The party of pollution, disease and death: When Republicans tell you who they are, believe them

Gun Rights

In its current session, the U.S. Supreme Court weakened the federal government’s authority to enforce the Clean Water Act.

The mainstream media have been assiduous in explaining to us that the case involved knotty issues of constitutional limits to regulatory authority, the extent to which Congress may delegate powers to agencies, Fifth Amendment takings and so forth. A more daring analysis might have suggested that the decision demonstrated that the Republican-led court, reflecting the GOP’s traditional hatred of regulation, was attempting to dismantle what Steve Bannon called “the administrative state.” But even that fails to convey the true significance of the ruling.

Descriptions like those given above are the means by which conventional media accounts of our politics normalize the abnormal and pretend everyone is operating in good faith, if perhaps acting from principles we may not agree with. So let’s try to describe the court’s decision in plain English.

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The Supreme Court, acting as the judicial arm of the Republican Party, weakened the Clean Water Act because it wants polluted water.

Removing a large number of waterways and wetlands from the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act will predictably lead to more pollution. To say that additional contamination of water is only hypothetical if dumping is no longer prohibited in deregulated waters, and that if such pollution occurs it would be a regrettable and unforeseen consequence, is to engage in dishonest argumentation. 

By passing the Clean Water Act in 1972, Congress intended to promote clean waterways rather than the interests of real estate developers or industries. By construing the law to enable the latter interests rather than clean water, the Supreme Court’s majority is demonstrating not only its recent obsession with legislating from the bench; it is saying contaminated water is fine.

One could apply the same principle to habitual Republican policy choices during the COVID pandemic. Among other adverse actions, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis prohibited municipalities, schools and even private businesses from instituting mask mandates. The prohibition, as is typical with the GOP, was done in the name of “freedom.” But whereas the increase in “freedom” is abstract, hypothetical and unquantifiable (or maybe imaginary), it is a statistical certainty that not undertaking mask wearing, social distancing and other measures will lead to additional deaths, particularly among the elderly and immune-compromised.

There is no meaningful rhetorical distinction between saying that Ron DeSantis “accepted” that more people in Florida would die and saying that he wanted them to die.

Again, as this is a clearly foreseeable outcome, we’re on safe ground to conclude that DeSantis was blithely content to see more Floridians die. When a person takes deliberate and calculated action that results in additional deaths for the tawdry reason of pandering to his ideological supporters, there is no meaningful rhetorical distinction between saying he “accepts” that more people will die and that he wants them to die. In this case, we may invert Immanuel Kant’s dictum and conclude that “he who wills the means wills the end.”

The same holds true with other public health, pollution control, workplace and consumer safety regulations established during the last century. The money supposedly saved (mainly by corporations who just happen to be political contributors) when Republicans eliminate or weaken them is more than neutralized by costs externalized onto the general public in the form of cleanup expenses or illness or premature death. 

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Another salient example is indoor gas stoves. In response to findings that they can degrade indoor air quality and cause asthma or create dangerous carbon monoxide levels, some municipalities have banned new hookups or made other restrictions. The EPA has been studying the matter

Predictably, Republicans brought to the House floor a bill that would prohibit a ban on gas stoves and even prohibit setting environmental standards for them. It failed on a procedural vote only because a few far-right Republicans voted no, in protest against Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s insufficient zeal in holding the nation’s economy hostage in the debt limit negotiations. Rationality in this case was served only because Republicans were divided on their preferred strategy for damaging the public interest.

It makes nonsense of the principles of causation and individual responsibility to deny that the results of GOP actions are not willed. In criminal and civil law, persons are held guilty or liable if it can be shown they had good reason to know the consequences of some damaging action they undertook, regardless of their excuses. 

This principle also holds true with one of the most fraught issues in America: firearms. In the wake of heavily-reported mass shootings in their states, the Republican governments of Florida, Texas and Tennessee rushed to weaken their gun laws. Florida and Texas now authorize concealed-carry of a firearm without a permit or mandatory safety instruction; immediately after the school shooting in Nashville, the Tennessee legislature further diminished the potential liability of gun manufacturers.

Unrestricted concealed-carry vastly expands the opportunity for a would-be killer to gain access to virtually any public venue unchallenged. The police will not be looking for suspicious persons carrying concealed weapons, since there is no law against doing so. If they happen to stop someone on other grounds, they can no longer arrest him for concealed firearm possession without a permit. It is as if the Texas and Florida legislatures are begging for more gun homicides.

The weakening of liability is likely to have a similar effect. Without the potential for civil cases or criminal prosecution, manufacturers have no incentive to vet retail distributors for their honesty or diligence in turning away or flagging suspicious customers. If you’ve ever wondered how perpetrators in their teens, or seeming down-and-outers, can afford to pay $2,000 or more for a Colt AR-15, the answer is that gun retailers offer notoriously easy financing. The shops’ credit policies are backstopped by the manufacturers, and the banks behind those manufacturers.

The Tennessee legislature is telling its citizens that the ordinary health and safety liability laws covering consumer items like appliances, power tools or automobiles don’t apply to the most dangerous mechanical contrivance available for consumer purchase. Evidently the political party that is so concerned about children that it gavels through legislation protecting them from library books doesn’t feel the same concern for children’s lives. Firearms are now the leading cause of premature death among American children, accounting for nearly a fifth of all such deaths. The latest Republican legislative spree looks certain to increase those grim statistics.

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At some point we have to drop the pretense that everybody acts from sincere and well-intended motives, even if they are misguided, and ask ourselves whether Republicans actually want more gun homicide. In the aftermath of the Uvalde, Texas, school massacre, the state’s now-impeached attorney general, Ken Paxton, fairly oozed compassion: “I believe God always has a plan. Life is short no matter what it is.” It must be such a comfort to the bereaved parents to know their martyred children played a key role in Paxton’s cosmological blueprint when they were gunned down by a criminal.

Charlie Kirk, whose position as youth leader of the GOP is roughly analogous to that of Baldur von Schirach in the Third Reich, is, if possible, even more callous than Paxton. When asked about the heavy toll of firearms violence, he sounded upbeat: “I think it’s worth it. I think it’s worth it to have a cost of, unfortunately, some gun deaths every single year so that we can have the Second Amendment to protect our other God-given rights. That is a prudent deal. It is rational.” As for people who think differently, it’s obviously their problem. “They live in a complete alternate universe,” Kirk said.

This nonchalance toward death (or at least toward other people’s deaths) shouldn’t surprise us. In the early part of the pandemic, COVID deaths among Republicans and Democrats occurred at a roughly equal rate. But once mRNA vaccines became widely available, the Republican death rate soared to almost twice that of Democrats; the reason, of course, was vaccine refusal within the GOP base, which had been brainwashed by Republican politicians, conservative talk-show hosts and fraudulent medical experts. It was a twofer for conservative principles: upholding freedom (however nihilistically irresponsible to family and community) and sticking a thumb in the eye of science.

Republican politicians and their lackeys on the bench are engaging in a step-by-step campaign to increase sickness, disease and violence in American society, despite their transparently insincere protestations about freedom.

However reckless the GOP is with regard to pollution, disease or other threats to human life, guns take that to a new level. Numerous Republican congressmen — constitutional officers sworn to protect the general welfare of the country — now proudly sport AR-15 lapel pins on the floor of Congress. Firearms have reached the status of a tribal fetish; some Republicans now worship them just as the radiation-scarred mutants worshipped the atomic bomb in the movie “Beneath the Planet of the Apes.”

Around the time of the federal assault weapons ban in 1994, the NRA dropped any remaining pretense of being an organization for hunters and target shooters and began to claim that firearms were needed for ordinary citizens to resist a tyrannical government. By 2011, Republican candidates were talking about “Second Amendment solutions,” a thinly disguised nod-and-wink advocacy of violence against political opponents.

Jan. 6, 2021, was the culmination of this evolution of declared intentions: No longer was there any charade about a lone individual’s protection against criminals or a despotic government; unrestricted gun ownership was now a prerequisite for an extremist minority to overthrow any government that didn’t suit it.

We might as well face the unpleasant reality that Republican politicians and their lackeys on the state and federal benches are engaging in a step-by-step campaign to increase sickness, disease and violence in American society, regardless of their transparently insincere protestations about freedom. If they achieve the logical result of what their policies entail, it will, in turn, stoke more fear and anger, corrode the bonds of social trust and ultimately destabilize the whole political system.

And which party benefits from that?

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from Mike Lofgren on the GOP in decay

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