Groups that endorse a literal reading of religious texts are characterized as fundamentalist. For instance, the belief that God created the universe in seven days as written in the Book of Genesis. But any individual or group that remains loyal to an idea despite empirical data that refutes it, when loyalty to that idea supersedes adherence to actual evidence, may be said to hold fundamentalist beliefs. In the contemporary world, we associate fundamentalism with radical Islamic groups, but does the phenomenon exist in our political landscape?
Consider the fact that the American Republican Party is the only conservative movement in the world that denies the reality of man-made global warming. Other right-wing parties may differ with their more liberal counterparts about how to respond to climate change, but they recognize there is a grave problem. When discussing this dire threat, it appears that no set of data or degree of scientific consensus will ever persuade most Republican leaders to forsake their belief that man-made climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the scientific community to advance a “liberal” political agenda; one that would undermine the fossil fuel industry and adversely affect macroeconomic growth and cost jobs for American workers.
However, the denial of man-made global warming represents the latest expression of an insidious evolution in the Republican Party that began a generation ago under Ronald Reagan. The heart of the Reagan revolution consisted of a supply-side mantra that tax cuts spur a level of productive activity that generates additional tax revenues greater than those lost by the tax cut. The idea that tax cuts would actually increase revenues and reduce budget deficits represented the infamous voodoo of Reagan’s economic plan decried by George H.W. Bush in 1980.
It is remarkable that Republicans still tout the magical properties of tax cuts as a cure for budget deficits and as a primary policy prescription to restore economic growth, even as considerable historical data clearly refute their proposition. A staunch belief in tax reduction prompted George W. Bush to maintain his signature tax cut even as military spending for two wars and an increase in entitlement spending exploded budget deficits. Accordingly, the Republican Party has not only veered to the right, it has maintained cherished beliefs despite strong empirical evidence challenging their veracity. In this sense, Republican Party ideology has shifted in a fundamentalist direction.
The fundamentalist tilt of the Republican Party has transformed our political culture. While it is commonplace to bemoan intransigent partisanship, increasing levels of intolerance emanates from the fact that Tea Party Republicans and their fellow travelers view themselves as political prophets; as the true guardians of the nation’s future against serious threats to its well being. Believing their ideology to be unassailable, these conservatives maintain that liberal and even moderate opponents espouse views that endanger America’s strength. In this context, political debate becomes a Manichean struggle between good and evil that renders compromise an unreasonable or unthinkable capitulation to those who would harm the nation.
Increasingly dominated by those who espouse views impervious to change and who consider themselves to be the true custodians of the national interest, the Republican Party has become adamantly opposed to the spirit of collaboration that remains an essential feature of any democracy. As a significant factor contributing to the poisonous partisan atmosphere inhibiting the two major parties from working together, the fundamentalist tilt of the Republican Party threatens the health of our democratic system of government.
Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano