In August 1973, in Stockholm, Sweden, a bank robber held four hostages for almost a week in a police standoff. When he was finally arrested, the hostages refused to testify against him, even raising money for his defense. Psychiatrists dubbed it “Stockholm Syndrome.”
It’s still unclear what it is that sometimes makes victims develop loyalty to their victimizers. But today’s Republican Party has definitely figured out this neat trick.
For years, the party’s policies have hurt those who aren’t wealthy. On taxes, health care, wages and more, Republicans can be counted upon to side with the boss, not the employee. Yet the party’s country-club-dwelling leaders have built a sturdy electoral advantage with working-class whites — the very folks who aren’t helped by tax cuts for the rich, restricted health care access, union-busting and the rest.
Contrary to the myth that whites without college degrees were wooed by Trumpism, they have in fact favored the GOP by double-digit percentages (and growing) for about a decade now, according to Gallup. At this point, many of them would sooner yank out their own eyeballs than vote for a Democrat. There are various theories about why — that’s a longer conversation — but Republicans don’t even have to pretend anymore to serve the interests of these voters. For whatever reason, Republicans have their support no matter what they do to them.
Example: On Tuesday, President Donald Trump announced he was ending negotiations with House Democrats over another pandemic relief package and focusing instead on getting his latest Supreme Court pick seated before the election. In other words, he would put on hold aid to millions of working Americans and small businesses still struggling with the economic effects of the virus, so Republicans can finish stacking a conservative court majority that’s out of step with most Americans.
And one of that court’s first orders of post-election business? Hearing a Republican lawsuit seeking to kill the Affordable Care Act and toss millions of regular Americans off their health insurance.
As often happens when Trump says the quiet part out loud, he was forced by public outrage to backtrack, tweeting the next day that Congress should pass a new relief package. But that won’t be up to him. It will be mainly up to Senate Republicans, who have made it clear the priorities of Trump’s original announcement were and still are the party’s priorities: Don’t bother preventing vulnerable Americans from getting thrown to the pandemic wolves. Focus instead on installing a Supreme Court that’s going to release more wolves.
The suit by Republican state attorneys general (including Missouri’s Josh Hawley, now the state’s junior senator) seeks to kill the ACA, a.k.a. Obamacare, which is all that prohibits insurance companies from shutting out people who have preexisting medical conditions like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and many others. Before Obamacare, it was common for insurance companies to refuse to cover those people, on grounds that business is business and insuring a diabetic is a money-loser.
If the lawsuit succeeds and the ACA falls, that medieval practice will return. This is why the GOP wasn’t anxious to have the Supreme Court hear it before the election: Better not to have all those pesky headlines about working people being driven into bankruptcy by their medical bills just as America is headed for the polls. Better to wait until it’s too late for voters to see the damage. When the Supreme Court announced it would hear the case on Nov. 10 — one week after the election! — how the champagne glasses must have clinked.
But still. Comparing a major political party to a hostage-taking bank robber? How dare I?
• The 2017 GOP tax cuts benefited mainly the wealthy, while adding almost $2 trillion to the deficit. Republican leaders subsequently used that deficit to justify proposed cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other programs that benefit mainly the non-wealthy.
• Increasing the federal minimum wage would push up working peoples’ wages across the board. For years, the GOP has doggedly prevented it.
• Medicaid expansion specifically helps the working poor (the poorest of the poor are already covered). But Republicans in Missouri and other red states have said no — even though it means turning down federal money.
• More than 90% of Americans, including strong majorities of gun owners, favor universal background checks for gun purchases. The GOP continues to prevent it, at the cost of lives.
The list goes on. Again and again, the GOP pursues policies that are good for the well-heeled — insurance companies, stockholders, big industry, the gun lobby — and bad for everyone else. Including millions of working-class Americans who, next month, will once again vote for them anyway.
It makes you wonder what those cloistered Republican leaders think about it all. Are they quietly snickering at these folks for putting up with their self-serving political abuse?
Or are they, like that Swedish bank robber, genuinely befuddled? “It was the hostages’ fault,” he told an interviewer later. “They did everything I told them to. … Why didn’t any of them attack me?” Good question.
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