The Republican Retreat From GovernanceHistorians in the News
tags: Republican Party, conservatism, extremism
On January 26, 45 Republican senators voted for an amendment declaring the upcoming impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump unconstitutional—a stance not shared by legal scholars. Trump is facing a Senate trial for inciting an insurrection that ransacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6; that trial could determine whether Trump is ever allowed to hold elected office again. The amendment failed, and the trial will go on, but the vote was the first test of the Republican Party in the post-Trump era.
If the vote is any indication, the GOP has declared it is not moving beyond Trumpism. In fact, the message it sends is that the party is in full retreat from meaningful policymaking of any kind, instead charting a course away from taking on the challenges of the moment in favor of further entrenching itself in the distant patriarchal mythology of America’s past, where the only thing left for conservative lawmakers to do is to fend off the liberal cultural forces that would deny this return to a gauzy, MAGA fantasia.
But Dartmouth history professor Bethany Moreton told The New Republic that conservative culture-war issues can’t be divorced from the conservative economic agenda so easily. “I’ve always thought ‘culture wars’ is an alibi, a drag name for economic interests that don’t register on the NASDAQ,” said Moreton. According to her, traditionally defined “culture-war issues” like LGBTQ rights, reproductive health, and policies centered on families are a stand-in for household economies: who manages the home, who gets to work, who is responsible for caring for children.
Moreton further noted similarities between QAnon and the satanic panic of the 1980s, which blew up in part because women had begun to leave their traditional household roles behind to enter the workforce, giving rise to day-care centers—and conspiracy theories about what strangers may be doing to children.
“There’s this question of who’s minding the children because of that flashpoint [of women entering the workforce],” she said. “That’s all about resources. Other countries have collectively provided for the care of children through government-provided day care, and that was defeated in the U.S. And so, instead, you wind up with this patchwork of private day-care centers that then become [the basis of] the satanic panic of the 1980s.”
The current conservative focus on QAnon, trans issues, and cultural education can be seen as a throwback to this era, when the notion of protecting children and the role of mothers in the family became a cultural concern. But while these issues may inflame passions within the conservative base, there’s little evidence that they alone will win elections for Republicans. In fact, conservative cultural values centering cisgender, heterosexual families—with the husband going to work and the wife staying home to care for the children and home—are increasingly less salient in the U.S.
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