The Republican Party has long and proudly figured itself as the proponent of limited, even small or non-existent, government. It has pledged time and time again to get the government out of people’s lives, particularly the big, bloated, and intrusive bureaucracies that Democrats supposedly favor, according to Republicans.
And Republicans have actually been surprisingly successful in persuading voters to buy into this figuration of each party’s approach to government, so much so that back in the days of Tea Party, one would even hear the protesters railing against Democrats with the absurdist and incoherent mantra,” Keep your goddamn government hands off my Medicare!”
Of course, I don’t recall any Republican undertaking an information campaign to ensure voters understand that Medicare is, in fact, a government program. Republicans wouldn’t want to risk giving voters any reason to understand how well-chosen representatives can indeed make government work for the people.
The truth might come out that Republicans aren’t so much anti-government, as they often claim (begging the question why even run for office and participate in it), but that they are anti-democracy. They don’t think government should represent the people, or that it should be “of, by, and for the people.”
This fact has become clear in Republicans fulfilling their decades-long pursuit of overturning Roe v. Wade, or their sinking of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, despite the fact that the vast majority of Americans, according to polls, support both.
They don’t so much want “government hands” out of people’s lives; they want democracy out of people’s lives, meaning that instead of aspiring to a government “of, by, and for the people,” they want a government against and without the people.
Jonathan Swan, for example, recently reported that Donald Trump, in plotting his return to the power of the presidency, has also been working with others to staff thousands of government positions with Trump loyalists. The strategy, according to Swan, involves resurrecting the executive order Trump enacted just prior to leaving office in 2020, which enabled him to re-categorize many federal employees under a new classification that would strip them of the typically enjoyed by civil servants, thus also allowing him to fire and replace them.
According to Swan’s reporting, Trump and his supporters have been compiling lists of thousands of individuals to take over positions across the many agencies of the federal government, ousting employees who have served the interests of the American people, not those of particular administrations, over the span of many presidencies.
In short, the party of Trump isn’t so much interested in dismantling government as it is in colonizing government, subordinating every agency to his will. The country won’t just be ruled by the party of Trump, but the entire government will be remade in the image of Trump.
And we know from Trump’s first term that he tended to use the presidency to serve his narrow self-interests and those of corporate America and the rather than the interests of the American people. We need only look at his tax cuts, which provided billions in tax windfalls to corporations even as they laid off American workers, or even his initial COVID relief package filled with millions of dollars of pork for the wealthy.
Trump and the Republicans are very pro-government; They just aren’t pro-democracy, favoring a government that serves the few at the expense of the people.
And, of course, the Republicans seated a Supreme Court that has also moved to subordinate government functions to corporate interests. Its recent ruling basically stripping authority from the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon emissions and enforce provisions of the Clean Air Act basically disempowers what Republicans refer to as “the administrative state”—those long-standing federal agencies staffed by experts, not subject to the political whims of any particular administration or election cycle, whose sole role is to protect the health and well-being of the nation’s people.
Chief Justice John Roberts’ ruling relied on the “major questions doctrine,” a theory recently invented by SCOTUS’s conservative justices which has no basis in any constitutional principle but which gives the Court broad justification to limit—and effectively control—other government branches. Relying on this invented doctrine, the court decided that the EPA and other agencies cannot enact policies that cause transformational changes to the economy without congressional approval.
Justice Elena Kagan pointed out that in the Clean Air Act, Congress did empower the EPA in just this way and that with this decision the Court is over-reaching, assuming power to itself, not to Congress.
The Court majority, Kagan wrote in her dissent, “does not have a clue about how to address climate change…yet it appoints itself, instead of congress or the expert agency…the decision-maker on climate policy. I cannot think of many things more frightening.”
And really, given the difficulty of getting significant legislation through Congress, especially when it comes to climate change, the Court really just gave an assist to corporate America to do as it pleases.
And we don’t have to look far to see that corporate rule has been hostile to Americans. Indeed, when the government works hand in hand—or more, appropriately, works “hands-off”—with corporate America, evidence shows we get a government hostile too, working against the people.
Just remember how McKinsey helped companies like Purdue Pharma and Johnson and Johnson fuel the opioid crises to reap big profits even as it was clear the country was facing a major public health crisis that was destroying the lives of millions of Americans.
This is a form of government not of, by and for the people, but one against the people. This is the government the Republican Party, the Supreme Court it built, and Trump are delivering.
They don’t want government out of our lives; They just don’t want us and our interests—the people’s interests–represented in the government.
They are creating an America, and a form of American government, that works against its people.
Tim Libretti is a professor of US literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.