The Series

To Light a Fire in Liberal America

The Republican Party’s Extraordinary Pattern of Destructiveness

Summary: In the conduct of today’s Republican Party, we can see a pattern of destructiveness. It displays an insatiable lust for power and wealth, an impulse to prey upon the vulnerable, a preference for conflict over cooperation, a persistent dishonesty, and a willingness to sacrifice the greater good for selfish advantage. Putting the pieces together, we see that our national crisis is not just at the political level, but goes deeper to the moral and spiritual levels.

I have a message and a plan to turn back this force. I need your help.


The Republican Party, I have SAID, has been taken over by a destructive force. Time to begin to make the case about the destructive nature of this force:

A force that’s insatiable in its lust for power and wealth.

Even though we have the greatest income inequality that we’ve had in living memory, this force works continually to widen that gap still further. All their budgetary proposals take from average Americans to give more to those who already have the most. As they protect those who have tripled their share of our national income, they cut food stamps to the most vulnerable Americans at a time when jobs are scarce and even the middle class is struggling.

In the realm of political power, this force has given us a Supreme Court that’s handed down that disgraceful decision in Citizens United, making it still easier for the nation’s widening inequalities of wealth to be translated into inequalities of political power. With our government put up for auction, “All men are created equal” gets swamped by the Almighty Dollar. The Republicans have been working to turn our government from one “by the people” one by those giant so-called “persons” that make up the corporate world.

A force that makes a fight over everything.

When Barack Obama came to the presidency with the intent to restore cooperation to our political system, he reached out by proposing Republican ideas as solutions to important national problems. But the Republicans have turned politics into a form of warfare, so insistent upon conflict that they fought even against their own ideas.

What Republicans had once proposed as cap and trade, now they denounced as socialism. The idea of an individual mandate for health insurance – an idea originally put forward by Republicans in the Senate — they now declared to be unconstitutional. And once it was picked up by the Democrats, a sensible idea Republicans had originally conceived and embraced became mischaracterized as “death panels.”

A force that is consistently dishonest.

It lied us into the Iraq war. It lied about torture. It lied about where the Democratic president was born. About their (lack of interest) in getting Americans back to work in the deepest recession since the Great Depression. About their (not) caring about the deficit. About Benghazi. About the IRS “scandal.” A list that could go on for pages.

Listen to me if you long for the American people to see the ugly picture all this adds up to.

Listen to me if you want to get our national conversation to focus on the question, too long unasked: “What is it that would express itself in all these ways?”

What is the name that we in Western civilization have traditionally given to something that:

• Preys upon the vulnerable.

Think food stamps, voter ID, vaginal ultrasounds, torture.

• Divides people against each other.

In the deepest recession in generations, this force has proved unwilling to address the issue of jobs, on which Americans are agreed, and focuses us instead on abortion on which, as the Republicans well know, our divisions have proved deep and irreconcilable.

• Tramples on hard-won structures of justice and good order.

After giving us a president who usurped powers denied by the Constitution, this force then manifested itself in an opposition party that violated tradition in its use of the filibuster to grab power, that cast aside long-standing political norms on how the debt-ceiling is handled, that subverted the foundations of our democracy by delegitimizing the president and disenfranchising voters.

• Sacrifices the greater good for selfish advantage.

As the disruption of the climate becomes ever more visibly a threat to the future of our children and even of the health of life on earth, this force has embracing the spirit of the Koch Brothers, rather than the warnings of 97 percent of scientists who know the most about the earth’s climate system, disabling our nation from dealing responsibly to what may be the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced.

• Deceives and manipulates in order to exploit those that support it.

It persuades millions of Americans to be one-issue voters – on abortion, or on the gun issue – distracting them with matters that in no way impede the ability of this force to rob Americans of their birthright as citizens in a democratic society. It pretends to be conservative, while violating our traditions as no conservative would. It pretends to be patriotic while willingly damaging the nation for partisan advantage.

Put all those pieces together, and what do we see?

I am not afraid to call out this force for what it is.

This is not about liberal values vs. conservative values. The consistent destructiveness of all these pieces shows that something has gone awry at a much deeper level. America needs to see this picture.

I’m asking you to give me the opportunity to show you — with this series begun here — that I can make the case that America needs to hear against this Republican Party. And that I can make that case stick– in detail, and at the various levels involved in the emergence of such a destructive force.

Stick with the series, please, so long as you can envision the possibility that together we can use that message to change the national conversation to focus on this dark and disturbing picture, and to get the American people to drain away the power of this destructive force.


My History Shows: I’m Not an Us-vs.-Them Kind of a Guy

From my years of experience of communicating about these issues, I expect that some readers may wonder — on the basis of my harsh characterization of today’s Republican Party — if I’m someone who, as a matter of character, gravitates toward conflict– someone inclined to demonize opponents and contribute to political polarization.

My history shows that’s not who I am.

In the 1980s, I was associated with a group in Washington called Search for Common Ground, whose purpose is to help people entangled in conflict find ways to get to mutually satisfactory solutions.

In the 1990s, I gave talks around the country with the title “Beyond Dispute,” encouraging liberals and conservatives – in our already-polarizing nation – to turn away from ideological combat and seek a higher wisdom that integrates the valid insights and principles of both sides.

My 1999 book (Debating the Good Society, from M.I.T. Press) had the subtitle “A Quest to Bridge America’s Moral Divide.” And I began my radio show with the suggestion that we –liberals and conservatives—should talk to each other in a spirit of mutual respect “as if we might actually learn from each other.”

During that same period, I investigated the problem of polarization, seeing it as a kind of brokenness in a cultural system. My hope was that we could heal our divisions before they broke us apart. (See my piece from that period, “The Dance of Polarization– How a Culture Breaks Down into Warring Half-Truths.”.)

Something has changed since then, and it is not I.

Mutual respect and bridging divides are how I’d like for our political world to be. But that requires that both sides deal in good faith, and that they prefer cooperation and compromise to conflict.

But something new and dangerous has seized hold of the political right, and a new response is required of us. Wisdom requires different responses to different situations, and a tool-kit with but one tool in it is dangerously inadequate. The dark force I began to see in 2004 inspired me to set aside the tools of bridge-building for the tools of waging battle.

We need more than one kind of tool in our tool box, because different situations demand different kinds of responses from us.

Interestingly, one of the issues on which right and left are polarized –- one of those areas in which there is a marked asymmetry between the two sides —- is on attitudes toward “Us vs. Them” thinking. On the right, it tends to be considered a virtue to see the “other side” as the enemy. In liberal America, it is frowned upon.

In our polarized system, we see one side that makes a fight over everything, even when what the nation needs is cooperation. And we see the other side reluctant to fight over anything, even when the nation needs it to fight and win a battle over a destructive force.

There are those who have a need for enmity, who are comfortable only in a world in which they wage war against some “Them.” And then there are those who are willing, however reluctantly, to do battle when that is required in order to defend the values they hold sacred. FDR was no warmonger, but he understood what must be done and led America in doing it.

The nation now needs the same from us. That’s why I, a genuine peace-lover, say that we are called upon to press the battle.


If you are concerned with where our country and this planet seem to be heading, please join forces with me to help turn our current dangerous political dynamic around. You can help by sending out this piece, and the other pieces in this “Press the Battle” series, to appropriate people in your network so that we might indeed build a campaign to have a positive impact on our national conversation.

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