Hailed as a “profile courage” in multiple articles, Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) has been lavished with praise across the political spectrum, being praised alike by professors, “traditional” Republicans who served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and both Bushes, and by Democratic senator Amy Klobuchar and House Majority Leader Stenny Hoyer.
She is a truth-teller, supposedly, whose rejection of the “big lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump somehow marks a serious and substantial rift in the Republican Party.
Let’s be clear. It doesn’t. I’ve analyzed in several articles for PoliticusUsa (here, here, and here, for example) the anxious opportunism of the “traditional” GOP, such as the Lincoln Project Republicans and hosts of never-Trumpers, in trying to distinguish themselves from the party of Trump in order to rescue their traditional conservative ideology from going down with Trump’s ship of state.
The conservatism these traditionalists hope to salvage is one in which racism was politely coded in terms like “tax cuts,” “states’ rights,” and “small government,” as Lee Atwater made crystal clear in detailing his Southern Strategy. It is one in which elections were stolen much more stealthily through outrageous gerrymandering efforts that enabled Republicans to win congressional seats while earning a minority of the votes.
As we saw with both George W. Bush’s and Donald Trump’s elections to the presidency in 2000 and 2016, respectively, the Republicans have long been a party quite comfortable with minority rule and quite opposed to democracy.
Voter suppression has long been the agenda of the Republican Party. Do you remember great outcry from establishment Republicans such as Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Rob Portman, or Lisa Murkowski, to name only a few, when Pennsylvania House Republican Mike Turzai proudly asserted that voter ID laws in his state could ensure Romney a victory in the 2012 presidential elections?
Nope. The problem Cheney and the other never-Trumpers have with Trump and the current Republican Party is that it has exposed the reality of the traditional GOP, pulled back the curtain of dignified phrases and codes to reveal its anti-egalitarian, racist, and undemocratic character.
Liz Cheney’s op-ed in The Washington Post last week made the illusory nature of this supposed rift absolutely clear.
She didn’t so much attack the policies, positions, and even cultural attitudes of the current GOP, but rather she affirmed them.
She thinly disguised this affirmation by offering a false choice, writing that “we Republicans need to stand for genuinely conservative principles, and steer away from the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality.”
Her “genuinely conservative principles” included beliefs “in limited government” and “in prosperity and opportunity brought by low taxes and fiscally conservative policies.”
Trump, of course, embodied the principles of very limited government and, of course, low taxes, giving a trillion-dollar-plus tax cut to the wealthiest among us and cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent. All the while poverty and homelessness increased, and the touted job growth was largely in the area of low-wage work.
In short, these tax cuts for the wealthy did not trickle down. In fact, the deficit they fueled gave Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan another opportunity to call for cuts to the Social Security system.
Indeed, far from trickling down, these tax cuts enable the deterioration of the quality of life for most Americans. While Amazon, for example, along with other major corporations, contributes absolutely nothing in income taxes to the running and upkeep of the nation, they benefit greatly from the roads, bridges, airports, schools that educate their workers, and more, that our taxes help to fund. As a result, as we see in President Joe Biden’s attempts to repair the crumbling nation, American’s access to good schools, clean drinking water and air, safe roads and bridges, and so forth, are all compromised. And when Biden proposes moderating somewhat the enormous tax cut Trump gave corporations, reducing it to a 7 rather than 14 percent tax cut, Republicans balk.
And we saw the outcomes of small or limited government in Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He refused to deploy the resources of the federal government to deploy a nationally coordinated response, leaving states to compete for resources and economically devastated by the financial burdens created by lost revenues due to the economic slow-down and by the increased costs of addressing the crisis.
And, of course, let’s not forget, when talking about small government, that well before Trump stepped onto the scene, Republicans were seeking to abolish the Affordable Care Act and promising to produce an alternative plan. That alternative plan, of course, has never materialized. They welched on that bogus promise just as Trump did. Why? Because their alternative is limited government, which means the government has no hand whatsoever in making a plan to ensure all Americans have access to quality affordable health care.
The conservative principles Cheney touts are those that exacerbate economic inequality and rob the majority of Americans of resources, diminishing their access to quality education, health care, safe drinking water, clean air, and an overall safe living environment for their families.
Celebrating these ideals is Cheney’s “principled” stand.
And let’s also not distinguish Cheney’s principles from Trump’s racism. Just pay attention to Cheney’s call to address the January 6 assault on the nation’s capitol:
We should appoint former officials, members of the judiciary and other prominent Americans who can be objective, just as we did after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The commission should be focused on the Jan. 6 attacks. The Black Lives Matter and antifa violence of last summer was illegal and reprehensible, but it is a different problem with a different solution.
She can’t resist this final sentence in which she affirms her conservative bona fides by seeing the problem in our nation not as that of systemic racism but as one created by those responding to decades, centuries, of racist violence and repression.
There is no real rift here in the GOP, and there is no conservative ideology that is not deeply rooted in an agenda of minority rule, economic inequality and injustice, and racism.
And when it comes to the “big lie,” let’s remember this little phrase that led to enormous damage to our nation: ‘Weapons of mass destruction.” Dick Cheney, of course, helped fool Americans with that ginormous lie.
Let’s not be fooled by Liz.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. 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.