The Fallacy That Ate The GOP

Conservatives believe that the world is fundamentally fair and it’s their job to keep it that way. Even when it might hurt others…

Just about every religion functions by the same general idea: if you do the right things and follow the rules, you’ll be rewarded, if not in this life then in the afterlife, or in another incarnation of your soul. If you are suffering in the here and now, you must have done something to deserve it, and getting on the right path will end your problems. It’s a cognitive placebo that gets many of us through the day. And it’s also a fundamental component of the Republican platform. If you’re responsible and work hard, good things will happen and you’ll get all the just rewards that are due to you. Studies over the last few decades show that conservatives generally tend to believe this is exactly how the real world works, a view known as the Just World Theory, and in conservative media, they get daily reinforcements of this notion.

Right wing pundits love to talk about undeserving moochers draining the government with lavish benefits, insist that the only reason why the poor can’t afford health insurance is because they choose to be poor, and argue that no one in America ever dies waiting for care because someone will be there to help them, despite this being demonstrably untrue. The message is always loud and clear. Only the lazy and irresponsible fail and can’t afford life’s basics, and only ungrateful, entitled moochers ask for help because they’re losers who can’t make it on their own. But the problem with this quasi-religious worldview is that it’s the of spherical chicken in a vacuum approach to civics. It breaks down when confronted with the many hard to predict variables of reality, which is rather easily shown in the GOP’s own backyards; red states are consistently more dependent on federal funding than blue states, have higher mortality, and lower economic growth, with the exception of states that benefit from booms in the energy industry.

It’s little wonder that when faced with these stats, right wing media keeps on telling its consumers that blue states are takers drowning in debt, since the alternative is to look at the facts and tell dogmatic Republican voters in dire economic and healthcare straits that they’re being punished for their lack of work ethic in getting the knowhow they need to compete in modern, globalized economies. Though to be fair, the National Review did this once as part of their Never Trump campaign, advising hardcore Trump voters who find themselves in small towns to stop blaming anyone but themselves, rent the cheapest U-Haul, and move where there’s actual economic opportunity as decided by market forces. It didn’t go over well because no one likes to be told that their hard times are their fault and the universe is punishing them for their shortcomings. This is most likely why Republican parables of hard work paying off in spades are popular, but their policies aren’t.

Consider that President Trump’s approval rating is struggling to break 40% by the most generous poll aggregation. As Paul Ryan hyperventilated with excitement about his stab at healthcare reform after seven years of vows to get rid of Obamacare, portrayed as just short of genocide by government on right wing talk radio, blogs, and Fox News, just 17% of Americans thought Republicans knew what they were doing on this front. Even more, just 26% thought that repealing Obamacare was a good idea in the first place, and last year, when repealing the ACA was popular with a slight majority of the public, 58% of Americans supported a Medicare-For-All system that GOP’s leadership proclaimed would be the death of the nation as we know it, and the dawn of a tyrannical, perpetually broke nanny state.

We see similar trends in public support for environmental regulations that Republicans claim are destroying jobs and holding Americans back. Rather than believing them, 73% of the public support limits on emissions, 61% are for clean energy mandates and subsidies, and yes, this applies to the states trying to get rid of them. Similarly, some 60% don’t want to see the EPA hit by budget cuts and defanged while the GOP is busy doing exactly that with bought and paid for pseudoscience. This extends to other issues also. Some 69% of Americans are pro-choice and opposed attempts to defund Planned Parenthood. Over 60% are in favor of legalizing recreational pot use. Almost 70% believe climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions is very real and want action to curtail it. And finally, 55% of the country is just fine with same sex marriage, and 53% oppose the now famous “bathroom bills” while a further 7% doesn’t even have a concrete opinion on the subject.

According to the polls, roughly two thirds to three quarters of Americans strongly disagree with the Republican agenda in practice, which raises the obvious question of what a liberal-leaning country like this is doing with a far right government campaigning against everything most of its citizens more or less agree on. Perhaps it’s because Americans mostly sign on to the Just World Theory’s basic premise. About 57% disagree that success is life can be entirely driven by forces outside of your control, and 73% believe that what really gets you ahead in life is hard work. Now, at the same time, 61% also think that the American economy disproportionally favors the wealthy, including a 54% majority in high income households, which you may think would be a red flag, but what it really seems to say is that Americans believe that a lot of hard work makes you successful, and once you’re a success, the system will lavish you with rewards, so the logic seems quite consistent.

Even when the majority of liberals and half of moderates say they believe that income inequality is a major problem right now, what they really talk about is that the rewards for hard work should be more evenly distributed, not necessarily that the whole system is rigged in favor of the rich. On the Republican side, however, the belief that all you need to be successful is to work hard enough can reach a religious fervor, literally. In fact, lawmakers advancing cuts to SNAP programs, a.k.a. food stamps, will quote the Bible when asked why they’re so hell bent on doing this. In effect, they’ve taken the optimistic view of the Just World Theory embraced by liberals that the right system of opportunities, education, and rewards will help the public at large succeed, and adopted a very dark, almost malicious version of it that basically holds anyone who hasn’t succeeded as being punished by God or fate, and our attempts to help as interference with a just punishment.

In many ways this explains why the ACHA was so busy kicking “moochers” off Medicaid, making sure single mothers returned to work promptly, and worrying about the elaborate mechanics of making sure that there’s not a lottery winner getting assistance, not even for a moment, instead of trying to figure out why healthcare is so expensive, how to actually make the system more efficient, how to truly streamline and standardize costs, and how the government will evaluate whether the system is providing decent care. The Republican orthodoxy dictates that you will be provided for if you deserve it, whether it be by charity or by your own financial success, and that market demand will dictate prices, and so of course their focus is on anything but making sure no one’s getting undeserved help, not on whether help is truly being given and the system is in fact working as intended since they‘re sure that the system always works for those deserving in the first place.

This myopic, blind faith in the fundamental fairness of the universe and the notion that we all get what we deserve coupled with the libertarian faith in the supreme rationality of markets — despite boom and bust cycles and the constant drumbeat of speculation and fraud showing otherwise — is a huge part in what makes the GOP seem to act so cruel when it’s in charge, and is constantly sending them on witch hunts against voters they don’t believe should’ve voted because they’re all “moochers” or illegal aliens. One would imagine that party officials wouldn’t openly speculate about ensuring that fewer people vote, or celebrating lower turnouts of groups they’ve targeted in potential swing states like Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, and now, New Hampshire. But in the GOP’s world, the voters they’re purging or obstructing aren’t citizens deprived of a voice and forced to jump through elaborate hoops to maybe get it back, they’re freeloaders, radicals, and fraudsters rebelling against their deserved fate, a fate it’s their job to defend against the menace of radical progressivism…

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