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Why, Republicans? Why such hate?

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I don’t believe that Republicans ever had the slightest interest in “fixing” Obamacare. Obama himself repeatedly asked Congress to make the Affordable Care Act better, for instance here, and here–and there were certainly areas it could have been improved. But Republicans insisted on being the party of no. They were and are so driven by blind fury of Barack Obama that their plain and simple desire was to do something that would tarnish his legacy and wound him personally. “Repeal and replace” really meant: harm Obama personally.

Ever since the 1990s, when Republicans declared war on President Clinton—about as centrist as a Democrat can be, with his triangulations—I’ve scratched my head in wonderment at what makes them tick. They went after both Clintons, Bill and Hillary, with a vengeance that seemed to me psychotic, like Hannibal Lector going after Dr. Fredrick Chilton at the end of “Silence of the Lambs” with a single aim: to torture and kill him. All during Clinton’s administration, I watched these Republicans froth at the mouth like rabid dogs in their intolerance and blind fury, and wondered “Why?”

Then Barack Obama got elected, and the horrors of the Republican Party of the 1990s, which had gone largely underground during George W. Bush’s presidency, resurfaced with a vengeance. It astounded and appalled me how viciously they spoke of him and of Michelle, not to mention Hillary Clinton. The spitefulness, the vindictiveness with which they pursued him was frightful. For eight long years while Obama was in office, I wondered, once again, “Why?”

The book I’m reading, Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money,” provides a detailed explanation of the policy reasons why right wing billionaires like the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson hate Democrats, but what it does not, and cannot, explain are the personal reasons for their extreme animosity. It’s tempting, of course, to blame it, in Obama’s case, on racism, or, in Hillary’s case, on misogyny, but Bill Clinton was a WASP male, and they wanted to kill him, too. I have no doubt whatsoever that there is a substantial chunk of Republicans who are racist and into the male-dominance thing, but I don’t think most of them are, so it remains a mystery to me. Democrats certainly disagreed with a lot of things Ronald Reagan did, but I don’t recall this level of hysterical odium we see on the right. I, myself, rather liked and admired Ronald Reagan, and I voted for his vice president, George H.W. Bush, for president. Similarly, when George W. Bush was elected, Democrats didn’t demonize him. Yes, some implied he was stupid (which I didn’t believe), and the Iraq War certainly split the country and caused outrage on the left and throughout large swaths of the center, but again, the execration with which the right lashes out at Democrats simply wasn’t there. So once again, I ask myself, “Why?”

It’s easy, among liberals, to portray today’s tea party and evangelical Republicans as mentally ill, because when someone acts in ways that are unhinged, sometimes that’s the only conclusion you can come to. I’ve suggested, myself, that this is the case: that there is something wrong with the thinking processes of so many Republicans. I realize that’s an insulting thing to do, and in a way, it’s also a lazy attitude for me to take, because it means I don’t have to try really hard to understand where Republicans are coming from.

But I reject that analysis. I have tried, really, really hard, to penetrate into their thinking in order to discover some strain of rationality that would account for the rancor; but, hard as I try, I just can’t find anything in Republicans that accounts, in a sane way, for their bitterness. There is absolutely nothing wrong with disagreeing on policy; that’s what politics is all about. Fight it out! But the vituperation, the piranha-like frenzy on the right—the way they personalize everything and call Obama and Hillary Clinton “evil” and demand their imprisonment and/or death—that is simply incomprehensible to me. Once again, as for the last twenty-plus years, I find myself asking the question again: Why are these Republicans so filled with malice—especially the ones who call themselves “Christian”?

As far as Trump is concerned, I think I understand. We were both born on the same day, in the same year: June 14, 1946, in the same city: New York, he in Queens, me across the bridges in The Bronx. I “get” Trump, and while that doesn’t fully explain him, it does explain a few things. I “get” his anger and impatience, which are very New Yorky qualities. I “get” the quickness to lose his temper, and blame others for everything that irritates him. I have been tempted by those same character defects all my life, but I’m aware of them, and I don’t like them in myself, and I’ve struggled—not always successfully—to overcome them. What I think is that Trump is missing some important form of self-awareness, a self-correction mechanism. He has not struggled against his demons. He’s allowed them to devour him.

Do you remember that time at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, in 2011, when Obama teased Trump on his birtherism and his Celebrity Apprentice T.V. show? It was Obama at his best: bitingly funny, cool, intellectually sharp. Remember when the camera zeroed in on Trump, who was in the audience? Trump looked dark, enraged, furious; I thought I saw black smoke coming out of his ears. I think that was the moment when Trump decided to hate Obama, to do everything in his power to destroy him: Obama had embarrassed him in front of a group whose love Trump coveted, and which Obama clearly had: the Washington establishment, and, worse, Obama had done so on live T.V.–Trump’s medium–before the entire nation and the world. That was the night Trump decided to get even.

And that is what motivates him in his obsession with destroying Obama, the man. It has nothing to do with helping Americans get health insurance. Does anyone actually believe Trump cares? But it does have everything to do with personally delivering a bloody, painful wound to a man he loathes. In a weird way, I can understand that. It’s sick, but it makes a certain sense, from a revenge point of view. But what I still don’t understand is why so many other Republicans, whom Obama never hurt but tried to get along with, carry such a nasty grudge against him.

 

  1. I think there’s two different explanations, though they overlap a little: the cultural wars, and a shift in how political differences are treated.

    I think the first explains the hatred of Bill Clinton, and at least the beginnings of Hillary hatred. Bill was the first Boomer president, and in many ways he was a stereotype out of central casting: a supposed “draft dodger,” who smoked pot (but had to claim not to have inhaled) and opposed Vietnam. He was a womanizer who married an intelligent feminist woman who wanted — and was “allowed” to have — her own career, instead of “staying home and baking cookies.” Bill and Hillary were practically poster children for all the stuff that conservatives hated about the 60s, all the stuff the GOP fought and mostly won elections on in the 70s and 80s. Conservative thought they had won: most of that 60s generation was settling down in the suburbs, voting for Reagan, and telling their kids to “just say no” to pot. Then the Clintons come along and seemingly upend that, and so all of the cultural baggage of the 60s gets relitigated through the Clinton candidacy and presidency.

    There are still cultural reasons for Obama hatred, of course. While he’s not a Boomer, he is part of the modern, cosmopolitan, city-based liberalism. And we ignore the racial aspects of Obama hatred at our peril. But I think in his case a lot of the hatred is based on my second explanation.

    It probably needs a better label, but what I’m getting at is this: I may be viewing the past through nostalgia-colored glasses, but it seems to me that conservatives used to mostly view liberal politicians as misguided rather than morally corrupt. Various cliches reflected this: “a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged,” etc. According to conservatives, liberals even deserved credit for being “soft-hearted” (e.g. in caring about the poor and minorities), but couldn’t be in charge of policy because they were also “soft-headed” with their unworkable plans, and generally “soft” on crime, the Soviet Union, etc.

    I think the change came in two waves. First, there was the right’s wooing of religious conservatives; if conservatives were the “Moral” Majority, then what does that imply about liberals’ morality? That trend starts in the 70s (“acid, amnesty, and abortion”), but it takes some time to really get going, in part because the parties weren’t perfectly sorted on the hot-button issues — even into the 90s, you still had pro-choice Republicans and anti-choice Democrats. Second, there was 9/11. And suddenly, politics is about a “clash of civilizations,” and according to many conservatives, liberals are not just “soft” but actually rooting for the other side. Conservatives got good at wrapping themselves in the Constitution and portraying liberals as not just misguided but well-intentioned softies, but actual traitors (Andrew Sullivan’s “Fifth Column”) who want to destroy the Constitution by letting the Mooooslims destroy our freedoms.

    As 9/11 receded into the past and wasn’t quite as good a bloody shirt to wave, conservative media kept up the talking point — liberals still want to “rip up the Constitution” by (gasp) giving people health care.

    Sorry Steve — this turned into an essay rather than a comment! I could probably go on longer, but I’d better stop somewhere.

  2. I’ve been reading “Dark Money” and it’s an eye opener. The takeaway lesson for me is how this secret money from the likes of the Koch Brothers, Sherman Adelson, the Olin Foundation and others enabled republican operatives like Karl Rove and fox “news” to psychologically make voters hate. They perfected this strategy over the last 30 years. These people could make you hate chocolate ice cream!

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