Sanity prevailed Thursday night when the Senate overcame an effort by a handful of conservative Republican senators who had threatened to force a government shutdown unless they got a vote on an amendment to defund President Joe Biden's Covid-19 vaccine mandates.Paul Krugman looks at this and other Republican efforts to limit America's response to the pandemic and concludes that an authoritarian mindset is responsible:
The vote on blocking the use of federal money to enforce Biden's vaccine requirements narrowly failed, 48-50....
What seems to be happening instead goes beyond cold calculation. As I’ve pointed out in the past, Republican politicians now act like apparatchiks in an authoritarian regime, competing to take ever more extreme positions as a way to demonstrate their loyalty to the cause — and to The Leader. Catering to anti-vaccine hysteria, doing all they can to keep the pandemic going, has become something Republicans do to remain in good standing within the party.I agree that Republicans show their loyalty to the Cause by demonstrating opposition to vaccines. But are they really showing loyalty to the Leader? Donald Trump was a pandemic denialist, but he got vaccinated, and he's tried to persuade his followers to do the same.
So is Krugman wrong about that? Or are Republicans trying to be more Catholic than the pope? Are they assuming that Trump's COVID denialism is legitimate and his support for vaccines is fake?
Or is Trump not really the Leader of this authoritarian party, or not the only leader?
Trump is clearly one of the leaders of the Republican Party, along with Rupert Murdoch, Leonard Leo, Charles Koch, Rebekah Mercer, and various broadcast fanatics (Tucker Carlson, Ben Shapiro, Alex Jones) -- but GOP fanaticism sometimes seems like the "leaderless resistance" of groups like ISIS. Core ideas are disseminated by key figures, then those who hear the messages act independently. Or it's a cell structure -- there's a congressional cell, a media cell, several church cells and think tank cells, and so on.
In any case, Trump isn't the sole Leader. He's not the Leader on vaccines or critical race theory. He appointed the judges who are likely to overturn Roe v. Wade, but the drive to outlaw abortion precedes him. The same is true for the effort to force gun control states and cities to accept open and concealed carry -- it's a cause his judges are likely to advance, though it doesn't seem to be his cause.
The Republican Party is a cult of fanatics, but it has multiple figures of influence all competing to lead the cult members -- and one another -- in ever more extreme directions. It isn't just Trump who makes this happen.