GOP Did not become “The Stupid Party” Overnight

May 15, 2020

Above, former GOP Presidential candidate and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.
In light of the current pandemic, as a Republican administration flails without a plan, and seemingly unable to formulate one, the consequences of celebrating and elevating stupidity seem more stark than ever.

Below, conservative ( but not insane) magazine The Bulwark examines the history.

The Bulwark:

Recent headlines highlight Dr. Rick Bright, the federal scientist whose terminal sin was challenging Donald Trump’s coronavirus quackery. But the GOP’s aversion to expertise did not originate with Trump—or his disastrous response to COVID-19.

“It’s hard to know,” writes Max Boot, “exactly when the Republican Party assumed the mantle of the ‘stupid party.’” But one might look to the 1970s as the gateway to a politically calculated dismissal of scientific knowledge.

Having allied with evangelicals over social issues, the GOP’s political class found it expedient to honor fundamentalists’ most fundamental premise: creationism. Evangelicals flocked—and the GOP became an anti-evolutionary haven. As recently as last year, Gallup found that 55 percent of self-identified Republicans—as compared to 40 percent of the general population—agree with the statement “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”

Conservative media vilified evolutionary science. “Everybody that believes in Darwinism is corrupt,” pronounced Rush Limbaugh in 2010. “Liberals love anything that allows them to say there’s no God.”

It’s no longer just the party’s base that professes disbelief in evolution. In 2011, presidential candidate Jon Huntsman tweeted: “I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.” Within the GOP, it was. By 2016, eleven of the serious GOP presidential aspirants were on the record as refusing to opine on evolution or rejecting it outright. A twelfth—Jeb Bush—said it shouldn’t be taught in public schools. (Interestingly, Donald Trump seems not to have been asked about his beliefs on evolution—or, at the least, not to have given a coherent answer.)

This progression fed a widening attack on knowledge rooted in what GOP strategist Stuart Stevens labels his party’s “toxic fantasies”: “Government is bad. Establishment experts are overrated or just plain wrong. Science is suspect.”

One additive, the anti-vaccination movement, combined a distrust of science, an adamant libertarianism disdainful of public health, and an insistence on parental rights often rooted in fundamentalism. From Kentucky to Oregon to California, anti-vaxxers like Michele Bachmann became an ardent minority within the party.

The World Health Organization lists opposition to vaccines among the top ten threats to global health. But here’s Trump in a presidential debate: “Just the other day . . . a child, a beautiful child went to have the vaccine, and came back, and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic.”

Creationism and anti-vaccinationism did not, in themselves, transform federal policy. But disdain for science, once unleashed, spreads its political contagions.

Until COVID-19, the paradigmatic example of GOP antagonism toward science was another of the WHO’s top-ten threats: climate change. Republican opposition to climate science goes back decades, and is partly attributable to donors and corporate interests funding projects to sow doubt about scientific research—just as they had previously attempted to debunk concerns about  the health hazards of pollution and smoking cigarettes.

By 2016, the official GOP platform proclaimed that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—the U.N. body that attempts to summarize scientific findings about climate change—is “unreliab[le]” and “not an unbiased scientific institution.” Some Republicans, unsatisfied with fighting against proposed climate policies or challenging the science, flatly dismiss climate change as a “hoax.” Observes Paul Krugman: “Republicans are the world’s only major climate-denialist party.”

Indeed. Limbaugh and Fox News traffic in denialism, and a 2018 Yale surveyfound that only 26 percent of conservative Republicans believe that humans contribute to climate change.

Once Trump became president, disbelief mutated into something more dangerous: an aggressive federal effort to suppress scientific knowledge. In an extensive account of such efforts, based on a survey of scientists at sixteen federal agencies, the Union of Concerned Scientists noted in 2018 that “many survey respondents . . . report censorship of their work, especially work related to climate change.”

This included deleting references to climate change from websites and reports, and insinuating denialism into government documents. Of a government warning that unchecked warming could devastate the economy, Trump said, “I don’t believe it.” One result, reports the New York Times, is that “parts of the federal government will no longer fulfill what scientists say is one of the most urgent jobs of climate science studies: reporting on the future effects of a rapidly warming planet. . .”

Forget the overwhelming consensus of scientists that accelerating climate change could soon become catastrophic—or the evidence of melting ice caps, rising sea levels, proliferating droughts, burgeoning wildfires. Suppressing climate science propitiates important Republican constituencies: the fossil-fuel industry; a donor class exemplified by the Koch brothers; and base voters resentful of perceived elites.

COVID-19 has dramatized this subordination of knowledge to politics—including Trump’s dismissal of repeated scientific warnings. As of today we have suffered more than 84,000 deaths. Yet little more than two months ago, Trump was describing Democrats’ critiques of his COVID-19 response as their “new hoax,” bragging that “we have lost nobody to coronavirus,” and predicting that the number of cases “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.”

Once again, Limbaugh and Fox—particularly Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity—derided science as a hoax. Once again, partisans believed them: Polling throughout March showed that most Republicans dismissed COVID-19 as a major public health threat. Events proved otherwise. In late April, Vox reported a sophisticated statistical analysis by three economists from the University of Chicago which suggested that, in the early stages of the pandemic, areas with more Hannity viewers had more cases and deaths from COVID-19.

As death enveloped us, Trump resorted to anti-scientific magical thinking. One of his quack cures, hydroxychloroquine, seems to increase fatalities; another, self-injecting cleaning products, surely would. Yet many of his followers swallowed this dangerous nonsense—some literally.

From the beginning, Trump’s criminally callous calculus was obvious: Acknowledging the pandemic jeopardized a re-election campaign premised on economic prosperity. But most telling was his comfort in ignoring the admonitions of science—and the consistent failure of congressional Republicans to object.

Nor did they protest when Trump bullied scientists who spoke politically inconvenient truths—Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the CDC, who predicted the spread of COVID-19; CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield, who forecast its return this winter; and, of course, Dr. Bright. As Dr. Anthony Fauci—whose candor reportedly caused Trump to begin excluding him from White House briefingsacknowledged, “You don’t want to go to war with the president, but you’ve got to walk the fine balance of making sure you continue to tell the truth.”

In early May, the president barred members of the coronavirus task force, notably including Dr. Fauci, from appearing before Congress without express approval; a few days later, under pressure, Trump said that he would allow Fauci to testify before the Senate—but not the House. Says former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, “They are doing everything they can to undermine science at a time when it is critically important.”

Jared Yates Sexton in the Muckrake:

Companies like these oil and energy giants are the architects of the current societal crisis. In this economy, they have worked together to undermine the healthcare system, scuttle reform, and ensure lower wages among American workers. Partnered with the Republican Party, they have created an anti-future death cult dedicated to immediate profit and gain at the expense and sacrifice of the future. This partnership has resulted in unbelievable consequences, including a dilapidated national infrastructure, fractured social connections, and the twisting of reality.

It is no surprise that, during a pandemic, so many Americans now lack an understanding of the crisis itself and the science behind it. After all, energy companies and the Republican Party have purposefully attacked and all but undermined the institutions of education and science. This maneuvering, based on the pursuit of profit and power, has left America needlessly vulnerable to a generational pandemic and lost in a sea of misinformation, propaganda, and out and out manipulation.

In the field of education, a pursuit that ensures future viability and innovation, the GOP and corporations have all but destroyed the institution in totality. The reasons are legion. Since desegregation, white supremacists have attempted to wipe out public education in favor of private schools where African Americans can still be barred from the halls. The wealthy and corporate interests prefer a defanged curriculum that hides their past crimes and manipulations in favor of making students more susceptible to their marketing and propaganda while ensuring they’re incapable of understanding government or civic duties. At the collegiate level, these interests are still warring against the academy after the counterculture in the 1960’s found its home on the campus, a massive shift from a past wherein colleges, departments, professors, and even students were used during the Cold War as guinea pigs and cogs in the war effort.

Science-wise, it is a lie that these companies and political bodies do not trust experts. They do. They simply mean to undermine them as to keep their intentions clandestine in nature. As early as the 1980’s energy companies like Exxon were warning of “potentially catastrophic” climate change, a concept they still deny now, four decades later. The companies were well aware that they were peddling poison and ushering in destruction on a truly global scale.

They just didn’t care.

Or rather, they were able to replace their care with focusing on short-term profits and pawning off possibilities for the future. Energy companies and the Republican Party saw the writing on the wall as surely as anyone else, they simply chose to hide it from everyone else.

Now, because of their efforts, including billions spent in fabricated “studies,” billions spent on “scientists” muddying the consensus, and billions spent on Right Wing, bold-faced, corporate cable news lies, they have created an American society that is distrustful of science and diametrically opposed to scientists. Education is seen as an affront, a liberal indoctrination instead of a democratizing leveler.

These companies and these Republicans got their wish. They manifested an America ripe for manipulation and control, but doomed them to a society teeming with a virus they can’t believe exists and facing an extinction they can’t believe will come. The people they’ve affected, the people they’ve trained not to trust experts or educators, are in the streets demanding the right to die so they can return to work that is designed to exploit and lessen the quality of their lives.

They’ve made their own beds. They’ve damned us to shorter, more miserable lives. Of course they’ll get their bailouts and relief packages. But they deserve to drown in their own lies.

4 Responses to “GOP Did not become “The Stupid Party” Overnight”

  1. Sir Charles Says:

    Climate change is front and center in the 2020 election, but the advent of the coronavirus has advocacy groups treading carefully and moving campaigns online.

    => In the Face of a Pandemic, Climate Activists Reevaluate Their Tactics

    Meanwhile, Some Young Republicans Embrace a Slower, Gentler Brand of Climate Activism

    Bucking GOP elders, they’ve drafted the American Climate Contract as the right’s response to the Green New Deal.

  2. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Back in 2005, when I opened Chris Mooney’s new book The Republican War on Science, my participation in forums discussing evolution denial led me to expect that the book would actually be about the conservative or fundamentalist war on science, and that the title was the publisher’s idea. Boy was I wrong: Mooney had actual Republican Party memos that pretty much laid out the doubt-mongering strategy when going up against politically dangerous scientific facts. I mean it was explicit.

  3. […] cultivating stupidity, a prestigious medical journal speaks out, and something on what Krugman is […]

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