Paul Krugman On The GOP: ‘What Happened To These People?!’

"After all the flag-waving, all the attacks on Democrats’ patriotism, essentially the whole GOP turns out to be OK with the moral equivalent of treason if it benefits their side in domestic politics. Which raises the question: what happened to these people?"

And yes, it’s Paul Krugman, but before you dismiss it out of hand, don’t forget that the whole reason you clicked on this in the first place was because it said “Paul Krugman” in the title… so you know, you can’t really act like you weren’t interested, right?


Via Paul Krugman for The New York Times

The title of this post comes from a once-famous book about the senior British officials who, it turned out, spied for Stalin. I found myself thinking about that book’s title while watching the conservative movement react to news that yes, the Trump campaign was in contact with Russian agents, and was willing, indeed eager, to engage in collusion.

With very few exceptions, this reaction has taken two forms: defining collusion down, or celebrating it. Some are arguing that saying “I love it!” when Russian agents offer damaging information about your opponent doesn’t count as collusion unless it’s sustained (which it might have been, by the way – we just don’t know yet), or unless it determined the election outcome. By that standard, of course, Kim Philby did nothing wrong, since the West ended up winning the Cold War.

Others are basically saying that cooperating with a foreign dictator is no big deal if it protects us against real threats, like universal health care.

The important thing to notice is that almost the entire conservative movement has bought into one or both of these arguments. After all the flag-waving, all the attacks on Democrats’ patriotism, essentially the whole GOP turns out to be OK with the moral equivalent of treason if it benefits their side in domestic politics. Which raises the question: what happened to these people?

One answer might be that right-wing ideology, the commitment to tax cuts for the rich and pain for the poor, has such a grip on conservative minds that nothing else matters. But while this is true for some apparatchiks, my guess is that it’s not nearly as true for many – certainly not for the Republican base in the general public. So why has partisanship become so extreme that it trumps patriotism?

Well, I have a thought inspired by something my CUNY colleague Branko Milanovic wrote recently about civil wars. Branko – who knows something about Yugoslavia! – argues against the view that civil wars are caused by deep divisions between populations who don’t know each other. The causation, he argues, goes the other way: when a civil war begins for whatever reason, that’s when the lines between the groups are drawn, and what may have been minor, fairly benign differences become irreconcilable gulfs.

My suggestion is that something like this happened to America, minus the mass bloodshed (so far, anyway.)

The radicalization of the GOP began as a top-down affair, driven by big-money interests that financed campaigns and think tanks, pushing the party to the right. But to win elections, the forces engaged in this push cynically appealed to darker impulses – racism first and foremost, but also culture war, anti-intellectualism, and so on. To make this appeal, they created a media establishment – Fox News, talk radio, and so on – which drew in many working-class whites. This meant that a large segment of the population was no longer hearing the same news – basically not experiencing the same account of reality – as the rest of us. So what had been real but not extreme differences became extreme differences in political outlook.

And political figures either adapted or were pushed out. There once were Republicans who would have reacted with horror to Trump’s embrace of Putin, but they’ve left the scene, or are no longer considered Republicans.

This has troubling implications for both the short and the long run. In the short run, it probably means that no matter how bad the Trump revelations get, most Republicans, both in the base and in Congress, will stick with him – because taking him down would be a victory for liberals, who are worse than anything.

In the long run, it makes you wonder whether and how we can get the country we used to be back. As Branko says, there was a time when Serbs and Croats seemed to get along fairly well, indeed intermarrying at a high rate. But could anyone now put Yugoslavia back together?

At this rate, we’ll soon be asking the same question about America.



7 comments on “Paul Krugman On The GOP: ‘What Happened To These People?!’

  1. Anonymous

    Trump resembles Humpty Dumpty, doesn’t he?

  2. If you think about a democracy of voters who have not been qualified by a test of their knowledge of major election issues and provided with an unbiased non-political third party evaluation and resume of the respective candidates of each party, their history, voting record, and current position on those issues – it shouldn’t be at all surprising that the election math favors someone like Trump getting elected. Even without Russia’s help.

    When unqualified and uninformed voters tend to elect those they perceive (as told, marketed and sold by the candidates respective political advisers and party leadership) that those candidates are like themselves “just regular people” and as the elections of GW Bush and now Trump have proved (in spite of their privileged upbringing and absurd level of differences from the “average voter”,) why is anyone surprised. Especially, when the respective political parties offer no superior choices as candidates.

    When are we as a nation going to figure out that democracy of the ignorant and uninformed – only produces ignorant and uninformed candidates. It’s time we had basic voter testing and far more control of our billion dollar campaign and election industries. The campaign and election industry is self-serving, proven repeatedly and the country is by far the worse for it.

    • Anonymous

      I dunno ’bout that. But I think I would be in favor of basic candidate testing! let’s work on that! Hillary was not the right Democratic candidate – I only wish she were. Bernie was a better candidate but in all honesty I think he was considered too old – and even though he is not that far off of Trumps age, he looked older. I liked Bernie a lot. Trump cannot even spell candidate so he would have been dismissed on question #1. I also insist on review of income tax history. Health and Mental health exams required!! I would require evidence of anything they say — lying at the podium, making shit up, playing trumps favorite game of “people are saying….” all those will revoke your approval to campaign. Maybe a list of 10 people who can speak on your behalf and all will be verified. Yeah, let’s work on candidate requirements!

      – Murphy

  3. Kenneth William

    Surprising response.. I think the above named requirements would virtually eliminate all the rest of any candidate forums, both liberal and conservative. It still whould fall short in thinning out the RHINO republicans.

  4. anon internet commenter

    What Krugman sees in Republicans, i.e. hypocrisy, selective use of facts, uncritical thinking, rationalization, selfishness, etc. is true of most all humans, which includes the independents and democrats. It’s the entire American culture that he bemoans.

    • Anonymous

      Having spent more than 7 decades in this world, I know a lot of people and I don’t know what all their political opinions are but I do know for a fact that those conditions and attitudes that you list ARE NOT present in most humans. Thank God.

      The current onslaught of the people who do have these traits explain the votes for Mr. Asswipe. He released the pent-up behaviors in many people with his ranting lies and violent rallies and his overall despicable, vile, shameful, ignorant, contemptible, and loathsome behavior. His continued position as America’s President is the source of their negative energy. He is corrupt in so many ways. He has to be removed from office!

      – Murphy

  5. The POtuS rejected the Paris Climate accord because no low mileage vehicle is big enough, loud enough, or emits enough black exhaust for us.
    The POtuS brought in Betsy DeVos because we just gape at our phones.
    The POtuS wants deregulation because we shit our dogs on play grounds.
    The POtuS models discrimination because that’s what’s taught at our kitchen tables.
    We’ve met the enemy..

    (i check this site to see if the world has ended)

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