The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. …The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?”
—George Orwell, 1984
By Kyle Rudick
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is dead, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stated his intent to replace her. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say or even made the comment yourself: “Just four years ago McConnell cited the so-called ‘Biden rule’ to not make justice appointments in an election year. Now he is going to replace RBG as soon as possible? What a hypocrite!”
Since the 1990s only one party has persisted in the belief that stated morals or policies should be honored, and that not doing so was wrong: Democrats. For example, when Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) was accused of sexual misconduct against women, he (without being convicted) stepped down from his seat. This is not to say that Democrats are morally superior or virtuous. Rather, it signals what they believe to be their way to power—ideological and political coherence. They set forth a set of goals and seek to achieve consent to rule not only by the soundness of their ideas (i.e., will the program or policy actually work?) but a coherence in what their stated goals are and their actions.
Republicans, on the other hand, have largely eschewed trying to win consent to govern. In fact, one could say that they are no longer a governing party. Rather they are, as Orwell’s ruling class in 1984, interested only in one thing: power for the sake of power. For example, name the last large-scale program or policy that the Republican Party has produced as a part of their platform that would address poverty, climate change, the wage gap, racial inequality, healthcare, or any other number of persistent problems that face society. You cannot because, at best, the Republican Party’s platform has just been to dismantle, block, or overturn what Democrats have done. When the approach fails, they simply muddy the waters through denial, deferment, or outright lies to make sure that they do not have to address social problems.
You may be tempted to say their pro-life advocacy, guns, or Christianity are proposed policies, but that’s misleading. These are not discrete policy proposals with a clear beginning/end, oversight, or accompanying governmental structure. These are unending wars and, if the War on Drugs or Terrorism has taught us anything, it is that these types of programs are politically viable ways to condition and weaponize a part of the population against the rest.
This has been the lesson that Democrats have refused to learn from Orwell’s 1984. While they were on the lookout for censorship or war with East Asia, they failed to recognize that those were simply tools for what the party ultimately wanted: power for the sake of power. The instruments can be different, and certainly that’s the case for the U.S. context.
Take the three examples above (abortion, guns, and Christianity)—not only can the goals never be completely attained, they have at their core an ideological trajectory that brooks absolutely no compromise. If you believe life begins at conception, then you cannot allow any murder. If you believe that any infringement to the right to bear arms is unconstitutional, then you cannot stop fighting for military grade hardware for ordinary citizens. If you believe that any faith or denomination but yours is from Satan and Hell-bound, then you cannot let one person outside of your faith hold any personal or political power.
These beliefs are only used by the Republican Party for their ideological features. McConnell and most prominent Republicans do not actually care or believe in these issues. It would be easy to say that rank-and-file Republican voters are pawns or dupes in this scenario. Certainly, their quality of life only degrades as they continue to vote for a party that has no allegiance to them. But this sells short the psychological wages that rank-and-file Republican voters get when their side obtains power. They may not understand the relationship between their constantly worsening lot in life and the political class that is responsible for it, but they do know that it makes them feel good to stick it to their enemies: Liberals, Black people, immigrants (especially from Central/South America), feminists, atheists, and so on.
Charges of hypocrisy are insufficient to change the course of the RBG’s replacement or other Republican attempt to race-bait, disenfranchise voters, or increase the wealth of the affluent. Each of these things are not inconsistent with the party’s actual agenda—power for the sake of power. For rank-and-file Republicans, power translates into the psychological wages of “sticking it to the libs.”
For the established party members, it is the ability to pursue a life that is unfettered by the social obligations (taxes, constraints on personal ambition, etc.) that are experienced by ordinary people. They will say and do anything required to pursue this agenda. And, as long as their constituents continue to follow them down the rabbit hole (which, as the QAnon conspiracy shows us, is a pretty deep hole), there will be no end to the nightmare. Because you can’t reason with a group of people who promote a rigid, no-compromise worldview, especially when such an approach is so psychologically pleasing (for the rank-and-file) and politically successful (for the party).
Democrats are starting to wake up to this reality. They are considering, if elected in sufficient numbers, to remove the filibuster rules and pack the courts. Only time will tell if they have the stomach, or the means, to pursue these types of goals. One thing is for sure: Democrats will not win political power through accusations of Republican hypocrisy. Republicans cannot be hypocrites when their stated morals and goals are not reasons for people to consent to their power, they are rationalizations made after the fact to justify their pursuit and use of it.
C. Kyle Rudick an associate professor in Communication and Media at the University of Northern Iowa. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of the University of Northern Iowa.