24 Sep

The Republican Party is a Death Cult

By Chauncey DeVega, AlterNet

They cheer at the thought of an uninsured

person dying. They cheer at the thought of state-sponsored

murder. In all, the 2012 Tea Party Republican debates have revealed that

they are a death cult.

Some observers were shocked and surprised by the behavior of the Tea Party

Republicans and their supporters during the primary debates.

Others have complained that CNN’s surrender of

air-time to the Tea Party is a compromise of journalistic ethics. I would

suggest to the latter that CNN performed a public service by providing a

window into the Tea Party Republican soul. And to the former, there should be no

surprise here: in the age of Obama, contemporary conservatism has surrendered to

a virulent, dystopian and pathologically hyper-individualist state of nature,

“all against many,” type of populist right-wing ideology.

From the proclamations of Republican officials that the unemployed are

poor because they lack spirit and drive, an Orwellian political vocabulary of “job creators” and

“non-productive citizens,” opines that poor people in America have it relatively easy (thus austerity

politics ought not to be that painful), and a belief that the social safety net

(basic programs such as Social Security and unemployment insurance)

has destroyed the United States and made people “lazy,”contemporary conservatism has fully embraced a

politics that are utterly and totally bereft of human empathy.

My claim that the Republican Party is a death cult is a strong one that

demands explication and transparency. “Cult” is a signal to the narrow thinking

and state of epistemic closure that has come to dominate conservative,

right-wing political thought. As I have suggested elsewhere, populist conservatism is also colored by

an unflappable instinct that faith should be the guiding

principle in political decision making–what is a belief in the

unprovable–that fuels a theocratic vision of public policy under the umbrella

of Christian Nationalism and Dominionism. Because the Tea Party GOP’s foot

soldiers, as well as the Bachmanns, Palins, Perrys, and Cains believe a thing to

be true–often in the face of all available evidence and data on the subject–it

must in turn be as they imagine. Reality must always bend to their will: the

anti-intellectualism of populist conservatism demands that the facts are to be

damned; empirical reality is to be discounted as some type of plot by the

mainstream media, “liberals,” or “elites.”

The cultish behavior of the Republican Party is manifest by a rigid orthodoxy

of ideology. Those who do not pray at the mantle (and in the approved

position) are labeled heretics. Any conservative who challenges the

far-right agenda or believes in pragmatism and normal politics, i.e. working

with President Obama and the Democrats in the interest of the common good, is

labeled a traitor or a heretic.

Likewise, those who dare to suggest that taxes should be increased on the

wealthiest Americans to increase revenue, or that the government has a role to

play in providing some relief during the worst economy since the Great

Depression, are cast out of the tribe for daring to utter words and hold ideas

that are verboten to the high acolyte “true believers” in the Republican


The “death” in my use of the phrase “death cult” is both literal and

symbolic. The symbolic aspect works in a number of ways. First, it is present in

the Right’s support for rampant militarism abroad and how the Right has

skillfully used the “national security” narrative, the mass public’s fear of

terrorism, and an almost pornographic appeal to the tragedy of 9/11 to seduce

low-information conservative voters and Independents into supporting their

political agenda.

Second, “compassionate” conservatives (a label that is the very definition

of double-speak) are against extending basic income supports and humanitarian

assistance to the neediest Americans. As recent data suggests, poverty leads

to death and a diminished lifespan. When the Tea Party

Republicans stand against food stamps, unemployment insurance, Medicaid, and other programs for those displaced by the Great Recession, through actions both direct and indirect, they are in fact killing


The literal embrace of death by the Tea Party Republicans works as follows.

When supporters of the Republican Party howl that they “want to take their

America back” they are signaling to an America that is dead and gone. Their

halcyon Leave it to Beaver dreams of a country where whiteness was unchallenged and

central in all things, and where “those people” stayed out of the way (or were

either invisible or fully subservient to the whims of white folks), is


With immigration, the “browning of America,” and a black president, the

white racial frame is upset, the cognitive map of the Tea Party Republican

faithful is forced to deal with the unthinkable, that in some impossible way

they could be marginalized in “their own” country. Of course, this is untrue.

But the fear is real and palpable. The death of

American Empire is a close cousin to the death of the Tea Party Republicans’

memory of a country that never really was.

America is facing unprecedented challenges from China. We rank increasingly

low on educational attainment, class mobility, health care, and other

measures. Where we are exceptional, in our debt and military spending on a

bloated imperial project, the United States looks more like the British at the

turn of the 20th century, a country in decline and struggling to manage how to

fall with grace as opposed to a hellish crash.

The Tea Party base is also quite literally dying. Although the fancy social

science phrase is “generational replacement,” the reality is that the Tea Party

GOP is comprised of white Americans who are much older than the general public.

As America changes, the political values and beliefs which are a product of a

political moment long past will quite likely become less of a force in American

politics. Death for the Tea Party Republicans is a fact that lives in the


Ultimately, the sum effect of death’s role in the political ideology of the

Tea Party Republicans is akin to that of the five stages of

grief. They are stuck in the anger stage of the process: the Tea Party has

not yet moved on to the step that is “acceptance.” Tea Party Republicans are

brought to a frothing rage and madness by fictions such as Birtherism and a

belief that whites are oppressed because a black man is president. They rage

about “class warfare” but look at unions, the working class, and the poor as the

causes of America’s economic calamity as opposed to the kleptocrats and the rich

who have benefited from one of the most maldistributive economies in the Western

world. In their eyes, government is the problem and never the solution. The

State is to be torn down by secession and revolt.

The Tea Party GOP is angry about everything, but they do not know how to

transform that energy into productive behavior and good governance. There is an

additional metaphor at work in my suggestion that the Tea Party GOP is a death

cult. Despite claims to the contrary, the Tea Party is not a

grassroots movement. They are funded by corporate interests such as the Koch brothers.

These conservative corporate elites who

drive the faux populism of the New Right are acting as the hand on the Ouija

board, a group of necromancers who play with death as channeled through the

Republican Tea Party. In their Thanatos game, the corporate Right has unleashed

a force that the mainstream of the Republican Party is not able to fully

control. The Tea Party is extremely unpopular and their lack of

acceptance by the American people is damaging the future electoral fortunes of

the Republican Party as a whole.

Or stated differently, the Tea Party is the poltergeist of American politics. It is angry

and destructive. The Tea Party poltergeist was summoned up by a crisis of faith,

a decline in America’s standing in the world, and a system shock brought about

by the combination of the Great Recession, failed misadventures in Iraq and

Afghanistan, and poor political leadership at home. Some have suggested that American politics is sick, and that it is suffering from an autoimmune disease: the Republican Party’s abandonment of normal politics is a symptom of this illness.

I do my best to avoid eliminationist rhetoric. Unlike populist conservatives,

I try not to call my political foes a “sickness” or a “virus” to be destroyed.

Nor do I suggest that conservatives are possessed of a mental illness that ought

to be cured. However, I do think that Americans in this political moment are

witness to a crisis in spirit and an existential malaise. We are a country in

pain. We as a people are angst-ridden. The Ayn Randian dream of the Tea Party

GOP, the death cult that they are, is not a solution to the challenges America

faces in the 21st century.

The goal of Republicans and populist conservatives in the present is a

victory at all costs, one that is Pyrrhic and couched in the language of a

glorious struggle or a political holy war, right-wing jihad, and free-market

austerity crusade. Consequently, an exorcism is the only viable solution to this

abhorrent type of abnormal politics by the Tea Party GOP, one brought about by

their fixation on the politics of death. The Tea Party Republicans will cheer

death, just as they did during the last two debates. And the Tea Party will

bring the roof down upon us all as their poltergeist-like politics works to

destroy the common good.

The challenge for liberals, progressives, pragmatists, and reasonable

conservatives is how to reclaim life, and by doing so America’s future, from the

jaws of the death cult that is the populist-infused Republican Party.


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