The dangerous case of the Republican Party

Twenty-seven psychiatrists and other mental health experts just published “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” a clinical analysis of the current president. What took them so long?

I am not a psychiatrist but months ago on these pages I argued that Trump fits perfectly the standard definition of a sociopath, a person who lies constantly without shame or conscience. My point is not to boast about scooping the shrinks or denigrate the value or timeliness of their work. What these highly credentialed authors have to say is important and will be part of the historical record of these plague years.

The real point is that the madness of King Trump is so obvious that it doesn’t take a Robert Jay Lifton to see it. Almost every day, the president provides fresh evidence of his neuroses. Just this weekend Trump, piqued over comments by the father of one of the jailed UCLA basketball players released by China after the president’s visit, tweeted that he should “have left them in jail.” In this instance, Trump betrays the extent that his anger and vindictiveness can blind him to his responsibility as president of the United States, which includes protecting Americans overseas. Zero conscience about the fate of these young African Americans in a Chinese jail.

Here, I take it a step farther than the psychiatrists by arguing that much of what applies to Trump is also true of the dominant right-wing faction of the Republican Party. The dangerous case of the Republican Party includes at least three elements: obsessive-compulsiveness, lack of conscience, homicidal fantasy.

Point one, obsession-compulsion: When it comes to demolishing Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act or ACA), Republicans in Congress took a million bites at the apple when Obama was in the White House ready to veto. The endless repetition of this futile exercise betrays obsession.

Still obsessed but now confident of victory after the 2016 election, which brought Republican control of every lever of power in Washington, the GOP brought out the wrecking ball once more, eager to pulverize Obamacare. But something funny happened on the way to the demolition. The GOP-controlled Congress failed to repeal, not once but thrice.

Common sense and an analysis of why they failed should have persuaded Republicans to drop it and move on. But that’s not how obsession works.

The reasons for the Republican failure should have been more than enough to bring a change in course. Over time, Obamacare had become more popular with Americans, not less, contrary to Republican predictions. Despite its deficiencies, people perceived that Obamacare was better than the vacuum that existed before and way better than anything Republicans were offering as a replacement. Obamacare helped many Americans get health care for the first time, and these people took every opportunity to confront and boo Republican members of Congress who favored repeal. That should have been a clue to throw in the towel.

Then, too, congressional Republicans were not only scared about voting for the highly unpopular repeal legislation, they were split into three irreconcilable factions. The dominant right-wing faction was on board. But, the ultra-right “Freedom Caucus” was not; they wanted something even more atrocious. Then, there was a handful of moderates who objected either to the cruelty of the GOP repeal proposal and/or to the way the leadership was trying to ram it through.

This should have convinced Republicans that repeal was a non-starter, as politics and as policy. Why risk further party fragmentation? But obsession doesn’t work like that. The party and the president stubbornly refused to bend to the will of the people or heed the message sent by the fracturing of their party.  Damn it, they were going to wreck Obamacare by any means necessary. Obsession-compulsion.

How? Use the congressional power of the purse and the executive powers of the president to defund and undercut Obamacare at every turn. This way the GOP could smash Obamacare and evade responsibility for the ensuing disaster by blaming Obama for it.

But this was not enough. Obsession demands more: overkill. So, Senator Tom Cotton introduced an amendment to the GOP’s abomination of a tax bill. It would eliminate the individual mandate, an essential pillar of Obamacare. Then came the hitch.

Senator Susan Collins, a key vote on the tax bill, objected to the subterfuge of using it to smite Obamacare. That meant that the Cotton amendment could put in jeopardy the whole tax cut for the rich, a demand of the party’s powerful sugar daddies. The survival instinct is stronger than obsession, and Republicans in Congress began to back away from the Cotton proviso. The Trump administration, aware that a slower but no less effective way of dismantling Obamacare was already underway, said it would sure like to have the overkill but they were OK if Republican leaders in Congress had to throw the Cotton amendment under a bus.

The Obamacare obsession illustrates two other aspects of the dangerous case of the Republican party. Point two, conscience. Doing away with Obamacare would leave at least 15 million people without medical insurance while saving several hundred million dollars for tax cuts for big corporations and the obscenely rich. Try to detect a semblance of a conscience in that scheme.

Point three, the homicidal fantasy. The kill Obamacare obsession is part of a bigger syndrome. Obamacare is at the core of the Obama legacy, so it is the main target in a campaign to obliterate even the memory of the Obama presidency. But everything Trump and Congressional Republicans have been doing since they took power amounts to a symbolic assassination attempt on Obama, one intended to erase his very existence in American history: Iran, Cuba, environment, immigration, everything.

This is the Republican fantasy that can’t speak its name. Consciously or unconsciously, for a significant number of people who identify with Trump and his GOP confederates, the election to the presidency of a black man whose father was born in Kenya was an affront. Now they are trying to kill Obama’s ghost in revenge, but they may instead succeed only in killing their own party.

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