The Party of Delegitimation

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If there is a must-read on the eve of the big Republican presidential hoedown tonight, it’s “Goodbye to All That,” former GOP congressional staffer Mike Lofgren’s evisceration of contemporary Republicanism over at Truthout. In the past few years, there have been a number of such apostate denunciations, but never has one been so devastatingly delivered, nor so richly deserved. He sees his former associates as engaged in nothing less than the undermining of American democracy.

It’s notable that Lofgren recognizes the centrality of religion to the New Republican Project.

It is my view that the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism
(which is a subset of the decline of rational problem solving in
America) may have been the key ingredient of the takeover of the
Republican Party. For politicized religion provides a substrate of
beliefs that rationalizes – at least in the minds of followers – all
three of the GOP’s main tenets.

What these beliefs rationalize, he believes, is plutocracy, militarism, and theocracy. Let me propose a fourth rationalization, one that relates to a point Lofgren makes in considering race as a source of hostility to President Obama.

I do not mean to place too much emphasis on racial animus in the GOP.
While it surely exists, it is also a fact that Republicans think that no
Democratic president could conceivably be legitimate. Republicans also
regarded Bill Clinton as somehow, in some manner, twice fraudulently
elected (well do I remember the elaborate conspiracy theories that
Republicans traded among themselves). Had it been Hillary Clinton,
rather than Barack Obama, who had been elected in 2008, I am certain we
would now be hearing, in lieu of the birther myths, conspiracy theories
about Vince Foster’s alleged murder.

I’ve long attributed Republicans’ rejection of Democratic legitimacy to the conviction, acquired in the days of Richard Nixon, that they represent the majority of Americans–or at least the majority of “real Americans.” Because, in a democracy, the majority must prevail, if the minority does, it must be illegitimate. Q.E.D.

But there’s more to it than that. Until not so long ago, American civil religion held a flexible and inclusive umbrella over the republic, endowing the political process with sufficient sacrality to assure that the man elected to the presidency would, ipso facto, be considered legitimate. But by persuading themselves that they are the Party of Faith, Republicans have staked an exclusive claim to civil religious legitimacy, such that a Democratic president has, by definition, to be revealed as illegitimate.

Thus, Bill Clinton’s sexual dalliance in the White House became an impeachable offense–indeed, a sacrilegious one. And Barack Obama must have been born abroad, or be a crypto-Muslim, and hence disqualified to occupy the highest office of the land. Under George Bush, Republicans traded in traditional civil religion for a political theology. Three years ago, that looked like an aberration, born of the trauma of 9/11. But now it’s back, in force.