The GOP is 3 Cults in a Trenchcoat

One of two major parties in our American first-past-the-post voting system of dual-party reality, the Republican Party, has evolved 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 GOP is 3 cults in a trenchcoat, having been hollowed out and twisted to the point of trying desperately to hold it together for another election cycle in which they can try to capture power forever — 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 cults are as follows:

  1. The Wealth Cult — led by Charles Koch, among others
  2. The Christian Nationalist Cult — led by Mike Pence, and by Mike Flynn and the Council for National Policy
  3. The White Nationalist Cult — led by Steve Bannon and Roger Stone, with a parallel intertwined branch led by Peter Thiel and the Dark Enlightenment neo-Reactionaries

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. Much of this crowd inherited the free market ideological zeal from their fathers along with their trust fund fortunes that some have squandered (Trump), tread water with (Coors, Scaife), or grown (Koch, DeVos).

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 has funded an enormous system of think tanks 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. It has also funded numerous candidates, parties, campaigns, and, post-Citizens United, have succeeded on capturing the American Congress almost in total.

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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.

Today’s Christian nationalist movement is largely led by two groups: The Council for National Policy (CNP) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). 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.

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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 it back to the surface and into popular discourse.

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 propaganda machine pumping out nothing but nonsense 24/7/365.

And unsurprisingly, they adore Vladimir Putin

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 JD Vance (OH) and Blake Masters (AZ), both Republican candidates for Senate in 2022.

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.

More 3 cults in a trenchcoat resources: