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Opinion | The radicalization of the Republican Party is not ‘polarization’

PoliticsOpinion | The radicalization of the Republican Party is not ‘polarization’

The notion that the United States is “polarized” into two conflicting, equally stubborn and extreme camps infects much of the mainstream news coverage and everyday chatter about politics. Washington is “broken.” “Gridlock” is a problem. “No one goes out to dinner with someone on the other side.” Such mealy-mouthed language masks a stark dichotomy: Democrats have to move to the center to get bipartisan support; Republicans have become radicalized and unmovable.

This is not “polarization.” It is the authoritarian capture of much of the GOP by a right-wing movement bent on sowing chaos. Turkey, Hungary and other countries with autocratic strongmen are not polarized; democratic forces try their best to prevent their country’s ruin and collapse into total dictatorship. Our political scene, sadly, has come to resemble the global authoritarian assault on democracy.

Oh, sure, it’s fashionable, as departing Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) did, to blame both political parties. “Our democracy was weakened by government dysfunction and the constant pull to the extremes by both political parties. … The only political victories that matter these days are symbolic, attacking your opponents on cable news or social media. ‘Compromise’ is a dirty word. We’ve arrived at that crossroad, and we chose anger and division.” Really?! Who is “we”?

The bipartisan border compromise — her bipartisan bill — was sunk by Republicans. Republicans in the House overwhelmingly opposed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, commonly known as the “Bipartisan” Infrastructure Bill (which President Biden modified to get bipartisan support); almost every Republican voted against the Chips Act, they all voted against the Inflation Reduction Act, and some even voted against the Pact Act, which would have helped veterans. House Republicans have launched phony, baseless impeachment hearings. Senate Republicans filibustered reenactment of a key part of the Voting Rights Act, blocked a bipartisan Jan. 6, 2021, commission and overwhelmingly refused to convict four-times-indicted former president Donald Trump. The assertion that hyper-partisanship, chaos and nihilism (e.g., threatening to shut down the government, egging on a default and refusing to even vote on Ukraine aide) is equally divided amounts to an outright fabrication — or utter cluelessness.

That’s the same tommyrot one hears from No Labels. CNN’s Edward-Isaac Dovere reported that No Labels has resorted to “accusing Biden of having politically toxic positions he does not actually hold.” Well, if you are asking for millions to run a quixotic third-party race, it sounds better to make him out to be just as extreme as Trump; alas, it is just not true. (Even No Labels apparently understands that: “In a private presentation the group has circulated among members and prospective candidates are two claims that No Labels officials say would be damaging to Biden, even as they acknowledge the claims aren’t true: that he is for ‘open borders’ and that he is captive to a ‘far left’ that ‘wants to abandon Israel’ and is ‘sympathetic to Hamas.’”) To cook up an equivalence, you have to misrepresent Biden’s record.

Biden has actually stood up to the far left in his own party when it lionizes Hamas or demands Medicare-for-all. The left blasts him for being too accommodating, too courteous to Republicans and too hands-off with a listless Justice Department. Biden remains in step with the vast majority of Democrats.

The party’s center-left orientation was evident throughout the primaries. On Super Tuesday, California voters chose moderate Rep. Adam Schiff (D) over progressive Rep. Katie Porter (D) as one of two candidates to run to fill the Senate seat opened by Dianne Feinstein’s death. In Texas, moderate Rep. Colin Allred won the Senate Democratic primary by a mile and avoided a runoff.

San Francisco — yes, San Francisco — has gone moderate. “The liberal bastion of San Francisco pivoted rightward in Tuesday’s election as voters responded to ongoing drug, homelessness and crime crises by approving policies that bolster police and require drug-screening for welfare recipients,” Politico reported. “The results represent a major victory for embattled Mayor London Breed, a moderate Democrat who faces a tough fight for a second full term in November.”

Meanwhile, Republicans nominated for North Carolina governor not a “fiery outsider,” as the New York Times would have us believe (the headline was subsequently changed), but Mark Robinson, who called transgender and gay people “filth” and said gay people are equivalent to “what the cows leave behind” (also “maggots” and “flies”). He has made a series of shocking an inflammatory comments about women and Jews (even quoting Hitler), remains a staunch election denier and wants to ban all abortions (a view about 90 percent of Americans reject). Hate speech of the type Trump and Robinson utter would be disqualifying in the Democratic Party.

Robinson will face the state’s no-nonsense Democratic attorney general, Josh Stein, who is very much in the mode of moderate incumbent Democrat Roy Cooper. (Also from North Carolina, “Republican Mark Harris, whose previous election to Congress in 2018 was thrown out after credible allegations of election fraud, won a GOP primary for a newly drawn House seat,” Politico reported.)

Congress has also fallen under the grip of a right-wing bastion that cannot govern itself. The GOP speaker of the House is a Christian nationalist who thinks he was chosen by God and takes direction from the Bible, not the Constitution. No Democrat compares to the likes of Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) or Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.).

Worst of all, Republicans are on the verge of nominating someone literally out on bail, who dines with neo-Nazis, talks about blood purity and invites Russian President Vladimir Putin to attack NATO. Virtually every elected Republican has fallen in behind him — the most extreme, racist candidate since the Civil War. (Even Sen. Barry Goldwater knew Moscow was the enemy.)

Responsible reporting should not cover for Republicans. The MAGA Republican Party has become shockingly irrational and radicalized, fully embracing totalitarianism, white nationalism and radical isolationism.

America is divided not by some free-floating condition of “polarization” but by one party going off the deep end. And that’s a threat to all of us.

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