Lawless Death Cult: Why the Fall of the Republican Party Holds the Key to Our Redemption
In 2016 when I published my book Sacred America, Sacred World, I did my best to be inclusive and transpartisan in my writing even though I lean fairly strongly progressive: I incorporated feedback from thoughtful Republicans, honored the wisdom on the right, and I even traveled to both the Democratic and Republican National Convention. At the latter, I spoke in a Purple Tent on the same panel as Grover Norquist.
I included two endorsements from Republicans on the back cover of my book, and many told me my book was one of the few things that helped them bridge the left-right divide in their families.
So I’m quite sincere in saying that the best in the American character is called forth when we honor both progressive and conservative impulses. The yearnings, principles, and passions of the conservative mindset hold important perspectives that we need to integrate in a healthy democracy.
A Republican I respect, Bill Shireman, says that the American Eagle needs both left and right wings to fly, a statement that has deep truth in it.
While that is, I think, the most constructive approach to politics as a whole, what do we do when a political party goes off the rails and becomes so deeply corrupted that it is no longer in service to our country?
Different medicine is then needed.
The last nearly four years of the Trump administration has changed my sense for what is needed. I am now clear that in order for our country to thrive in the new millennium and contribute to a positive future for our world, the Republican Party needs to go through a collapse so thorough, devastating, and complete that it may well render it incapable of continuing at all.
That doesn’t mean conservatism or the philosophy of governance that has been previously championed by the Republican Party will disappear in our culture. It also doesn’t mean that the vast majority of people who have identified as Republicans are anti-American or corrupt.
It simply means that the vehicle for their political visions and aspirations has reached a point of corruption and anti-democratic behavior so deep that there is no redeeming it. That may not be fully obvious to most Republicans now but I’m convinced it will be within six months.
People who strongly identify with the traditional conservative ideals will ultimately have to find an uncorrupted new vehicle —a Lincoln Party, Conservative Party or other serious reinvention that sheds the associations and infrastructure of the Republican Party completely.
This will not happen overnight but it needs to happen for the success of the American experiment.
The reason I believe this is true is contained in the title of this article, which may sound sensationalist but is actually quite accurate. The Republican Party under Trump has become a Lawless Death Cult.
Let’s start with lawless.
The charges brought against President Trump that led to his impeachment trial are the most serious ever brought against a sitting President, representing clear high crimes against our nation.
The way those charges were treated by the Republican Party was entirely political. There was no respect for the rule of law, no respect for Constitutional principles or duties. They betrayed their solemn oaths and created what was effectively a sham trial with the verdict decided well before the trial began.
It was obvious that Senator Mitch McConnell never had any intention of engaging a fair trial. The Constitutional responsibility to address egregious and in this case treasonous accusations with a full and fair trial was ignored in favor of partisan protectionism. Only Senator Romney dared to break ranks and vote his conscience.
And it’s clear that the corrupt dealings continue unabated.
The commutation of the sentence of Roger Stone — who was convicted for illegal betrayals of our country and who explicitly demanded the President absolve him because he “didn’t turn on him” — was a clear attack on the rule of law.
Republicans largely sat silent.
The firing of US Attorney Geoffrey Berman, who was investigating Trump, his allies and perhaps even Attorney General Bill Barr, was a violation of the rule of law.
The attacking of protestors who were exercising their right to assemble in front of the White House, all for a staged photo op, was in direct violation of the Constitutional limits of how the Commander in Chief can deploy the military.
We can go further back to the firing of James Comey and those clear attempts to obstruct justice. Witness intimidation. Violations of the emoluments clause. Corrupt dealings with foreign governments. Encouraging supporters to “rough up” protestors.
And on July 15th, we reached the most frightening and dangerous level of lawlessness yet, with unidentified federal agents in unmarked cars snatching people at random off Portland streets without even coordinating with local law enforcement in direct violation of the law. Trump now plans to extend these actions to other cities.
The list of criminality goes on and on.
The Trump regime has broken the law left and right and precious few Republican legislators have challenged the lawlessness.
As a result, they have become fully complicit in this lawbreaking.
The broad acceptance of active, egregious and even treasonous lawbreaking at the top of the Republican Party has led us to a point where the party as a whole has become a party that upholds neither the Constitution nor the rule of law. It cannot have any pretense to be a law-and-order party when it exempts itself and its leaders from following our laws.
And that means that it cannot survive if we hope to instill a moral and ethical code in the generations to come. Otherwise we send the message that if you have power, you are free to break laws as you wish.
That is not the message of a healthy democracy.
That is the message of the Mafia.
We cannot have a stable, healthy country that is governed by lawlessness. By choosing personal and political power over the rule of law, the Republican Party has essentially betrayed our country for personal gain.
Which bring us to death.
To the utter amazement of most of the world, the Republican Party has denied science, reason, and vast amounts of data to effectively bury its head in the sand in response to the coronavirus pandemic. More than 45 countries worldwide have largely succeeded in suppressing or eliminating the disease and are returning to normal.
The Republican Party, by contrast, has gone through various stages of telling us to ignore the seriousness, to treat this deadly disease like a common flu, to open the country up too early, to force children back into schools, to protest the wearing of masks, to stage rallies without social distancing, and to essentially try to wave a magic wand to make the coronavirus go away.
We’ve now entered the stage where the White House is controlling access to CDC data and spinning completely false narratives about us having the lowest mortality rates in the world order to deflect from the calamity we face.
The virus has relentlessly shown this magical thinking to be not only worthless but actively dangerous in the face of a real crisis.
We have been outperformed in this crisis by nearly every nation in the world save Brazil, which has a Trump emulator at the helm.
This bottom-of-the-barrel result is the shared responsibility of the President and the Republican Party.
They have played politics with science, undermined and attacked top scientists, and deflected attention from failures to provide PPE, testing, and more. They are now going so far as to actually hide data.
They have told us to get used to the coronavirus and get back to business. In short, they’re writing off a massive number of dead citizens, more than we’ve grieved from every war since World War II, instead of taking the clearly marked pathway to suppression that other countries have demonstrated.
In doing so, they have, perhaps permanently, taken America off the pedestal of respect that it has largely occupied in the world’s eyes. In the eyes of much of the world, we have become something of a pitiable failed state, which has economic, psychological, and political implications. We have become a “plague state” to use the words of one Sri Lankan writer.
Republicans have engaged in short-term, escapist and cruel responses to the most serious challenge we’ve faced in at least a generation. They have not acted like adults in charge. Rather than admit failures, they cast aspersions on others, play the victim and continue to accept massive casualties if that is what is they think is good for the economy (an either/or dichotomy that has been definitely been shown to be false since the best way to preserve the economy is to suppress the virus).
It is clear that the Republican Party has chosen what it has believed is its political self-interest over the death of many, many Americans. They have sacrificed Americans on the altar of their attachment to power. This is a betrayal of our country.
It has thus become a party of death.
Finally, let’s talk about cult.
Loyalty to President Trump has been at a feverish pitch in the Republican Party these last years. He himself said that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue without losing any supporters.
He has cultivated and actively reinforced a personality cult around him, directly challenging democratic norms and standards and trying to make himself into something like a king rather than a President.
Those who refuse to do his bidding are fired, harassed, or publicly attacked. Jeff Sessions is a case in point: his recusal from the Mueller investigation became the reason for a long-term retribution campaign culminating in his loss of the Senate primary.
A cult is committed to an individual over and above any principles. By not fundamentally challenging, balancing and undermining this cult dynamic, the Republican Party as a whole has itself become a cult built around the elevation of one man.
President Trump will, I believe, go down in history as our most corrupt and reviled President and he has played a leading role in the corruption of morals, values, and ethics that has built the cult.
But we cannot put the blame solely on him as one by one, almost all of the major Republican leaders have capitulated in order to maintain their own base of power.
They ALLOWED themselves to be corrupted. They chose to become liars. They willingly undermined the rule of law.
They are thus fully culpable. They are not victims. They are co-creators of the moral bankruptcy of the Republican Party. They are collaborators in undermining the health, respect, and good standing of the United States in the world.
Except for a small cadre of Republicans of conscience such as those in the Lincoln Project and other like-minded initiatives, they have been morally weak and ethically bankrupt. They did not put loyalty to country ahead of loyalty to Trump. They allowed the Republican Party to become a Mafia-esque operation kept in line through threats and corrupt favors rather than a party dedicated to the advancement of our country.
They failed our country in a moment of great need.
While we should absolutely give them the chance to embark on an arduous path to personal redemption, that path has to lead through real soul searching, public accountability, and reparations for the damage they have caused. For some, it may even involve prosecutions.
Where it does not lead is to them being re-elected in the near term.
Or to holding any position of respect in our society until they come clean, make amends, and take responsibility for their role in the damage.
All of which brings me back to the central point, which is that in order for America to fulfill the promise in our charter, the Republican Party needs to now face an inglorious decline and likely demise.
The denialism, escapism, and sheer ignorance that has given us the sea of corpses and overrun hospitals from the coronavirus can only create more destruction as we face still-bigger challenges on the horizon like global warming.
Their repudiation of science cannot effectively be the basis for leadership of a modern nation.
Their war on reason, ethics, and truth cannot lead to a healthy democracy.
While I use strong language here, I don’t actually feel any hatred around this because I believe that the Republican Party’s institutionalized corruption is propelling us through a very hard but ultimately necessary transformation of the American psyche.
To fulfill our highest potential, deep changes are in order. Exploring those changes fully would take a long article in itself, but I think at least four transformations are happening rapidly now:
- The exposure of the inadequacy of hypermasculine leadership and a shift to integrated leadership. It’s no accident that many of the most successful countries in dealing with the coronavirus are led by women heads of state and that some of the most afflicted are led by hypermasculine, all-aggression-all-the-time men. The Republican Party’s over-identification with masculine power is, ironically, leading us into the most impotent phase in our history . On the other side of this initiation, I believe we’ll see a rebalancing of leadership such that future leaders balance strength and compassion, power and love, toughness and real generosity and that we have far more women in office from top to bottom. Trump is creating a caricature of why hypermasculine leadership needs to be put in the dustbin of history: because it no longer works, and really never did. Basically, by offering an epic failure as a patriarchal figure, Trump is effectively helping to end the patriarchal era and lead to something that is more balanced and whole in which the masculine and the feminine come into balance in our political culture.
- The detonation of our inflation and arrogance and the emergence of American humility. With power can come grandiosity rather than humility. The relentless chanting of “we’re number one” in our country has reflected how full of ourselves we are in a way that stops us from effectively learning from or treating the rest of the citizens of the world with respect. We could have learned deep lessons from other countries that would have allowed us to win early against the virus. Italy, for example, went from the worst outbreak to almost back to normal now. Instead, we will end up quarantined for probably 6–9 months from the rest of the world — a basket case whose citizens are not welcome anywhere until we get our act together. Even the Bahamas has suspended travel from the United States. Other countries have stopped seeing America as an exceptional nation and the world order is reshuffling as a result. The pride of Americans regarding our country has descended to a previously untouched low. And we are likely to go much lower this year as the full extent of the corruption, death, and dysfunction worsens with an increasingly lame duck administration that has no vision or agenda for the future, just a desire to score political retribution points. Similar to how an addict hits bottom, this coming bottom can lead America into a path of redemption, healing, and service but I regretfully think that we have further to go. Trump’s MAGA slogan was catnip for those who have been attached to feeling inflated, arrogant and superior for being Americans but that attachment has now led us to an unprecedented point where we are humiliated on the world stage, with a collapsed economy and broken system of governance. Ultimately, this bottoming out and subsequent transformation can hopefully lead to a future role in the world that is infused with more humility, maturity, and respect.
- Removing the veil to address our cruelty— we’re now experiencing blowback from centuries of oppression as our ugly history of systemic racism is front and center for everyone to see. By making dog whistles to the white supremacists, bungling the handling of the George Floyd protests, and championing the Confederate south, Trump has spotlighted the systemic racism in our society like nothing previously has. Instead of attempting to reform things in any real way, he has uncritically championed police abuse, activated secretive police forces from the DHS to suppress dissent, and doubled down on symbols of racism. This stance has firmly put the Republican Party as a whole on the wrong side of history. We have deep, humbling work to do as a nation that includes systemic changes, reparations, truth and reconciliation commissions and much more. We have largely avoided this work in the past and now it is being forced to the surface. The Republican Party has revealed itself as the party of avoiding the truth rather than facing the truth with sobriety, maturity and commitment to our highest ideals. While it once played a noble, leading role in ending slavery, it has now become synonymous with a commitment to perpetuate less obvious forms of oppression.
- The immaturity of self-interested escapism — Watching the maskless beach parties unfold while a pandemic rages has revealed another area where America has been stuck, which is in the phase of adolescent recklessness and self-interest over the mature care for the other that is the hallmark of healthy adulthood. As a country, we’ve indulged in far too much escapism and greed in a way that actually harms others and that lack of maturity is now being laid bare. Because we’ve been rich, powerful and titillated by the excesses of youth, we have allowed ourselves to stay remarkably immature. We perpetuate that immaturity through fantasy-thinking and escapist logic. The Republican Party has become a champion of that escapism, encouraging people to party on and keep the economy going for a short-term infusion of cash over the long-term foundations of health and success. Instead of sacrificing for the good of the whole, the Republican Party has trumpeted unbridled and reckless self-interest. This ethical immaturity is also revealed in the mask rebellion, largely led by those on the right. Putting on a piece of cloth that can literally save other lives is a sign of respect for others. America needs to grow up beyond self-interested escapism and to do so, it needs to jettison the short-term, self-interested immaturity that the Republican Party has come to propagate.
There is more I could say of course about the changes that we are now being forced to face as part of this political drama.
What’s most important, though, is not to see America as a victim of our current crises. The crises are the natural end result of our own evasion of growth as a country. We’ve been arrogant and full of ourselves. We’ve been escapist and immature. We’ve had our egos fed with inflationary slogans. We’ve let ourselves be distracted by political battles rather than focusing on shared problems or aspirations.
Our current convergence of multiple crises is a mirror for our self-examination as a country. They will bring us to our knees eventually.
We have brought this train wreck on ourselves and we each need to do our part of the self-examination.
But it’s the Republican Party that has been in the driver’s seat, pushing the accelerator most relentlessly and thus it has to pay the most serious price, which is a kind of capital punishment for organizations: the ending of societal support and sanction.
Only when the vast majority of our 330 million citizens see a dramatically bad end result for those who led and perpetuated the corruption, which I believe will likely end with Trump and many of his cabal in prison, only then do I think that we will sober up, do the hard shadow work still required of us, and begin to heal and rebuild our country.
The decline and demise of the Republican Party will allow us to shift our attention from who is winning the political war in the day’s news cycle to how can we harness our full, creative intelligence to solve our serious problems from health care to rebuilding our economy.
The attachment to winning the political battle of the day is leading us to become a loser nation. And the Republican Party is leading us, in an unambiguous way, to that destination.
So, in the coming year, how does the demise of the Republican Party begin to unfold? It can’t be literally caused by those of us on the left.
The implosion has to happen through four major stages:
- Patriotic voters of conscience, regardless of their previous political affiliations and leanings, need to recognize that they cannot give a single dollar or vote to a party that is actively undermining America’s future. While the polls are currently pegging Biden at 8-12% above Trump, this needs to go further into a withdrawal of support for Republicans on every level. That means not a single Republican gets our vote, even a local friend on the school board. It also means that we do not support businesses or institutions that support the Republican Party or Trump in this election.
- Republicans leaders themselves need to recognize that the Titanic is going down. There are many party rumblings of fear of a wipeout this fall. This needs to accelerate in the coming months into a clear recognition that the gig is “almost” up and that Trump will lose badly and drag down much of the party with him. As that recognition takes hold, they will begin to turn on Trump and distance from him, leaving the party increasingly fragmented and cratering. Trump will further attack those who distance, leaving them in a kind of internal civil war.
- The fall election needs to be absolutely devastating to the Republican Party — a historic, unprecedented wipeout and repudiation of a party going far beyond Trump down to local politics. We all have to organize actively, give time, money and talent to protecting the election from corruption as we know that virtually anything is possible from Trump, who will undoubtedly face criminal charges, and the Republican Party, which knows it is facing its potential demolition. We need to be true patriots and protect the vote of every American, showing up with everything we’ve got.
- Americans then need to collectively engage in a rigorous exposure of all the corruption and criminality of the Trump administration and the collusion of a wide swath of leaders in the Republican Party. Every culpable member needs to be held accountable publicly and face justice. America needs to witness the full truth of what has been wrought for the good of all future generations. This is what all addicts have to do when they hit bottom if they have any hope of breaking the cycle. And then we begin the process of healing through something akin to a Truth & Reconciliation process.
As these phases unfold, as I believe they will, the depth of corruption of the Trump era will be even more fully recognized and the rot in the heart of the Republican Party made manifest for all America to see.
As a result, the Republican Party brand will become increasingly associated with corruption, immorality, and treason. As it becomes a party that moral, upstanding citizens of good conscience cannot associate with, the viability of it as a national organizing force will be undermined to a level that it will either cease to exist or be relegated to an inconsequential side party.
No one will kill the Republican Party. It will die of shame.
Its demise will give us a window of perhaps 4–8 years in which we do not squander our energy on partisan food fights but enter a time of reform, accountability, and truth-telling such that we can re-create a government that earns back the respect and trust of our citizens and the admiration of the peoples of the world.
During that time, conservatives and right-leaning voters will need to rebuild an uncorrupted, wiser, and better version of the Republican party, perhaps using Lincoln as the guiding inspiration, as the Lincoln Project now does.
A commitment to truth, accountability, and morality will need to be rock solid to win back the trust of voters.
Ultimately, I think a more mature right-leaning party does hold an important role to unlock our brightest future. However, it will take some soul-searching in the wilderness to get there.
As a result of electing and supporting this regime, America will play a heavy price on the world stage for years to come. We will be taking a severe economic hit from the coronavirus, likely the worst in our history, and it will take quite some time to recover. The stain on our character will be lasting. The damage to our image in the world will be deep.
But people ultimately love a comeback story. America will rise again with important lessons learned the hard way — and the unshakeable realization that we cannot tolerate corruption and treason just to “win” a political war.
We are made of better stuff and have a nobler destiny to achieve.
I do believe we will achieve that destiny but it will have to come after integrating the lessons of watching a political party go so deeply astray that it aided and abetted the most corrupt and criminal individuals ever to govern our country.
The fall of the Republican Party now holds the key to the redemption of our country.