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Opinion | The Republican Party has become a smash-and-grab operation

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Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association has been accused of misusing donors’ money, and its longtime executive director, Wayne LaPierre, has been accused of using the foundation’s money for his own benefit. Jerry Falwell Jr., who headed Liberty University, was recently put on leave after sharing a photo with a young woman (not his wife); both had their pants unzipped.

Given that the right wing has become a coven of crooks and con men, it was not a surprise at all when former Trump campaign chief Stephen K. Bannon was arrested Thursday on a boat (by officials from the U.S. Postal Service, which sounds like an over-the-top plot point in a bad movie) on suspicion of bilking people out of money for a private build-the-wall scam. (Trump’s fear-mongering that we needed a border wall, constant lying about how much has been built and snatching money from the Pentagon to fund part of it are not criminal acts. But they are evidence of the disdain with which the right wing and the Republican Party specifically hold their fellow Americans who have bought into the xenophobic tripe the far-right peddles.)

What is Fox News (disclaimer: I am an MSNBC contributor) other than a propaganda machine trying to con viewers into believing in a parallel universe in which Ukraine has the Democratic National Committee’s server and Trump is the victim of the deep state? What are right-wing columnists and talk show hosts — who know better but recycle Trump’s exaggerations, conspiracies and bigotry — other than snake-oil salesmen who figure their fans will buy just about anything they say so long as they slam liberals and play to the White grievance mentality that has replaced conservatism as the GOP’s animating force? (Imagine waking up every morning to defend a president who embraces Confederate symbols, QAnon and Russian propaganda.)

Whether conduct is criminal or “merely” deceitful, the Republican Party and a slew of advocacy groups, think tanks and media personalities have learned to make money off people they treat as rubes. The people they pitch to will buy that a caravan is invading the United States. They will believe President Barack Obama “spied” on Trump. They will take seriously the notion that Trump succeeded in slaying the pandemic.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) knows that Ukraine did not try to manipulate the election, but he will repeat Russian propaganda because that’s what is wanted by the base, the low-information voters he exploits. The entire Republican Senate, with the exception of Mitt Romney of Utah, will pretend an infamous phone call between Trump and Ukraine’s president was perfect, or that extorting a foreign government to help in reelecting a president is not impeachable anyway. To stay in the good graces of her party, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) will tell us that Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh supports Roe v. Wade and that tax cuts will pay for themselves. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will look at the Senate Intelligence report rife with eye-popping evidence of collusion between Russian operatives and the Trump campaign but try to gaslight the public by saying it disproves collusion. That’s what the right-wing audience wants and expects them to say.

The Republican Party and its attendant operations personify Eric Hoffer’s admonition that “every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” In that sense, the president who bilked unwary customers with Trump University, whose charitable foundation was shut down and who paid hush money to women with whom he cheated on his wife is the perfect person to head this party. Trump has used the office as another profit-making scheme, shepherding foreigners and political allies to frequent his properties and allowing his daughter and son-in-law to make millions while nominally serving in office.

The reason Republicans turned their party over to Trump and feel no compunction about reversing one position after another should be obvious: Many of them do not believe in much of anything other than getting rich and maintaining their grip on power. The party has become a smash-and-grab operation — smash democratic norms and institutions, and grab the limelight and cash for however long they can.

And consider this: If we know about all the misdeeds, the crimes and the lies while Trump is in office, what are we going to find once he is gone?



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