How ought we to understand what’s become of the Republican Party, its willingness to condone sedition and insurrection by not holding former President Trump responsible for his inflammatory rhetoric that provoked thousands to storm and defile the nation’s Capitol, murder a policeman, cause the death of five others and serious bodily harm to more, while looking for law-makers to capture and kill including the former Vice President, Speaker of the House, and other prominent Democratic members of Congress?
The lack of introspection and self-criticism by leaders of a major national political party represents among the most remarkable failures of leadership in American history since the Civil War. The question we Americans must ask ourselves is this — what has happened in our civic culture that brought us to the insurrection and violence on January 6th.
That a major national political party could be taken over by a self-serving racist autocrat and be supported by the vast majority of that party’s congressional caucus with little resistance is only part of what ails us nationally. We can look to the growth of right-wing media, to legitimate economic distress, a sense of powerlessness among large swaths of the nation, bigotry and hate to explain much of it. But, something else is going on that’s more basic.
In his book The Great Partnership – Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (z’l) describes how the greatest threats to the Judaeo-Christian ethical monotheistic tradition upon which American civic and constitutional values are based are religious fundamentalism, messianic power, and the theology of dualism. I believe that Rabbi Sack’s analysis is applicable to the situation in which we Americans find ourselves today, that the Republican Party has vanquished ethical monotheistic values from its core set of principles.
Religious fundamentalism drives adherents to believe and act as though they alone possess the Truth based on their literal reading of sacred texts and their self-righteous certainty. These extremists regard those who challenge them as heretical and evil. They are fearful, suspicious, and judgmental of the outsider, and they lack empathy for the “other.”
Messianic movements that strive to attain political power often depend upon the rise of a cultish charismatic leader whose followers forsake critical thinking, fear questioning authority, sublimate ethical sensibilities of right and wrong, and give allegiance to the Leader regardless of what the Leader says and demands.
The theology of dualism — classically, the belief in a good god and an evil god – breaks with the ethical monotheistic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as it strives to reconcile the reality of evil while maintaining faith in a good god. Rabbi Sacks described this two millennia phenomenon this way:
“Dualism is…able to preserve the goodness of God while attributing the sufferings of the faithful to a malevolent force, protean in form and universal in reach. Dualism is not monotheism (belief in one God)… It is a murderous creed… Evil is an independent, active force, apart from and opposed to God… Dualism…explains evil as the work of a mythic counter-force: the devil, the demiurge, Satan, the anti-Christ, the Prince of Darkness, and the many other names for the embodiment of evil.
Dualism resolves cognitive dissonance by saying, in effect, ‘It wasn’t us, and it wasn’t God, so it must be Them,’ whoever ‘Them’ happen to be. It turns penitential cultures into blame cultures, externalizing evil and projecting it on a scapegoat, thereby redefining the faithful as victims….the children of Satan must be masters of disguise, practitioners of sorcery or more modern dark arts. From there it is a short step to seeing them as subhuman (for the Nazis, Jews were ‘vermin, lice’; for the Hutus of Rwanda, the Tutsi were inyenzi, ‘cockroaches’). They can then be killed without compunction. There is a straight line from dualism to demonization to dehumanization to genocide.
…Dualism is the single most effective doctrine in persuading good people to do evil things….Those who commit mass murder see themselves as defending their people, avenging their humiliation, ridding the world of a pestilence and helping to establish the victory of truth, racial, political or religious.” (Pages 255-256)
Consider QAnon’s conspiracy theories, its belief that a cabal of Satanic devil-worshiping pedophiles in the Democratic Party, the mainstream media, big business, and Hollywood entertainment conspired to steal the election from President Trump and the Republican Party. Those crazed theories, their naked ambition for power, and violent extremist white supremacist militia groups spurred on by the right-wing media echo-chamber and cynical Republican politicians have merged in their support of Trump who took over the Republican Party and continues as its standard-bearer even in his humiliating defeat.
Rabbi Sack’s analysis helps to make sense of what has happened. The Republican Party now cares little about American democracy, the Constitution, or the Judaeo-Christian ethical monotheistic tradition that teaches kindness, compassion, caring for the stranger and vulnerable, tolerance, justice, peace, and love.
The failure of the Republican Party to excise this growing immoral and unethical movement and to hold Trump accountable for the most seditious act by a United States President in American history, represents a massive failure of political courage and is sedition in its own right.
Though Joe Biden’s decisive victory and the Democratic Party’s taking over the Senate (barely) have given the nation a reprieve, the threat is far from over. It seems that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s meeting with Trump this week at Mar-a-Logo augurs the continuation of the Trump Party and the end of the Republican Party as we’ve known it, and assures more of what we’ve suffered in our civic society in the years to come.
The time for political courage in what remains of the Republican Party is now, as led by such people as Senator Mitt Romney and a few others. The country cannot afford otherwise.