what it is today?

Progressivism started failing them. Them, specifically.

And this is largely what I think liberals have tended to fail to consider.

I understand that I’m likely to be a bit stereotypical here in lumping liberals in with city people. There are liberals in the rural areas, sure. Most of them will have already realized a lot of what I’m writing.

But for the most part, most of the outspoken liberals out there are not rural folks. The ones that dominate the Democratic Party are typically from urban areas.

This is, as I have looked into the history of things, an artifact of the 20th century. There were formerly progressive wings in both major parties. But into the 20th century, the Republican Party tended to move more and more rural rather than just North. Republicans had always tended to be more pro-capital through the late 19th Century, while labor was more of a Democratic Party plank. There was a pro-labor progressive movement that for a brief time really held sway over the Republican Party with leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, Robert “Fighting Bob” LaFollette, and William Howard Taft.

Rural organizations like the Grange were the progressive pro-labor force in the agricultural regions like the Midwest.

As the Republican Party lost its progressive wing in the early 20th century due to intraparty fighting between the more measured Roosevelt progressives and the more radical LaFollette Republicans, the conservative pro-capital wing regained control of the Republican Party with party leadership such as Warren Harding and Herbert Hoover.

Woodrow Wilson solidified a pro-labor progressive contingent within the Democratic Party when the Republican coalition fell apart in 1912. This was primarily aimed at unionization, which in turn tended to more heavily favor the increasing industrialization and urbanization of the country. By the time that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to office, Republicans were increasingly becoming the party of the rural areas and the Northeast and Democrats were increasingly becoming the party of the cities.

That split was torn open by the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other progressive reforms of the late 1960’s. The conservative “Dixie-crats” of the rural South finally abandoned party loyalty for ideological loyalty and switched sides when conservative leadership within the Republican Party worked out a deal to provide them with continued seniority in Congress, starting with Strom Thurmond.

This urban-rural divide has continued to accelerate to today, evident in electoral maps such as those from the 2016 national election:

That looks like a huge sea of red.

Adjusted for population, it looks more like this:

I don’t bring this up to get into a debate about the Electoral College, only to point out that urban-rural divide.

1. it’s not about ideology or even partisanship, it’s about the “rural consciousness.”

If you haven’t read Katherine Cramer’s outstanding work in The Politics of Resentment, you really should. As I read it, I was stunned at how well she described my hometown and the people in it. I don’t know if one of the test groups she had was actually in my town, but it might as well have been. It was eerily familiar.

Cramer discovered that rural people very much have their own social identity, and they feel that it is both under attack and worthy of preservation.

And that is not unjustified. The politics are dominated by the increasingly concentrated populations of the urban areas. Without geographical representation like the Electoral College or what liberals point out is an unfair weighting of the rural vote, there is a fear, one that is often realized, that the city folk will simply come in, invade them, and impose their city-minded views on them.

When you hear rural people wanting “deregulation” and complaining about “overreach,” they’re just latching on to terms that describe what they experience. I can’t tell you how many farmers or rural county executives I know that are angry as hell at the state because it seems like every year, there’s some new unfunded mandate or regulation or new tax. There may be and usually are very good reasons for these things, but they aren’t explained to my people. It’s just another edict from Madison and Milwaukee.

They have lower tax bases and lower economies of scale because of the lack of population density. Progressive policies often fail to take that into account, and raise revenue by raising statewide property taxes. This massively disproportionately hits rural people, who tend to be land rich and money poor. Land is a great asset, but it’s not a liquid one. So, when we’re barely breaking even most years and are two bad seasons away from complete insolvency and China and California and giant agri-corp firms are dumping cheap milk and pork into the system, we’re kind of against the wall when you start demanding another thousand bucks a year from us.

Minnesota is trying something that might help in the form of a tax credit for agricultural land when school districts want to pass a referendum, so that farmers that are disproportionately impacted by property tax hikes don’t get hit as hard. This is a good idea, and a way to try to help show that progressive policies don’t have to end up breaking them.

2. You can be pretentious AF at times.

Mal: You backed out of a deal last time. Left us hanging.
Jayne: Hurt our feelings.
Mal: You recall why that took place?
Badger: Had a problem with your attitude, is why. Felt you was… what’s the word…?
Jayne: Pretentious? [Mal gives Jayne a dirty look]
Badger: Exactly! You think you’re better’n other people!
Mal: Just the ones I’m better than.

Firefly, “Shindig”

My people consider liberals to be smug elitists that look down on them, and both sides are not unjustified.

Look at what you see on TV representing my people. The positive end of that stick is the naivety of Parks and Rec. What do we more commonly see ourselves portrayed as? Called on national television?

Rednecks. Inbred hicks. Toothless hillbillies. Racists and homophobes clinging to guns and Bibles. (Yeah, I know, if you take Obama’s entire quote in context, it’s speaking precisely to this problem, but that sound bite was all my people heard.)

Look, this isn’t entirely your fault, liberals. I grew up with Jew jokes and black jokes and rampant homophobia. A family member who was a coach once yelled to one of his kids, “Run like a Mexican with a TV on his shoulder!” I’m not kidding. It’s that bad.

I don’t want to make excuses for any of that.

But here’s why context matters: we didn’t have any of those people in our community, with the exception of homosexual people, though we certainly didn’t know any of those. Homosexuality was one of those things that was pointedly ignored. I had a great aunt and an uncle who lived with “a friend” for all of my life. My family still won’t acknowledge the truth of it.

It wasn’t really until I got to college and grew up that I began to realize with some horror why that is, in fact, really that bad. It’s not unjustified to look at those back home who don’t understand that and probably never will with some degree of that horror. The liberal disdain for it is not wholly undeserved.

I’ve tried to explain it to my people. Most of them won’t listen. You can look at the comments I receive from certain people when I’ve written about white privilege as exhibit A. I get basically the same trying to explain it to people back home.

When I used to try to explain it to them, I was considered one of them smug, pretentious elitists who got a degree and thinks I’m better than them right now. It took time for me to learn how to have those conversations in a way that helped them realize the real harm those things cause.

What liberals tend to fail to realize is that it’s a lack of experience with those groups of people.

Liberals tend to make a moral judgment about these people because of these things. These people, in their view, must believe these things because they are terrible, immoral people. They believe that these people must be irredeemable because who doesn’t know that such things are wrong today?

That’s not it. It’s a lack of realness to them. The only place that most of these minority communities exist to them is on television, which is never set where they are. It’s set in the cities, far away from them. They don’t see their reality represented back to them with any fairness.

My family has had to learn hard why black jokes aren’t cool after my sister married a black man from Chicago.

It was suddenly real to them.

An increasing Hispanic population in my home area working a lot of the dairy jobs has created an interesting split. The people who interact with them constantly like the dairy farms that hire them have done a 180 on Mexican jokes and anti-Hispanic rhetoric. People who don’t interact with that community regularly are still set in their old ways. And it’s causing a lot of friction, not just between the Hispanic community and the bigoted population, but between the two white communities.

My people are pretty welcoming to people they actually know. When something happens, we’ll all pitch in to the fundraiser or grab chainsaws to get a tree off someone’s house after a bad storm. Doesn’t matter who you are, or what you look like, or what your sexual orientation or non-binary gender is.

But this isn’t reported. This isn’t what makes it to portrayals of my people on television. Nobody makes a nationally-broadcast-over-aerial television show out of rural Wisconsin that depicts the positives of rural life, as it really is.

Even on cable, every show I’ve ever watched doesn’t honor the rural consciousness. It treats us as a joke or an exaggeration at best. At worst, we are a land of serial killers and deplorables and poor people.

And if we weren’t hanging on by a raggedy thread, maybe we could take it. Maybe. But we are.

My people feel humiliated by you.

And ultimately, humiliation is the root of all terrorism.

There are some serious fences to mend here, and it’s going to take a lot of effort to rebuild some measure of trust. That’s made a lot harder by something I’ll discuss later.

3. Marketing Matters

There’s little to no difference between marketing and propaganda. I literally used commercials to teach propaganda to my high school students.

You can say that Republicans are propaganda masters all you want. It’s marketing. And they’re damned good at it.

Say what you want about their policies, Republicans have long been waaaaaaaaaaaaay better at selling their policies, especially to rural America.

Matthew Bates isn’t wrong about why they have an advantage here: a win for them is to do nothing. Their whole schtick is “do absolutely nothing new and do a lot less of what you’re already doing” and they’ve sold it incredibly well. Whether its catchy bits like Reagan’s “welfare queen” or the line “government is the problem,” Republicans have been doing an excellent job of selling the idea that government is not an instrument of the people for doing good for society.

They’ve successfully gotten a significant chunk of people to believe that the Constitution doesn’t actually say in multiple places that the purpose of government and of taxation is for the general welfare, or at a minimum, redefined what that means to “rich people and that’s the way it should be.”

They’ve sold a philosophy that what’s good for the golden goose is good for the rest of you regular ganders and made people think that’s morally correct.

They’ve mastered oversimplification of complex issues for the average person.

Their actual mascot should really be this guy:

Oh, think, my friends, how can any Medicare system ever hope to compete with a gold parachute for a health insurance CEO? Remember, my friends, what a handful of enterprising entrepreneurs did to the famous, fabled walls of socialism! Oh, Venezuela’s price controls come a tumblin’ down!

They are incredibly effective at

  1. Creating a “problem,”
  2. Selling a “solution” which they can conveniently offer at a discount price,
  3. Profiting wildly from that solution; and
  4. Leaving the whole thing in shambles behind them for someone else to clean up.

And most of all, they are fantastic at convincing people that the alternative to getting screwed over by them is somehow worse.

Why do rural people eat this up? Because it seizes on something that feels pretty damned real to them: government is constantly putting more burdens on them and they don’t feel like they’re getting what they pay for. Democrats have done a bang up job promoting mass transit and electric cars and all sorts of things… that they will never see. In the meanwhile, their hospitals are closing and their schools are shrinking and losing good teachers and the buses don’t go past their place and their roads are falling apart and their health insurance keeps going up. It sure seems like Democrats are helping the city people and not them.

If you drove a Tesla out to my people, they’d laugh their asses off at you. It seems like a completely impractical car to them. It’s too nice to get it dirty and has waaaay too many bells and whistles.

And that’s what they see AOC telling them to buy.

Liberals are horrible at marketing their policies to my people.

This is especially true in the era of Trump. Liberals have been essentially running on a platform of “well, we’re better than that shit-filled dumpster fire, right?”

That isn’t good enough.

You want progress? You have to sell it, to them.

These policies are undeniably good for a lot of people who haven’t bought into them.

Universal health care would absolutely be good for a lot of people who aren’t currently voting for Democrats or on board with more liberal policies. Many of them are paying out of control premiums and deductibles and going into medical bankruptcy. Rural hospitals are going under or cutting back essential services, all of which makes it that much harder on those people. A universal health insurance system that could ensure that rural people can still get adequate care at a lower cost than they currently pay is undeniably good for them.

I constantly see liberals who just wave this away.

They simply refuse to market anything, because they think it’s obvious and only an idiot would not understand that. (And again: that just plays into the pretentiousness problem.)

No. That’s not enough. Liberals have to sell it.

And yeah, they have the extra disadvantage that they have to play to win when all Republicans have to do is play not to lose. Doing something is a lot harder than doing nothing. And it’s easier to scare people into sticking with a bad thing that they know than a scary thing that they don’t.

Republican policies right now are repackaging their own warm pee in unwashed bleach bottles with hastily scrawled “leminaid” in Sharpie on a taped-on piece of ripped off notebook paper.

But seriously, if you can’t beat that, you’re clearly in need a better marketing firm.

If you want change, you have to sell it.

No, no. Stop. I can hear your complaint already.

4. Your bitching about conservatives not playing in good faith is a waste of time.

Doctor: It’s not fair? Oh, I didn’t realize that it was not fair! Well, you know what? My TARDIS doesn’t work properly and I don’t have my own personal tailor.

Doctor Who, “The Zygon Inversion”

I can hear fifty liberals reading this far who already just audibly sighed or got angry because they’re angry at the fact that it’s a massively uphill battle. You’re going to bitch about the Electoral College and gerrymandering and voter ID and all the ways that liberals are being deprived of a fair shake in government and conservatives are not engaging in good faith.

I’ll be the first right there to tell you that all of that is true.

And none of it matters.

No, it doesn’t.

You know what wasn’t fair? Decades of getting kicked in the teeth as global trade and automation and debt traps pounded rural economies based on agriculture and manufacturing while progressive policies promised help that never came.

My people aren’t going to play in good faith because they see no reason to and they have no incentive to trust liberals in their book. Playing dirty is getting them what they want. Compromising never did.

At least conservatives are honest about the fact that my people are on their own and can’t expect meaningful assistance from the government. That tracks with their experience. Progressives spent decades overpromising and under delivering. At least when they elect Republicans, they get what they pay for. If you’re going to get kicked in the butt, might as well get lower taxes out of it.

As P.J. O’Rourke once noted: “The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it.”

I’m not saying you need to take the low road and get in the mud. As my people say, “if you wrestle with a pig in the sty, all that happens is you get dirty and the pig likes it.”

I’m saying you need to quit being surprised, have a plan for that, and be better at controlling the messaging around it. Bernie’s socialism shtick is screwing y’all over. It’s the same liberal strategy that’s gotten you where you are: promise a metric shit ton that’s going to be imposed on us whether we like it or not and we all get to live with the catastrophic failure if it implodes.

5. Not everything unjust is racist and not everything that is racist is intentionally racist.

Words matter. What words we use matters.

I tried to tell liberals this when they compared Mitt Romney to Hitler and Mussolini. I was told to go away.

And here we are: my people won’t listen to you anymore because everything is racist. Everything is over the top, or at least so they feel.

And I get that criticism. I understand that criticism from both sides.

There is a ton of injustice in this country and a solid 70% of it is continued trauma and inertia from slavery and its successors. Being anything not white in this country does put you at an inherent, automatic disadvantage compared to the advantage of being white.

Some of that has to do with actual racism, and some of that has to do with the disadvantages of poverty, which largely exist because of prior actual racism and there’s a lot of catch-up to do.

But when everything becomes a matter of outrageous injustice, it does start to become less meaningful. When the outrage is constant, it starts to become background noise. When everything is racist, eventually nothing really is to conservatives.

Appropriately challenging racism and injustice is tough. It’s hard to see something that is deeply upsetting and not want to just yell in rage at it. I get that. I do it myself a lot. It’s rarely successful.

I feel statements are very effective. Putting a human face on an injustice is very effective. “This is how what you just said was hurtful to me” can be very effective. (Don’t try this online. Most of the time, you’re dealing with trolls who don’t give a damn. But in person, this can be very effective.)

Most conservatives and most of my people aren’t being racist on purpose, and that’s why they actually get offended when you call them that. They honestly don’t know why what they just said or did was racist or otherwise unjust. They have a very, very simplified view of what that means.

It’s not even that they don’t understand things like micro-aggressions. They just don’t have the same context for it. They understand trauma, but very differently. They understand disadvantage, but very differently.

Take a calming breath. Respond in kindness. Explain how what was said is hurtful and why. Most of my people are not intentionally hurtful. They’re not trying to be racist. They literally just don’t understand why what they did or said was hurtful.

6. People do switch sides if they have a good reason, so quit writing off my people as a lost cause.

Honestly, this one bothers me the most. I can’t tell you how many liberals who are thoroughly convinced that every Trump supporter and every Republican is a lost cause and will never, ever change.

One of your own standard bearers changed sides: Elizabeth Warren. She was a Republican and a die-hard conservative, not that long ago. She was 47 when she switched sides, after she spent a long time dealing with bankruptcies and foreclosures as a lawyer and then through having her grad assistants research that. She was convinced of the Republican line before then, that people failed the consumer game because they were bad at it and made bad choices and scammed the system.

She found that people in bankruptcy were often a lot different than the irresponsible deadbeats she’d believed them to be. Eventually, she saw how corporate America had been trapping people into debt cycles for a long time, and that’s how we got the Liz Warren we see today.

There are a lot of Obama-Trump voters; people who voted for “hope and change” and then turned around and voted for Trump.

And perhaps this shouldn’t be entirely surprising.

There were a lot of people, especially the rural voters where I’m from, who voted for Obama thought they were going to get “hope and change.”

And they got shit on with the recovery from the 2008 financial collapse. They didn’t get the bailouts or the assistance. They didn’t get their jobs back. They didn’t see most of the recovery. Their industries, their towns, all remained in ruin. God bless David Wong over at Cracked, who fucking nailed it with this piece. And it was written before Trump was elected, so that should tell you that it wasn’t just some liberal soul-searching afterwards. It was a warning.

Farm bankruptcies were already rising under Obama as small dairies and crop farmers went under more and more, due in large part to predatory debt traps and then a freeze on credit. The CFPB helped a little, which is why you’re seeing these skyrocket under Trump’s massive deregulation push.

But my people felt betrayed by eight years of Obama. They saw their health insurance get more expensive and all the growth in the stock market sure didn’t seem to help them.

So, when Hillary ran effectively as Obama’s third term, they were willing to throw their lot in with Trump, who they believed knew the secret sauce to being rich and was going to somehow share it with everyone. They really thought that he was going to somehow strong arm China into playing better and everything else. Many of them still do. They think they’re going to get the change that they were promised under Obama.

And believe me, plenty of them feel just as betrayed and ready to burn the whole thing to the ground because they feel just as betrayed by both sides. Some of them are sticking with Trump even though they know he’s burning everything to the ground because at least then they’ll have the government off their backs. If everything’s going to shit either way, might as well go for the one who is going to get rid of all of those pesky regulations about why they can’t drain off the back willows and get a few extra acres.

My people are not ideologues, for the most part. They don’t actually care about “small government” conservatism or the “nanny state.” Those are just convenient things they’re repeating as stand-ins for what they really want.

They generally just want the basics: a fair shake in life, reasonable rules that make sense, and general security.

They want Roosevelt’s square deal.

They want to quit being punished for working hard when it does feel like some others are gaming the system.

They want a path to retirement.

They want to be able to try their hand at a business.

They want to send their kids to a good school.

They want to live in a safe neighborhood.

They want to drive on decent roads.

They want a hospital that isn’t hundreds of miles away and that won’t bankrupt them.

They want laws and regulations that are logical and not overly burdensome, and most of all: something that they have some say over.

They want to put food on the table.

They want basic dignity and respect.

They want what progressives want to give them. And they’ll gladly pay their taxes if they think they’re actually going to get it.

Sell them on how your policies will give them that, and seriously, you can make progressives out of lifelong Republicans.

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