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The Witchcraft Party
How to understand today's Republicans.
In political analysis there is always a temptation to create a label and then use that label to explain very complex phenomena. “The key to everything is…. [spins wheel] SOCCER MOMS.” This sort of easy branding is very useful if you want to be a hack political pundit or a hack political consultant. That said, it is legitimately useful to have a simple, functional lens that helps you understand—at least in a general way—the behavior of sprawling institutions. So how best to understand the modern Republican Party, that lumpy concatenation of the entire rainbow of white people? Try this: It is a party of witchcraft, run by and for evil witches. Aiiieeeeeeeee!
Over the course of my lifetime, an accurate way to think of the Republican Party has been “A party that exists to serve the rich and is willing to be racist and tell a lot of lies in order to attract enough support from no-rich voters to fulfill its mission.” What the fuck does a lower middle class blue collar worker in a poor Southern state care about reducing the Koch Brothers tax burden? They don’t, of course. Hence all the flag waving and gun waving and Bible waving and racism waving. That’s just to pull in enough rubes to win the necessary elections. And, when that doesn’t work, just rig the game—hence all the gerrymandering and Citizens United dark money and Federalist Society judges and voter suppression. Whatever it takes to protect and preserve capital. That was the party’s imperative, and they have long been happy to sacrifice anyone and anything at that altar. There are many nuances to the operation of the machine, yes, but if this was your fundamental view of the party since the Reagan era, you would have a pretty good grasp on the things that did.
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Recently, though, this machine has started to malfunction a bit. The capital-centered Republican Party was premised on the idea that the real leaders of the party—the money people—could keep the lower animals in their cages. The party was run by and for the rich, and then the zookeepers came out and threw “no gun control!” and “no welfare queens!” and “lock up the damn immigrants!” and “Praise Jesus!” to the various interest groups that the party needed to cobble together a majority, and that was supposed to keep them happy. The rubes were not, under any circumstances, supposed to take over the party. But now, they kind of have. The money people overplayed their hand. They got complacent and overconfident in their ability to keep their inferior in their proper place. Trump was the human embodiment of this—the clown that the party’s institutional wing assumed would not be a threat, but who proceeded to overwhelm them, throwing open the gates and ushering every low-end lunatic and half-failed grifter into the inner sanctum. But Trump is an idiot savant, not an evil genius. His path to power was paved by many decades of Republican leaders cultivating the very qualities he represented. They were the smooth, refined drug lords holding court in a mansion with a meth lab in the basement. Then the meth lab blew up. The Very Wise Men of the Party of Mature Responsibility had long assumed that they could play with fire and never get burned. Wrong, fuckers.
Today’s Republican Party cannot be easily explained by pointing the wants and needs of capital. Multinational corporations and rich people with enormous investments in the financial markets do what low taxes and low regulation and low labor rights, yes. But they also want stability. In fact, if they are forced to choose, the smart ones will choose a stable government with a predictable system of law over a slightly lower tax rate, every time. Because stability creates predictability which allows for long-term investment and long-term profits. The Republican Party has descended too far into a frenzy of cowboy shit for its traditional corporate base to feel any sense of predictability. “Gee thanks for the tax cuts, but you have destroyed all the public schools and now we can’t find anyone to hire who believes in evolution and every time we go to court for a contract dispute we have to hire that TV lawyer who wears a gaudy gold cross and winks at the judge from Liberty University.” This is the reason why business interests in the Trump era have begun to slide more towards the Democratic Party, which they perceive as less likely to wreck the whole system like a drunken child playing Jenga. (This trend is, incidentally, poisonous to the Democratic Party itself, but that is a topic for another day.)
The psychotic game of chicken that Republicans are playing with the debt limit right now is very much not being driven by the traditional interests of capital that once pulled the strings. Do you think Monsanto and ConAgra and Bank of America are calling the Congressmen they own and saying “Hey listen, our top priority this session is to make sure that any desperate bastard who gets food stamps is forced to perform a cruel kabuki dance of looking for a nonexistent job in order to keep receiving their two loaves of white bread and peanut butter per week. We are willing to risk bankruptcy to achieve this.” No. They are not doing that. You can tell quite easily that someone else is in the driver’s seat here.
Who? Witches, I think. Evil witches. We cannot rule out evil wizards being involved, either. Just saying “Christian nationalists” or “white supremacists” or “black holes of amoral careerism” doesn’t really capture the depth of the dysfunction. Religion or racism or self-interest are each too narrow to fully represent the grotesquerie. Those are all meaningful factions of the Republican Party in 2023, but the underlying force propelling them is more malevolent and irrational. Right wing economics is about seizing as much wealth as possible for a few; an evil but straightforward proposition. It entails political and economic policies that are against the public interest, but which are rooted in the rational world. By contrast, the Republican now are more of a death cult, a group taken over by superstition to the degree that it endangers capital along with humanity. Kill the work force with vaccine skepticism! Throttle basic democracy to the degree that you risk a wild and unpredictable popular backlash! Reduce the rule of law to political party-based gang warfare that is sure to backfire! Make half of the states toxic to women and LGBTQ people with weird medieval forms of oppression! Don’t teach kids history or science! And, as a grand finale, recklessly threaten to throw the entire world into a devastating recession as leverage to win… a retrograde package of spending cuts to social programs that reads like some bitter man’s dying wish to punish the world, written into a suicide note?
Business doesn’t want this. This is not their agenda. It is important to understand that—setting aside the tactical lunacy of essentially threatening to burn down your house if mom doesn’t cook what you want for dinner— what the Republicans are trying to win here is not some reasoned economic package that represents the interests of the rich. No. It is witchcraft, based on anger vibes, made up numbers with little rational justification, the pure transmogrification of Hatred for the Poor and Reverence for Power into a budget. Under imminent threat of global catastrophe, Republicans are trying to push a budget that would preserve military spending while forcing absurd cuts in things like “food for kids” and “housing the poor,” a wanton wave of human suffering that they can wave around and smile about, blood dripping from their fangs.
The conventionally greedy people have lost their grip on the party. The witches are in charge now. The freaks, baying for death, beguiled by obscure spells, worshiping fire, praying for pain. The little knot of dark-suited businessmen with tight smiles now stand to the side of the stage, sweating and wondering how long they can pretend this is normal. This is all their fault, by the way—they countenanced the crazies and smiled at the racists all this time for their own enrichment, and heartily deserve to be pulled down into hell now by the forces they unleashed. But it is the whole world now who might suffer for their sins.
The clean and simple class war analysis of our party politics is muddier now. It is mixed with all types of noxious goo, mud dredged from the bottom of the dump and held up by deranged car salesmen-turned-legislators who swear that it must be treated with reverence. Don’t expect to be able to predict how this will all go just by analyzing what is in whose self-interest. Some people are only interested in baying at the moon as the world burns.