The GOP is 3 Cults in a Trenchcoat

The GOP is 3 cults in a trench coat

One of two major parties in our American first-past-the-post voting system of dual-party reality, the Republican Party, has evolved (or devolved…) into a full-throated authoritarian movement seeking to overthrow our democracy, The Constitution, and the rule of law in order to establish a fascist regime in the United States. It’s been a not-so-secret fever dream on the right for decades and even centuries — and the old guard reflexively senses their time is coming to an end.

The demographic changes underway in America are inexorable — by the 2024 election cycle 8 million new young voters who have turned 18 since the 2022 mid-terms, and 5 million seniors aged 65 and up will have died. The first group will vote overwhelmingly Democratic, while the second group represents the ever-dwindling base of the Republican Party. Although historically older voters have participated at much higher rates than the youth voting percentage, the rate of increase for the 18-24 group is much higher.

Faced with these realities and the census projection of a majority minority population in the United States by the year 2045, the Republican right-wing is struggling to keep piecing together a voting base that can achieve victories in electoral politics. The GOP is now 3 cults in a trenchcoat, having been hollowed out and twisted to the point of trying desperately to hold increasingly extreme factions together for another election cycle in which they can try to capture power forever through gerrymandering and other anti-democratic election engineering — or at least long enough to erase the evidence of their criminal behavior during the Trump years culminating in a coup attempt on January 6, 2021.

The 3 Republican cult factions

  1. The Wealth Cult — A business lobby led by Charles Koch and a collection of dark money groups including Leonard Leo‘s Federalist Society and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), this group emerged out of the 1970s business backlash to the civil rights movement — while piggybacking on the still-simmering resentments of the anti-New Deal and pro-fascist America Firsters of the 1930s and the searing anti-Communism of the 1950s McCarthyism era turned, improbably, Russophilia in modern days.
  2. The Christian Nationalist Cult — Started by Jerry Falwell Sr. with the Moral Majority circa 1979, the politicized Evangelical movement is inexplicably led today by “sudden believers” Mike Pence, Mike Flynn, and others under the umbrella of the Council for National Policy (CNP), the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), and other religious organizations involved in politics in large part as a backlash to the Broad v. Board of Education ruling and the federal mandate to end school segregation. Masquerading as so-called “originalists,” this coalition are rather radical reactionaries participating in a long-running backlash against civil rights and the women’s rights movements of the 1960s, including the Roe v. Wade ruling by the Supreme Court that legalized abortion — overturned in 2022 based on efforts by this group.
  3. The White Nationalist Cult — With roots in the 1980s white power movement stretching all the way back to the Civil War and the Lost Cause mythology that followed and long outlasted Reconstruction, today the white identity movement is led by Steve Bannon and Roger Stone, with a parallel intertwined branch led by Peter Thiel and the Dark Enlightenment neo-Reactionaries of Silicon Valley. This group includes dominant private militia groups involved in the January 6 insurrection including the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers (both of whose leaders have been convicted of seditious conspiracy for their roles in the coup attempt — with the Oath Keepers’ leader Stewart Rhodes sentenced to 18 years for his actions).

The Wealth Cult

Led by Charles Koch et al, the mostly aging, Boomer crowd who controls much of the US government either directly or indirectly as a donor or operative is starting to panic for one reason or another: the fear of death looming, existential worries about thwarted or unmet ambition, economic turn of the wheel starting to leave their fortunes in decline (with inflation as a common boogie man since the Wall Street Putsch of the 1930s). Much of this crowd inherited the free market ideological zeal of the Austrian School of economics (later, trickle down economics) from their fathers along with their trust fund fortunes that some have squandered (Trump), tread water with (Coors, Scaife), or grown (Koch, DeVos).

The Wealth Cult, by Midjourney

This group tends to be extremely zealous about free market favorites Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman, and other Libertarian and extreme conservative economists. It is staunchly anti-union, anti-tax, anti-regulation, and — increasingly so — anti-democratic and anti-government in belief and behavior.

The wealth cult has funded an enormous system of think tanks and advocacy groups (The Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, Americans for Prosperity, American Enterprise Institute, and Club for Growth among many others) parallel to the liberal think tank establishment that peddle free market ideology, trickle down economics, low taxes, and low regulation — not from a scholarly academic process, but from a PR process of motivated reasoning and laundering political messages into the academy. This faux intellectual movement itself has roots in the pro-fascist, pro-Nazi forces in America in the early 20th century when industrial oligarchs consolidated their considerable forces against FDR and the New Deal.

Re-energized by the 1970s Powell Memo and its attendant backlash to the civil rights movement and the Brown v. Board of Education ruling that ended segregation in American schools, the businessmen’s lobby gathered its forced over the next many decades until our current moment of extreme polarization that almost no one wants but the wealthy tycoons who benefit from all the squabbling and infighting — because gridlocked government is as close to their wet dream of the Night Watchman State they’re unlikely to get… unless Project 2025 has its way.

Early heirs of American fortunes led the charge against governments growing with their populations, from John M. Olin to Joseph Coors to Richard Mellon Scaife to the Bradleys to Fred Koch and the ideologues from the John Birch Society. Today, The Kochtopus and its many tendrils rule the roost of right-wing financing — the GOP dark money donor group has also funded numerous candidates, parties, campaigns, and, post-Citizens United, succeeding in capturing the American Congress almost in total. An almost unlimited amount of dark money can now find its way into America politics — and it has, to the tune of billions of dollars over the last few election cycles.

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The Christian Nationalist Cult

Then there are the religious zealots, who see every generation as being the last — with the Rapture always right around the corner to punish the wicked left. Evangelicals in particular are extremely bigoted, but they are also completely blind to their bigotry and quite defensive about it. Some might say they protect their bigotry like a sort of treasure. They tend to be authoritarian as a core personality trait, but again, many are completely unaware of it and are deeply lacking in self-reflection more generally.

Paul Weyrich was the right-wing operative who “activated” the religious right for political duty as footsoldiers for the Republican Army, starting heavily in the 1970s. That work was joined and has been carried on by Jerry Falwell Sr. & Jr., Pat Robertson, numerous televangelists in the dustbin of sex scandal history, Newt Gingrich, and other fundamentalist lawmakers and operatives throughout the 80s, 90s, and up through today.

Newt Gingrich, by Midjourney

Today’s Christian nationalist movement is largely led by two groups: The Council for National Policy (CNP) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — note the conspicuous overlap between these organizations and the Koch-led wealth cult in the first group. Mike Pence, Mike Flynn, Steve Bannon, Betsy DeVos & Erik Prince, and many many more familiar shady names are leading, primary donors and/or founders of, or otherwise tightly connected with CNP and ALEC.

Another key group that flies almost entirely under the radar is the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), a theoretically non-denominational wing of the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement that maintains its leaders are imbued with supernatural powers including prophecy and faith healing. The NAR is one aspect of a broader umbrella movement of Dominionism, or 7 Mountains Dominionism (7M), which seeks to establish a Christian theocracy in America by “taking dominion” over the 7 major aspects of modern cultural life from the media to business to politics.

The group’s Reawaken America Tour (RAT) has been touring the U.S. to hold events over the past several years, featuring speakers from Flynn and Stone to Trump crony Mike “MyPillow Guy” Lindell — a man who has made a cottage industry out of histrionically promising to deliver incontrovertible proof of alleged Democratic election fraud that somehow never actually materializes.

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The White Nationalist Cult

This country is no stranger to white nationalist cults — they’ve been here since the beginning, in the form of colonialism, conquest, manifest destiny, chattel slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, the KKK, white power militias, neo-Nazis, and other groups in the basket of aptly-named “deplorables.” What Trump, Bannon, Stephen Miller, and others did was further inflame some tensions that have plagued this nation for a long time — to stoke the choking fires of bigotry that’s always burning underground. They brought white supremacy back to the surface and into popular discourse, and stoked the fires of nationalism on home soil to further their own private ideological agendas.

Picking up on the work that Nixon‘s Southern Strategy had done in the late 1960s and 1970s to realign the 2 major political parties around racial ideologies, the new tiki torch carriers of the 2010s and 2020s have taken the gloves (and masks) off of white identity politics — no longer hiding their racism, but saying the formerly quiet parts out loud. They’ve also joined forces with like-minded right-wing authoritarian leaders and movements around the world — extending their influence beyond the once domestic disputes fomented by the Confederates who planted the seeds Nixon would later harvest to win election in 1968.

Bannon, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and their plutocratic backers from around the world want to profiteer off of hate, destruction, and anarcho-capitalism as they seek “destruction of the administrative state” or to “drown it in the bathtub” and relegate American government to a Night Watchman primarily concerned with (surprise, surprise!) protecting their property. In other words, they want the US government to protect their assets, while they avoid paying taxes on their wealth, shirk laws, and obscure their trail with an elaborate hall of mirrors disinformation and propaganda machine pumping out nothing but nonsense 24/7/365.

Hitler and Mussolini, sitting in a tree, K I S S I N G by Midjourney

Unfortunately for us, propaganda and conspiracy theories work to hook a shocking percentage of the American public — just as they did in Hitler‘s Germany and Mussolini‘s Italy. This rogue’s gallery of power-hungry hate peddlers have zero qualms about thinly recycling that fascist playbook — down to the cheap cartoon ideology of antisemitism used to deflect working-class anger away from the billionaires who feel entitled to rule the masses, and towards whatever scapegoat-du-jour suits their immediate political needs: immigrants, “Communists,” trans kids, or simply the “woke left” more broadly (“where woke goes to die” is a pretty unambiguous policy position).

And unsurprisingly, they adore Vladimir Putin — the Russian dictator who has positioned himself as the “savior” of the white Christian West.

Thanks to hundreds of years of head starting, white males own the vast majority of property in America. They believe fervently in their own transcendent, Ayn Randian gifts with which to tackle any challenge — even though a sizable percentage of them are trust fund brats living inside their own delusions of imagined self-made success. The oligarch demographic within the white nationalist cult ropes in the “average” aka formerly middle class aka “poor masses” the same way they always have: by ruthlessly exploiting their bigotry, and letting them get away with (often literal) murder. It’s the same old story from the Lost Cause Religion: supremacist conspiracy about how whites are superior to Blacks, how the Bible totally justified slavery (it did not), and only the gallant white man can bear the terrible burden of making decisions for everybody else.

Peter Thiel’s crossover cultists

With a Venn diagram whose electron probabilities hover somewhere between the white nationalists and the wealth cultists, the Peter Thiel strain of white power fancies itself the “intellectual” wing of the New Right. Both Bannon and Thiel exploited the long-latent racism of young men on the internet to build their political movements, but Thiel’s sect is more Silicon Valley-flavored and self-identified as more highbrow.

The Dark Enlightenment acolytes seem to worship the eccentric billionaire and member of the Paypal Mafia as well as another of its brethren, Elon Musk. They believe in an ideology of technological accelerationism, in which advances in technology will continue to speed up to the point of overthrowing all concept of government and replacing it with gigantically powerful and militarily-armed corporate feudal states. Thiel, a German immigrant who made his fortune in large part from government largesse (like Musk), nevertheless spends his war chest relentlessly on funding authoritarian candidates like (successful) JD Vance (OH) and (unsuccessful) Blake Masters (AZ), both Republican candidates for Senate in 2022.

Right-wing governing incompetence

The right wing is used to being the opposition party — and operating from a minority perspective. They are not used to — and perhaps not even interested in — actually governing.

When they have win elections recently, they have seemed unable to capitalize on their power. The current House majority — which essentially holds much of the purse strings of the nation — cannot seem to get it together to pass any kind of legislation. We once had a Know-Nothing Congress — we now have a Do-Nothing version.

See also: the complete debacle and chaos of the covid-19 pandemic. The Trump administration had no clue what it is was doing, was out of tis depth, and failed the American people at the cost of millions and millions of unnecessarily-lost lives.

What should we do?

I’m glad you asked! I’m working on this problem continuously myself. I have some ideas about how to save democracy, how to get into Democratic activism (they make it easy! hop in and talk to voters!), and how to cultivate a mindset of mental self-defense for the current and coming Information Wars. All of these are a work in progress and I’ll be updating them as constantly as I can.

Tell a simpler story

I’m becoming convinced that another helpful line of action can come from learning how to tell a simpler story of what’s going on in American politics. One of the reasons conspiracy theories have such a strong appeal is that they offer far simpler narratives to a public who is ever short on time, thanks to the need to continually run the hypercapitalist rat race created for society by these same sets of oligarchs. We can perhaps counter those narratives by offering a similar kind of “Marie Kondo’d” version of political history on the left — although ours is an attempt to encapsulate some actual truth, versus inventing a fantastic fable based solely on conveniently ancient hatreds.

My suggestion for that simpler story is that the common thread we can boil down all the hypercomplexity of centuries of American history into is this: it is largely a tale of The Wealthy vs. The Government in a battle for supremacy over the nation and, indeed, the planet. It is a tale played out again and again with different faces and names, but the same underlying themes. If we can begin to frame the overarching story in this way, and present it through this lens consistently and loudly, we may be able to break through some of the disinformation landscape we find ourselves woefully in today.

More 3 cults in a trenchcoat resources:

I’ve been doing my best to map out the players in this edition of the Republican Party, as a matter of a duty to warn. It’s no small feat, but I’ll be keeping at it!

Mind Map of connected players

Learnings and thoughts

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