My favorite liberal pundit is Paul Krugman, Nobel laureate in economics and op-ed columnist for the New York Times. He won me over after the Crash of 2008, ridiculing Congressional Republicans’ obsession with budget deficits. He argued that real-life experience — FDR’s Depression-era stimulation of demand through government spending — proved that public works programs hasten recovery. Over near-unanimous Republican opposition, President Obama pushed through a stimulus package worth nearly $800 billion. Krugman wanted even more. He was right: our recovery was slow and uneven. But at least we had a recovery. The European Union, which fell for the quackery of austerity budgets (thanks Merkel!), remains wobbly a decade later.
Calling out quacks is a Krugman avocation. Though writers don’t get to title their articles (or books, as I can vouch from bitter experience), the title of his December 12 piece, “The Party that Ruined the Planet,” couldn’t have better reflected his thoughts. Noting that climate change denial preceded the Republicans’ denial of Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors, Krugman asks:
Why, after all, has the world failed to take action on climate, and why is it still failing to act even as the danger gets ever more obvious? There are, of course, many culprits; action was never going to be easy.
But one factor stands out above all others: the fanatical opposition of America’s Republicans, who are the world’s only major climate-denialist party. Because of this opposition, the United States hasn’t just failed to provide the kind of leadership that would have been essential to global action, it has become a force against action.
Krugman agrees that campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry had much to do with climate change denial, but surmises that the Republicans’ real motivation was that “Once you accept that we need policies to protect the environment, you’re more likely to accept the idea that we should have policies to ensure access to health care, child care, and more. So the government must be prevented from doing anything good, lest it legitimize a broader progressive agenda.”
He may be right. But I have an alternate theory that takes Republican denialism back even further. It starts with the civil rights legislation of the 1960s, which led millions of Democratic white Southerners to become Republicans. Can anyone deny this sudden switch of loyalties stemmed from a rejection of the reality that African-Americans are equal citizens?
(Actually, some people can. Citing the respective percentages of Democratic and Republican Congresspeople who voted for civil rights legislation, they assert that a greater proportion of Republicans than Democrats supported civil rights — casuistry belied by a slightly more rigorous analysis of the evidence.)
By 1980 the Republicans had become champions of religious fundamentalism and screw-the-worker capitalism. Although I haven’t found any studies to prove it, based on the demographics of the south I think that’s because the new Republicans consisted disproportionately of (1) Christian evangelicals, and (2) true believers in the real deep state, described in this earlier post. Or, to put it another way: people convinced of the literal inerrancy of ancient manuscripts hand-copied across generations and translated across multiple languages, and people convinced that property ownership is the ultimate civil right.
If you can swallow those two whoppers without choking, denying climate change or Donald Trump’s disloyalty to America is a snap.
But this is a rare occasion when Krugman’s analysis doesn’t go far enough for me. Most of the time he’s a bold, big-picture thinker I wish to better emulate.