Andy Schmookler: Serving the few, conning the many
In a piece here some months ago, I argued that the especially dark nature of the Republican Party in our times is the result of the coming together of two forces that – for a century after the Civil War – had been aligned with opposing political parties. The corporatist force that had always been strong in the GOP was now joined by the force that used to dominate the segregated South and had previously been a powerful part of the Democratic Party.
In this new alliance, the corporate system has provided the money power, while the force that supported slavery before the Civil War, and the Jim Crow system after, has provided a substantial block of voters.
It should be said, however, that this alliance is not one of equals.
In that same column, I indicated that the reason this alliance can work – despite the fact that the political goal of the corporate power is to take power and wealth from average Americans, including those citizens on whose votes the money power depends at election time – is that the corporate power has succeeded in “training [the GOP’s] white-voter-base to think about politics in ways that distract them from their own economic and political interests.”
History will show, I will wager, that a fine illustration of this will be the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
This appointment is apparently a source of great satisfaction to both major parts of the Republican coalition. Many Republican voters, one heard at the time, held their noses to vote for Trump because they wanted him, and not a Democrat, to fill that Supreme Court seat. And many point to the appointment of Gorsuch to affirm the rightness of their helping Trump become president.
And now, if they’ve followed the early signs, they are likely satisfied that putting Gorsuch in this seat will advance them toward some of their goals. Gorsuch already gives signs that he will work against gay rights, and it seems safe to say that he will support overturning Roe v. Wade.
But the evidence suggests that these are not the kind of issues that the elevation of Gorsuch to the highest court is really about. Gorsuch’s career has been a project of some very rich people – especially a Colorado billionaire – whose interests are basically economic and favor the corporate power and the wealthy over the interests of average Americans.
I’m not suggesting that Gorsuch has sold out to the corporatists. Maybe he has, but there’s another way these things can work. Often those money interests find people who already hold the views they want to have rule the land, and they use their considerable clout and wealth to get them into positions of power.
So here is how this “Republican victory” will almost surely play out in the decades ahead, as Gorsuch casts his (often deciding) votes on the Supreme Court.
On matters that do not affect the interests of America’s corporate system – like on culture war issues such as gay rights and abortion – Gorsuch will give the Republican base what they hoped for.
But on all those issues on which the rights and powers of average people are pitted against the powers that dominate the American economy (and increasingly dominate its government), Gorsuch will almost surely side regularly with the mighty and against the little guy. That’s what his real backers care about.
And what should the people who celebrate Gorsuch’s appointment (and therefore Trump’s 2016 victory) care about?
It should be noted that whether or not same-sex marriage is legal, and whether or not other people have the right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, will have no effect on the quality of life of the people who celebrated that it was Gorsuch, and not Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland, who got this seat.
Whether or not the U.S. Constitution is interpreted as allowing or forbidding abortion or same-sex marriage will have no effect on how the people who disapprove of such things live their own lives.
But all those other decisions – away from the “culture war” but on those issues that have to do with the opportunities and prospects for average Americans – Gorsuch’s influence will have an impact on the lives of those in the Republican base.
Those celebrating Gorsuch’s appointment should watch whether where Gorsuch has an influence on their lives, it will almost invariably be to make them harder, to limit their options, to dim the prospects for their children. I think it’s a safe bet.
And this is typical of how that Republican marriage of those two forces works: while one force provides the money (and Republican victories earn this money power a huge return on its investment) the other force provides the votes. And what do those voters get from Republican victories? They get symbols that affect other people’s lives, while their own lives are made harder by their “friends.”
I’d also wager that a generation or two ago, the parents and grandparents of many of these Republican voters concerned themselves more with what politics could do to improve their own lives and focused less on restraining the choices other people could make in theirs.
Doubtless, those who have switched that focus over recent decades think that they just followed their own values. But I strongly doubt that captures the reality. Most of us are taught what to think–which is fine (like the way most of us believe in the same religion as our parents).
What’s not so fine is when the “teachers” are just using people for their purposes, even when it will injure the people they lead.
Andy Schmookler was the 2012 Democratic candidate for Congress in Virginia’s 6th District, and is the author of the website “A Better Human Story” at http://abetterhumanstory.org.