GUEST COMMENTARY - Republican leaders have mastered the art of manufacturing crises to divert the public’s attention from the real crisis of our era – the siphoning of income, wealth and power from most Americans by a small group at the top.
Consider the fake fears they’ve been whipping up:
Florida’s governor (and now Republican presidential candidate) DeSantis has declared a “war on woke”.
Immediately after the mangled launch of his presidential campaign, DeSantis claimed on Fox News that “the woke mind virus is basically a form of cultural Marxism”.
What exactly is “woke”? The term gained popularity at the start of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2014, following the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, when many Americans – including white Americans who were seeing the extent of the problem for the first time – awoke to the reality of police brutality against the Black community.
DeSantis’s own general counsel has defined “woke” as “the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them”.
He’s right. We all need to be woke.
- Trans people
Former president Donald Trump says that one of his top priorities if he’s re-elected in 2024 will be a “sweeping federal rollback of transgender rights”.
DeSantis and other Republican governors have signed a stream of laws in recent months aimed at transgender rights.
At least 10 states have banned gender-affirming care for minors and another 21 have introduced bills to do so, even as multiple studies have found access to gender-affirming care reduces the risk of depression and suicide for trans children.
Other bills target gender-affirming care for adults. Some ban drag shows.
Why have Republican lawmakers targeted transgender people as dangers to the public? There’s not a shred of evidence that trans people are threats to anyone.
But targeting trans people is a way to court evangelicals. It’s also a way to stir up the base against people who are different, making trans people the sort of scapegoats that historically have fueled fascist movements.
- Critical race theory
Here again, though, there’s no evidence of a public threat. CRT simply teaches America’s history of racism, which students need to understand to be informed citizens.
Banning it is a scare tactic to appeal to a largely white, culturally conservative voter base.
- Couch potatoes
In the fight over raising the debt ceiling, Kevin McCarthy’s House Republicans added work requirements to food stamps and welfare, arguing that too many “couch potatoes” collect government benefits.
Like Ronald Reagan’s claim about so-called “welfare queens”, the “couch potato” myth is a cruel racial dog whistle. Work requirements will burden many people who often have difficulty finding work that pays enough to live on.
The plain fact is that most poor recipients of public benefits already work extremely hard.
In addition, evidence shows that work requirements don’t lead to long-term increases in employment or to more stable jobs. Most people subject to work requirements remain poor. Some become poorer.
- Out-of-control government spending
In fact, discretionary spending has fallen more than 40% in the past 50 years as a percentage of the nation’s gross domestic product (from 11% to 6.3%).
Lately, rising deficits have been driven by social security and Medicare (which is to be expected, as boomers retire). They’ve also been driven by defense spending.
But a major culprit for the US’s soaring debt is George W Bush’s and Donald Trump’s huge tax cuts that mostly benefited the wealthy and big corporations – and that will have added $8tn and $1.7tn, respectively, to the debt by the end of the 2023 fiscal year.
House Republicans are even proposing to cut funding for the IRS, which would make it harder for the tax agency to go after rich tax cheats and thereby reduce the debt.
All five of these so-called crises have been manufactured by the Republican party. They’re entirely made up.
Why? To deflect attention from the near record share of the nation’s income and wealth now going to the richest Americans.
As the super-wealthy and big corporations pour money into politics – especially into the Republican party – they don’t want the rest of America to notice they’re rigging the economy for their own benefit, that their unrestrained greed is worsening the climate crisis and that they’re also undermining democracy.
The game of the Republicans and their major donors is to deflect and distract – to use scapegoating, racism and outright lies to disguise what’s really going on.
(Robert Reich, a former US secretary of labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few and The Common Good. His new book, The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It, is out now. He is a Guardian US columnist. His newsletter is at robertreich.substack.com)