The great Republican hoodwink

Donald Trump on the golf course, again

Donald Trump‘s approval numbers — as low as 32 percent — are the worst ever for a president at this point in his term. Likewise,  Trump’s handling of the hurricanes this season dropped 20 points to just 44 percent after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and, instead of focusing on helping the people there (who are Americans), Trump took to the golf course and then criticized them. What’s amazing, though, is that Trump’s approval among Republicans is quite high. Why the disconnect?

First, it’s unsurprising that most Republican lawmakers have not turned on Donald Trump. After all, Trump is pro-corporate, and the Republicans are pro-corporate, receiving big bribes from big corporate interests like the Koch Brothers to do their bidding. But everyday Main Street Republicans are not helped by Republican policies, whether it’s destroying the Affordable Care Act, denying climate change that adds to bigger storms and massive flooding, passing tax cuts for the very wealthy, or allowing big polluters to once again foul the air and water that all children share.

UPDATE 10/21/17 12:50 pm: As if the Republican Party’s disdain for middle-class Republicans could not be more clear, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are considering a plan to sharply reduce the annual amount that workers can set aside in tax-deferred 401(K) accounts, from the current maximum of $18,000 ($24,000 for workers over 50 years of age) to as little as $2,400.

So what’s going on?

One explanation may be that the Republicans win support by appealing to tribalism. This tribalism has a number of forms, but essentially it is a set of racial, religious and cultural identifiers that can be summarized by the expression “God, Guns and Gays.”

First, Republicans are openly appealing to racism and bigotry, the basest instincts of some white voters. This included the “otherization” of President Barack Obama, from saying Obama has a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” worldview to calling Obama himself “Kenyan” and “Muslim,” as was done by the phony “birther” movement. Who was a leading spokesman and a chief promoter of the birthers? Donald Trump. Likewise, Republican appeals to religious groups, such as Evangelical Christians, are increasingly bigoted in order to align with such groups’ own bigotry. In the case of Evangelicals, their main belief seems to be hate for various minorities, including gay Americans. Donald Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been playing hardcore politics in this area, first speaking to a religious “hate group” in July, and now issuing legal guidelines which open the door to more discrimination under the guise of “religious freedom.”

Second, Republicans have twisted gun ownership into a cultural political issue. They fanned, or at least did not discourage, the conspiracy theory by many Republican voters that President Obama was trying “to take away” their guns. The National Rifle Association, which is a gun industry trade group masquerading as a rights organization, even added racism and open Republican partisanship to its pro-gun conspiracies in a recent ad.

Amazingly, Republicans also portray themselves as “for the little guy” on issues like trying to repeal the estate tax, which only affects the very wealthy. There’s a theme of aspiration in Republican policies and Donald Trump’s rise as a popular Republican candidate, as in, maybe you could be as wealthy as we are. It’s the same thread we seen in the popularity of various televangelists, who take their followers’ money to buy opulent homes and cars.

Ultimately, these Republican appeals to tribalism are a great distraction from their attempts to cut taxes for the rich and cut healthcare coverage, Social Security, Medicare and other important protections for everyone else, including most Republican voters. Democrats often have the more popular policies, whether it’s universal background checks for gun purchases, children’s health insurance, or DREAMers being allowed to stay in America. But Democratic politicians continue to fall short on being identified viscerally as the people next door, the “guy you want to have a beer with,” when it’s the Republican politicians who are elitist and out of touch. Democrats need to point out to their Republican friends, peers and loved ones that, in most cases, those Republicans are being hoodwinked by their own party.

Photo by Yara Issa, used under Creative Commons license.

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