How did the Republican Party get so extreme? Paul Krugman of The New York Times asks the question and offers an answer — or rather a historical parallel:
… The Republican turn toward extremism began during the 1990s. Many people have forgotten the political craziness of the Clinton years — the witch hunts and wild conspiracy theories (Hillary murdered Vince Foster!), the attempts to blackmail Bill Clinton into policy concessions by shutting down the government, and more. And all of this was happening during what were widely regarded as good years, with most Americans believing that the country was on the right track.
It’s a puzzle. I’ve been spending a lot of time lately looking for historical precursors — cases in which right-wing extremism rose even in the face of peace and prosperity. And I think I’ve found one: the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.
It’s important to realize that while this organization took the name of the post-Civil War group, it was actually a new movement — a white nationalist movement to be sure, but far more widely accepted, and less of a pure terrorist organization [than the 19th century Klan]. And it reached the height of its power — it effectively controlled several states — amid peace and an economic boom.
What was this new K.K.K. about? I’ve been reading Linda Gordon’s The Second Coming of the K.K.K.: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition, which portrays a “politics of resentment” driven by the backlash of white, rural and small-town Americans against a changing nation. The K.K.K. hated immigrants and “urban elites”; it was characterized by “suspicion of science” and “a larger anti-intellectualism.” Sound familiar?
… Republican extremism clearly draws much of its energy from the same sources.
And because G.O.P. extremism is fed by resentment against the very things that, as I see it, truly make America great — our diversity, our tolerance for difference — it cannot be appeased or compromised with. It can only be defeated.
Adam Serwer of The Atlantic says overturning Roe v. Wade is “just the beginning of the Court’s mission to reshape all of American society according to conservative demands”, taking advantage of their office to address the resentments and supposed grievances of the Republican Party’s most dedicated supporters:
Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson [announces] that when it comes to rights “not mentioned in the Constitution,” only those “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” are protected. If you’re asking yourself who decides which rights can be so described, you’re on the right track….
As the three Democratic-appointed justices note in their Dobbs dissent, more constitutional rights now are on the chopping block. “Either the majority does not really believe in its own reasoning. Or if it does, all rights that have no history stretching back to the mid-19th century are insecure,” the dissenters wrote. “Either the mass of the majority’s opinion is hypocrisy, or additional constitutional rights are under threat. It is one or the other.” It seems to be the latter: In his concurrence, Justice Clarence Thomas writes that precedents establishing access to contraception, legalizing same-sex marriage, and striking down anti-sodomy laws should be “reconsidered”….
The Supreme Court has become an institution whose primary role is to force a right-wing vision of American society on the rest of the country. The conservative majority … takes whatever stances define right-wing cultural and political identity at a given moment and asserts them as essential aspects of American law since the founding, and therefore obligatory…. The dictates of the Constitution retrospectively shift with whatever Fox News happens to be furious about. Legal outcomes preferred by today’s American right conveniently turn out to be what the Founding Fathers wanted all along.
The 6–3 majority has removed any appetite for caution or restraint, and the justices’ lifetime appointments mean they will never have to face an angry electorate that could deprive them of their power. It has also rendered their approach to the law lazy, clumsy, and malicious…
Many of the Court’s recent decisions, even before Dobbs, have demonstrated this. In the case over the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for employers, the conservative justices disregarded the explicit text of a federal statute allowing the government to set emergency regulations governing “toxic substances or agents” in the workplace, and employed soft anti-vax arguments that had only become prominent in conservative media since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. As part of its rationale, the majority wrote that “in its half century of existence,” the Occupational Safety and Health Administration “has never before adopted a broad public health regulation of this kind,” which is true, because during that period there had not been a global pandemic that killed more than 1 million Americans.
In their decision earlier this week overturning restrictions on concealed carry of firearms in New York, the right-wing justices ignored historical examples of firearm regulations in order to argue that any such regulations—not just those in New York—were presumptively unconstitutional. The decision was a significant escalation in the Court’s gun-rights jurisprudence from the 2008 Heller decision, which found an individual constitutional right to possess a firearm. In the most recent ruling, Thomas wrote that only those restrictions “consistent with this nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation” are constitutional, but he did so ignoring, as the writer Saul Cornell points out, a centuries-long history of closely regulating arms in densely populated areas. That record is irrelevant. The restrictions deemed consistent with tradition will be whatever the current right-wing consensus happens to be.
Yesterday was more of the same. A federal judge had written a 157-page decision ordering Louisiana’s Republican legislature to change a proposed congressional map that she said violates what’s left of the Voting Rights Act, because, although Louisiana’s population is one-third Black, the map would insure that five out of six congressional districts elect Republicans. Her decision was upheld by an appeals court. Over the objections of the three Democrats on the Supreme Court, and without offering any explanation, the Republican majority overruled the judge and the appeals court. That means the map will be used for November’s elections. The Republican National Committee couldn’t have asked for more.