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The Elephant In The Room
One of our two major political parties is a supremacist hate group—and it’s a very popular one. It’s not nice, but it is observably true. What can we do about it?
Note: this essay was originally published on Revue on April 3, 2022.
We’ve had one about the atmosphere.
We’ve had two about the atmosphere.
This will be three about the atmosphere.
In the first one, we talked about what atmosphere is—as opposed to action or attitude. Atmosphere is a change, not of what you are doing, but of what is perceived as possible to do. Joining in an effort to change the atmosphere requires only that you align with new ideas—an effort that happens in your own mind.
In the next one, we talked about some new ideas, represented by 3 words: art, unacceptable, and fight. More specifically, the ideas state that: all people are irreplaceable art whose intrinsic humanity must be valued, honored, protected, and respected; that any institution, power structure, or movement that degrades, abuses and/or harms that essential humanity is unacceptable, and; to find something unacceptable carries a duty to fight it.
Now, we need to talk about naming the institutions, power structures, and movements currently working to destroy human art, list reasons why that is unacceptable, and suggest some ideas about how to fight them.
Which means we have to talk about the elephant in the room, which is the rise of popularized authoritarian fascism.
In my country, which is the United States, that’s the Republican Party.
It’s hard to know where even to begin.
Let’s start here: The Republican Party is an organization energetically dedicated to the demolition of any hope we have for an open and free world of global pluralism and equality and democracy.
It is currently led by Donald Trump, a wanton criminal and a proponent of white supremacist talking points, white supremacist policies, and white supremacists, and there is within the party a long queue of wanton criminals and white supremacists lining up to inherit his mantle.
It seeks to effect an endless free fall into retrograde supremacist fascism that engages every possible bigotry to pursue its goals of maximalist corruption and abuse. It is actively working to demolish democracy and 200 years of social progress.
It has set its sights on every one of our finest aspirations about ourselves as a nation, and intends to steer us back into all of our most shameful traditions and habits—in the name of its own self-righteousness, to the satisfaction of its own ego and greed.
No, wait. That’s getting too wordy.
Let’s name it, right at the beginning, and let me state it in as bloodless and simple a way as possible:
The Republican Party is a hate group.
It’s many other things as well, but just to boil it all the way down, that’s what it manifestly is: a hate group.
It’s not pretty, and it’s not comforting, and it’s not nice, but it’s true.
This means that anybody who belongs to the Republican Party belongs to a hate group.
And anybody who votes for Republicans provides direct political support to a hate group.
And anyone who works with the Republican Party is working with a hate group.
And anyone who gives a platform to a member of the Republican Party is platforming a member of a hate group.
And anyone who belongs to a religious movement, the majority of whose members provide the enthusiastic, energetic, sustaining spirit energizing the Republican Party, belongs to a religious movement that energizes a hate group.
Again: not pretty, not comforting, not nice. Just true.
It’s one of the greatest problems of our fraught current moment.
Some will point out that calling the Republican Party a hate group is very divisive and biased, to which I can only note that belonging to a hate group is also very divisive and biased, whether or not anybody points it out—and being biased against (and divisive from) hate groups is actually a very good and necessary thing. It’s really a question of what you choose to be biased against, and from what you intend to divide yourself. If you refuse to divide yourself from a hate group, you will by definition be dividing yourself from the people the hate group hates.
Some will point out that by calling the Republican Party a hate group, I’m talking about millions and millions of people, as if hate groups cannot possibly gain the allegiance of vast numbers. But popularity doesn’t make a hate group any less a hate group—it simply makes the hate group popular and empowered … and there have been popular empowered hate groups before now.
Some will suggest that I should get to know some of these people who are Republicans, and I’ll find that they’re very nice actually; as if it is possible to live in most places in this country without knowing a great many Republicans, many of whom are nasty and many of whom are indeed very nice, in roughly the same ratios as any other group of people, and as if history doesn’t teach us that every popular hate group ever formed wasn’t full of nice and respectable people. The respectability and niceness of a hate group’s members doesn’t make it any less a hate group—it simply makes the hate group insidiously respectable … and there have been popular, empowered, insidiously respectable hate groups before now.
Some will respond to this by telling me that I’m talking in part about people that they love very much, as if I’m not also talking in part about people that I love very much, as if there has ever been a popular hate group that didn’t result in painful interpersonal conflicts between people on either side of the divides those hate groups deliberately cause. The fact that a popular hate group’s members are known and beloved to us doesn’t make it stop being a hate group—it simply means that the hate group has become entangled into all of our lives, which makes the fact of its existence more painful and complicated for those of us who feel compelled to fight it—and which in no way distinguishes it from any other popular, empowered, and insidiously respectable hate group that has ever formed.
Some will respond to this by pointing out that many people who support the Republican Party don’t do so out of hatred, but from some other motivation, or because they have been confused by misinformation and propaganda; as if this distinguishes adherents of the Republican Party in any way whatsoever from other popular, empowered, respectable hate groups throughout history—all of whom swelled their ranks with people motivated by something other than hate: enticed by reward, cowed by fear of reprisal, cocooned in ignorance, confused by propaganda, etc.
Some will point out that the Democratic Party is very bad also, and note all their many failings, as if the failings of some second group to adequately defend the dignity of human art, or to oppose a hate group when empowered to do so, in any way justifies belonging to that hate group. (And, for those of this mindset … don’t worry, we’ll get to the thorny matter of the Democratic Party—which is not a hate group but is in many ways still something unacceptable—next time.)
Some people will argue that the Republican Party is not a hate group, to which I can only respond that this claim is an observation I’m making based on decades of observing what the Republican Party has done, validated by their trajectory of ever-accelerating aggression and intolerance and violence toward marginalized people—a trajectory which is obvious and detectable.
Some will point out that Republicans say many of the same things about those who oppose them; as if we don’t know that an abuser’s first defense is accusing others of their own exact infractions, to sow confusion and doubt; as if it’s not possible to simply observe the ways in which observable reality doesn’t match their claims at all; as if the natural response to somebody who has abandoned reality isn’t to stop taking their claims at face value.
The reason we can say that the Republican Party is a hate group is that we’ve seen politically empowered and popular hate groups before, and they look like the Republican Party. More importantly, they act like the Republican Party.
The Republican Party is a hate group, not because of what they say they intend, but because of what they are actually doing.
What they are doing is waging war, for all intents and purposes—war against those they would abuse and harm and exclude, to secure the territory of their own cultural, political, and societal dominance and impunity, a war they claim to be enacting as victims of aggression, even as they pursue shocking aggression against their targets—which is what a hate group does.
These are very confrontational and charged things to say.
Why should we say such things?
Because the way you change the atmosphere is by replacing current ideas with new ones.
We say such things, because all of the objections I addressed above demonstrate the current dominant thinking, and all the observable truths that those objections exist to counter represent radical ideas outside the mainstream.
We say such things, because the current idea is that the Republican Party is a legitimate and respectable participant in our political process and civic lives, one of two sides in our government, a partner with whom we must work to solve problems, and we need to introduce the truth, which is that they are a hate group, a supremacist confederate party, and, like all hate groups, they are corrupt and authoritarian saboteurs of healthy natural human systems, who through their own actions have delegitimized their claim to power, with whom we can never work to solve problems, because they want to entrench those problems, and see the solutions as existential dangers.
We say such things, because they are true.
We say them, because in an age optimized for lies, speaking truths is a new idea.
We say them, because speaking new truths is the start of changing the atmosphere for the better.
They’re changing the atmosphere, by the way—the Republicans. They’re changing it very quickly, too—not with new truths, but with old lies.
What are they doing?
It’s hard to know where even to begin.
I’m nearly fifty. Looking back I can see now that the Republican Party has, for my entire life, been engaged in a strategy to capture the Supreme Court—the same body that once passed down judgments that created safeguards for rights of marginalized people, safeguards which have served as load-bearing pillars of the pluralistic democracy that Republicans are now dismantling.
And they’ve succeeded. Through tricks and traps and cheats, through hypocrisy and self-dealing and double-talk that would shock a medieval pope, they’ve finally captured it. They have a 6-3 majority, more than enough to overcome a single occasionally flaring conscious on the side of their sneering manufactured majority.
So now all the Republican legislatures know they can pass evil laws—by which I mean laws designed to marginalize and control and hurt people—evil laws they know would heretofore have been struck down.
And we know they know this, because now, in the wake of the birth of that new majority, that is exactly what they are doing—as much as they can, as fast as they can, as cruelly as they can, as extreme as they can, everywhere they can.
There are bills in states controlled by Republicans that make it impossible for a woman to get an abortion. This will kill women. Some of them, which preclude even abortion in the case of ectopic pregnancy, seem designed only to kill women. Some of them seem designed only to establish and protect the parental rights of rapists. Some of them propose to have neighbors report on neighbors to collect cash bounties. Some of them propose to make it a crime to leave the state to avoid the bill. Some of them target the women, the health care professionals, and anyone who donates money to any efforts to provide needed healthcare. They don’t consult health care professionals. They don’t consult women. They consult only their own desire to control human bodies, and use whatever rationale is at hand to justify it, then lie about those rationales, then lie about the lying.
There are similar bills with similar provisions in states controlled by Republicans, targeting gay people and trans people and other people in the queer community—with a special emphasis on targeting gay and trans children and their parents. There are life sentences proposed for such infractions as providing health care that is proven to save these children’s lives. There are more proposals for more neighbors reporting to collect more bounties.
There are similar bills designed to disenfranchise voters—particularly minority voters—and to capture the apparatus of election in the same strategic, determined way that they captured the courts and public opinion, the better to enact their loudly proclaimed intention to overturn elections whose results don’t favor them.
And yes, they have a leader—the former president, Donald Trump—who tried to overthrow the government, and overturn the election he lost, and he sent a bunch of his followers to the Capitol Building to murder Democratic officials—and even his own vice president!—for the crime of refusing to toss the results of a national election out the window, and with it all stability and hope of preserving our system of government.
And it all almost succeeded.
And 147 elected Republicans, days later, voted to overturn the results of that election. Many of them provided material aid to the insurrectionists. Even more provided moral, spiritual, and strategic encouragement, and still do to this day.
And only 10 Republican representatives voted to impeach Trump for his active and nearly successful attempt to overthrow U.S. democracy, and only 7 Republican Senators voted to convict, and those individuals are pariahs within their party for it, and Trump is still free to regain the leadership of the government he tried to overthrow.
And that same president, who used his position to commit crimes on a daily basis, up to and including an attempt to blackmail the president of Ukraine into helping him tamper with U.S. elections (and no Republicans voted to impeach him for that, and only one voted to remove), who is even now, as Ukraine faces a savage invasion from Vladimir Putin, publicly asking Putin to provide him with material aid in tampering with the next election—and he continues to enjoy the full support and aid of the Republican Party, both its elected officials and its voters.
Republicans are doing this—they’re doing it as much as possible, however they can, as quickly as they can, everywhere they can.
And whenever one of their own meets an outrage so shocking that they refuse to participate, they too become a pariah within the party, censured by elected leaders, demonized by Republican voters.
And there’s the open corruption and self-dealing and lawlessness, of course.
There’s the codification of ahistorical indoctrination in public schools in the name of free speech.
There’s the starvation and demolition of the public commons in the name of civic responsibility.
There’s the corrupt enrichment of an ever-shrinking number of plutocrats in the name of financial stability.
There’s the growth of the industrial prison complex and the global war industry in the name of freedom and safety.
There’s the daily menace and harassment of and cruelty toward people who already lack protection within our institutions and from our institutions.
There’s the refusal to address our national/global emergencies of gun violence, police brutality, pandemic, and climate catastrophe—and, worse, there’s the almost gleeful acts designed to exacerbate them in the name of temporary profit, and to refuse any relief from the suffering and desperation caused to thousands and millions of human beings suffering as a result of their gross negligence and deliberate sabotage.
And there’s the fact that more and more of their members aren’t just gesturing toward open Nazis and white supremacist groups, but appearing on stage with them, sharing their exact language and rationales for pursuing their exact policy objectives—and doing so without consequence from their party leadership, who more and more often dispenses even with the weak tea of reluctantly delivered rhetorical concern.
There’s the fact that the Republican Party has also, for most of my 50 years, been engaged in a coordinated campaign against knowable reality—cultivating and growing a massive propaganda platform to provide anyone who wants to leave shared reality the opportunity to to take citizenship in a sweaty-browed miasmic world of racial and sociopolitical resentment, and remain there for their entire lives—and the purveyors of this falsehood industrial complex have made no attempt to slow the grim effects of their apparatus, even as the death toll rises, even as democracy falls, even as the authoritarian branch sprouts fascist fruit.
All of this is true, and nothing that any Republican says about their true motivations for these actions, or their continued affiliation with an organization that does such things, changes that truth even one jot. It’s detectable and observable. Observations don’t require skill in debate in order to observe them. The subject of the observation doesn’t get to give you permission to observe what they’re doing to you and others.
All of this targets human beings for abuse and subjects them to violence. All of this targets humans for hatred and destruction, and all these truths remains true no matter how many Republicans say they don’t accept them.
The list is incomplete. This newsletter has to end sometime.
“Shocking” doesn’t even come close to describing it.
It is unacceptable.
If you find something unacceptable, you have to fight it.
You have to fight it.
But by fighting, don’t we risk being just as bad?
How does one fight this?
What do we mean by fight?
We fight, because that is what finding something unacceptable compels us to do. That’s how we know we find it unacceptable, in fact. If we find it acceptable, we don’t fight it (and like I said, we’ll get to Democrats next time).
But that isn’t enough.
Finding something unacceptable, and being willing to fight it, is not, by itself, a moral position.
Hate groups, for example, find it unacceptable that any institution or law fails to accommodate their own hateful notions of supremacy. They find it unacceptable that people different from themselves are permitted to live lives equal to themselves. They find it unacceptable to experience even the slightest disturbance to the complacent and comfortable cocoon of privilege their accommodated supremacy creates for themselves—and, as we clearly see, they are willing to fight the things they find unacceptable, using every tool at their disposal, using any rationale they can put their hand to.
The organizing principle around which hate groups determine what is unacceptable is one of supremacy—a spirit of specific dominance.
I would propose that we work with an organizing principle and a spirit of universal justice.
Last time I defined unacceptable as something that violates the following core principle: Every human being is a unique and irreplaceable work of art, carrying intrinsic and unsurpassable worth.
That phrase represents my best attempt to define an organizing moral principle of universal justice. The phrasing is important to me, because it reminds us that while those we fight have chosen through aggression to make us their enemy, they still hold an intrinsic humanity that we intend to honor. It’s also a reminder that our fight is not, first and foremost, against oppressive human beings, but against systems of oppression, spirits of injustice, toxic lies, and evil ideas.
For my proposal on how to fight, and what that fight looks like, I’d like to give you two words: witness and clarity.
There are many weapons that can be brought to bear toward fighting hate groups, and many of them involve the levers of power: legislation, regulation, proclamation, enforcement, prosecution, edict, trial. With very few exceptions, these weapons aren’t in our hands. We’ve used what power we have along those lines—the vote—to bestow those weapons to people who have proved reluctant to use them. I don’t intend to talk about their responsibility—not here.
Others involve skills and assets that may or may not be available to us: the ability to use words well or speak well in public, or both, the memory to study and learn, charisma, platform, political privilege, money, time, social support structures, health. Most of us have some of those, but few of us have all of them. However, all of us should use whichever ones we have, and continuously learn how better to use them.
But not everyone has these weapons.
I want to talk about two weapons available to all of us, that can be used in all situations, and how they work (and then finish because I know I write long, but damn).
Our universal weapons are witness and clarity.
Here’s what I mean by witness: the simple act of seeing what is happening, and speaking to it with the authority of that witness—without any further argument needed to establish it, without any appeal to any other authority or permission structure needed to validate it.
In short: you have authority to see what you have seen, and to say it.
It’s a good way to start addressing the problem of an extremely popular, insidiously respectable, highly motivated hate group.
I think one thing to which we all need to witness is the elephant in the room—that the position of the Republican party is actively dedicated, as a first priority, and perhaps a sole priority, to violating essential humanity—again, based on the evidence of what they are actually doing, everywhere they can, as much as they can, as quickly as they can, all the time.
It’s an authoritarian position. It’s fascist. It’s anti-democracy. It’s anti-reality. It’s anti-human. It’s abusive. It’s unsustainable. It will harm those least able to defend themselves first, but it will eventually harm us all, because a machine built to eat people will eventually eat you, if you are a people.
It is violent—intrinsically violent. It can’t end in anything but violence—either the eventual violence of opposition to prevent them from the violence they intend to the targets of their aggression, or the violence of neglect, of allowing them to give the full violence of their intentions towards their targets free rein.
And—a hate group’s hate doesn’t just violate their targets’ core humanity, but their own. We don’t fight members a hate group because we love them, necessarily (though we might often find ourselves in the painful position of loving them)—but when we fight them, it is for their humanity we fight, as much as anyone else’s.
We can see that clearly. It’s observable.
Witness is simple. It’s not an argument. It’s not a rationale. It’s not a justification. It’s an observation.
To say “I am grieving your involvement with the Republican Party, because I can see very clearly that it is a hate group and I can clearly see that your support of it degrades your essential humanity and your many fine qualities,” is witness.
Notice the value of aligning your witness to a core principle grounded in universal justice: it doesn’t have condemnation built into it, but rather a recognition of essential humanity and a clear path back to it, for anyone who would care about your opinion enough to seek it.
Notice also that this very fact exposes who has an interest in a return to essential humanity, and who cares about your opinion enough to seek one. And who doesn’t.
Notice also that such a witness doesn’t bring into question the intentions or rationales of any person who might find themselves implicated by it; it encompasses all possible rationales and intentions, and disposes of them as irrelevant—which they are.
Notice also that while the person hearing this observation may wish to argue your point, it isn’t an invitation to argue, nor do you have to engage in one or win one for the act of witness to remain exactly as it is.
It’s a statement of observation about something that you find unacceptable.
Even to simply say “The Republican Party is a hate group,” or to begin to talk about all the unacceptable things they do, and why you find those things unacceptable, begins to bring these truths into common currency. If it happens enough, then that truth will become the common understanding of the Republican Party, and what membership in it means.
This has been the fate of hate groups in the past, by the way, when the atmosphere changed, and suddenly belonging to it or supporting it or believing in its tenets was simply no longer possible without a consequence that had never been a worry before; one’s entanglement with the hate group now means accurate things about one will be automatically conveyed to others.
Membership in the KKK used to be a common and respectable thing.
It isn’t anymore.
I think you’ll agree, the new understanding is the more accurate one.
To be a witness to something that is wrong is to fight it. You’ll know, because if you start to witness, those convicted by it will begin to attack your authority to bear it.
I think witness is a powerful weapon, available to everyone. I think it changes atmosphere.
Here’s what I mean by clarity: The act of seeing things as they are, as opposed to the way you want them to be, and grounding yourself in that reality.
In short, you are empowered to hold to the reality you witness, as clearly as you can, in as much detail as you can.
Like witness, clarity doesn’t require your opponents’ approval in order to hold it.
Unlike witness, moral clarity is not simple. In fact, moral clarity is the opposite of moral simplicity—which makes sense. Clarity indicates a finer and final resolution, after all: more and more detail, more and more complexity, more and more understanding.
It’s going to be absolutely necessary to engage in moral clarity, if we’re to deal with the problem of an extremely popular, insidiously respectable, highly motivated hate group.
With moral clarity, you first look within. You begin to see the ways that you yourself interact with injustice that are unacceptable. You start to understand your own complicity, and your own imperfections. You begin to push against your own moral simplicities: the belief in your own moral purity, your own impunity, your own unassailability, your own terror of ever being thought wrong. In other words, you find your own sense of supremacy within yourself and begin to demolish it—which teaches you about how to recognize and demolish supremacy outside yourself. You begin the fight by working on yourself—which will teach you how to conduct the fight outside yourself.
As I’ve mentioned many times in this series, the reason I choose to focus on atmosphere is because atmosphere is about the most basic and core alignments, which can then be applied to a wide range of possible scenarios and people … and fights.
A fight can take many forms. Knowing which form is appropriate to a given situation requires moral clarity.
I’ll set aside certain things that should just be given, like engaging in the political process to effect change, calling your representatives, voting, volunteering, giving what energies, talents, and abilities you can spare to assist to that effort.
Yes, we’ll do all that. Of course we’ll do that. How foolish not to.
But what about the more complex actions and priorities?
Does the fight require physical violence or destruction of property? It can get there. When should it?
Does the fight require breaking unjust laws or defying unjust authorities? It can get there. When should it?
Does it require social shunning and separation? Does it require angry words? Does it require a debate or an argument? Does it require simple witness to the truth? Does it require just staying quiet to stay safe? Yes, it can get there.
What the fight will always require is accepting the invitation into the complexity of moral clarity and understanding of our own web of moral complacencies and culpabilities. Moral clarity lets us focus on our core principle—the truth that all people are irreplaceable works of human art carrying intrinsic value that must be honored and dignified and protected—and then move into the danger of that complexity.
It will tell you whether you are engaging in violence or destruction to separate people under immediate and grave threat (who may be you) from those who would harm them, or if you are merely engaged in vengeance and retribution.
It will tell you if you are defying an unjust law, or simply telling yourself that the law is unjust to rationalize helping yourself to a greater privilege.
It will tell you if by separating that person from your life, you are protecting from harm a person to whom they mean harm (who may be you), or if you are simply trying to create a distance between yourself and them in order to establish and defend the appearance of your own purity.
It will tell you if debating that person on that hateful topic is truly serving the goal of defending the essential humanity of people threatened by it, or if you’re simply treating a real danger to your fellow humans as an abstract in order to appear reasonable and dignified in the current hateful atmosphere.
It will tell you whether by using angry words, you are creating a necessary sense of absolutely unacceptable for something that would degrade somebody’s essential humanity, or if you are simply expressing anger because anger is easier than feeling grief.
And: it also will teach you not to make your support of others—who may be struggling to keep themselves and others safe from hateful action and violent intention—contingent on them only fighting in ways that preserve your own reputation and comfort.
Moral clarity frees us to fight hate without violating core principles.
It starts the fight in the one battleground we can control—our own minds.
It walks us through the complexities of how to fight, and when, and where. Better, it reminds us why.
We’ve seen people fight with moral clarity in the past. There are statues raised to honor them—and, in places that still valorize hate, there are statues raised to those who fought with immoral clarity.
Those who fight with immoral clarity make violence inevitable. We’ve covered the reasons already.
Those who fight with moral clarity can hope to prevent such violence, by choosing better fights and better methods, grounded in better principles, and by providing others with the example of those methods, the vision of those principles, and the sight of people willing to fight.
But: those who fight with moral clarity also recognize the ways that hateful aggression make violence inevitable, and are prepared to deal with it in ways that honor their core principles.
To enter the moral complexity of moral clarity is to fight the moral simplicity of hateful abuse and of complacent enablement. You’ll know you’ve done so, because those convicted by your moral clarity will attack you, to try to strip you of the moral authority bestowed by the clarity of your witness.
I think moral clarity is a powerful weapon, because it is available to all, and because it changes atmosphere.
Question: Yes but!
What if our observation is imperfect?
What if our moral clarity is imperfect?
Don’t we then risk being criticized for our choices by uncharitable allies? Worse, don’t we risk becoming what we fight?—somebody who harms others?
Answer: Who ever told you you had to become perfect before you could fight? Who gave you the idea that you could fight without risk?
And who told you that there was no risk in not fighting?
That’s next time.
A.R. Moxon is the author of The Revisionaries which is available in most of the usual places, and some of the unusual places. He is co-writer of Sugar Maple, a fictional musical podcast, which you can put into your ears and is available here. He can clearly not drink the wine in front of you.