If a force that is destructive, exploitative, sadistic, and willing to sacrifice people to get ever more wealth and power isn’t a force of evil, what would be?
And if a predilection for war over peace, for conflict over cooperation, isn’t one of the strongest indicators of the workings of evil, I don’t know what is.
Our religious and moral traditions tell us: Peace is better than war. Jesus is announced as representing “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.” Blessed are the peacemakers, said he. Jews and Muslims greet each other with “Shalom” or “Salam,” indicating the holy nature of harmony. Swords may be necessary sometimes, but the vision of the world as it should be has them beaten into plowshares.
In this and the two subsequent postings, we’ll look at the question: “Who chose war over peace (or conflict over cooperation)?” First, here, with respect to the conflict-filled dynamics of America’s current politics. And in the next two postings, with respect to the process that drove the nation into a terrible Civil War.
Our politics in these times are more about conflict than at any time in living memory. (Perhaps more so than any time since the era of the Civil War.)
With respect to this political pathology, no clear-eyed observer can doubt that it is the Republican Party that has chosen to make our politics almost all-out conflict. Politics in a democracy is always a combination of inter-party competition, in which the actors seek advantage in the quest for power, and inter-party cooperation to serve the national good. Clearly, the Republicans have chosen to discard the usual balance and to make a fight over virtually everything.
Republicans made that choice in 2002 when the Bush gang used the war on terror to divide Americans for political advantage.
One dramatic example: At the very time that the national trauma of 9/11 had prompted the Democratic Party, then in opposition, to rally round the president for the sake of national unity, the Republican president chose to use that same national emergency as a weapon against the other party.
The idea for a Department of Homeland Security had originated with Democrats. After resisting the idea for months, that Republican president – George W. Bush -- put forward a bill to establish the department.
But the Republicans set a trap. They amended the proposal to include a poison pill –- an extraneous amendment undermining workers’ rights -- to lure the Democrats into voting against the measure. Then that “no” vote, against the poisoned version, could be used by the Republicans, in the upcoming 2002 elections. The Republicans could accuse Democrats of being “soft on terror.”(The most grotesque example was the campaign that defeated Senator Max Cleland --the war veteran who left three of his limbs in Vietnam. Republican campaign ads equated Cleland with Osama bin Laden.)
That the Republicans are animated by the spirit of conflict over cooperation was equally clear in 2009, when now out of power they made it their top priority not to get Americans back to work but rather to make the president fail. Even now, their repeated moves to repeal one of the president’s major accomplishments, and now also to sabotage its implementation, carry forward this spirit of war in ways unprecedented in the history of American politics.
This Republican pattern of choosing conflict over cooperation – far beyond the American norm -- can be documented abundantly, but that should not be necessary.
Nor should it be difficult to see what this implies about the spirit that’s driving today’s Republican Party. A political party that makes a fight over everything cripples the nation’s ability to solve its problems and meet its challenges. It degrades the country. Making politics into a form of warfare is destructive, and a political force that insists on destructiveness reveals the evil nature of the spirit that animates it.
In the next installment, I’ll address the question of which side chose, back in the middle of the 19th century, to drive America into exceptionally fierce political conflict, polarization, and ultimately outright Civil War.
The picture there is more complex, but ultimately, the thesis holds true: The predisposition to foment conflict is one more indication of the kinship between the spirit of today’s Republican Party and that driving the South leading up to the Civil War.