Idaho Republican Party Leaders
are Living in an Alternate Reality
~ 11 minute read ~
There are moments in life where you realize that the person or people with whom you are interacting have established so many alternative facts in their head that they now live in an alternate reality. A reality that bears little resemblance to the actual world. After attending the very peaceful protest of local progressive citizens on NW Blvd illuminated by a glorious sunset, I made my way over to the Coeur’d Alene resort to see what the scene was at the Lincoln dinner. Upon attempting to enter the room, I was met at the door by a couple of frightened pre-teens with a blank piece of paper held in front of them like a shield telling me that I could not enter. They called an adult over, and after a brief conversation to discern my intentions, I was allowed in. Between beefing up security, photographing the protestors, and requiring only written questions at the Town Hall earlier that day, it was apparent that the Republicans really were paranoid about the possibility of having to answer tough questions from people who disagree with them. Clearly, I did not fit in with the scene with my long hair and guitar fingernails. Nor did I feel exactly comfortable with the John Birch Society whose table was right inside the entrance or the fact that a raffle was happening for a Luger- the German-made handgun used by SS officers. I felt a bit as if I had disappeared into an even more twisted contemporary version of Roald Dahl’s book The Witches.
The large banquet room was full of old white Republicans made giddy by the election of Donald Trump. While Trump might not be as articulate and charismatic as these Republicans would hope, they are more than willing to embrace him and his entire agenda. Although Idaho Senator Mike Crapo didn’t care to meet with concerned local citizens, he did show up to address corporate sponsors and party Republicans at the Lincoln dinner. His speech advocated for “downsizing government,” “replacing the tax code,” “repealing Obamacare,” and having a “strong national defense.” He also mentioned changing the Supreme Court and indicated that we should have an “opportunity society” instead of a “caretaker society.” Like many political terms these are meant to obscure rather than clarify. Based on his support for Trump and all his nominees, here is a translation: by “downsize government” he really means to destroy all aspects of government that support a culture of human rights and biospheric preservation. By “replacing the tax code” he means to cut taxes for the rich. (I guess a world in which less than a dozen individuals have as much wealth as the bottom half of humanity and where the top 1% of 1% have become enormously more wealthy in recent years while the poor have gotten poorer is too egalitarian for him.) “Repealing Obamacare” means tax cuts for the rich, cutting healthcare for the poor and defunding Planned Parenthood. A “strong national defense” means increasing spending up to more than half of the federal budget on endless illegal wars of aggression which in turn increase terrorism. Changing the Supreme Court means upholding Citizens United (so that the rich can buy their legislators and presidents) and undermining Roe v Wade (so women will not be able to access abortions). By advocating for an opportunity society rather than a caretaker society he means to eliminate programs that care for those at the bottom that could use help and instead encourage those who are well off to get richer. After all, if you aren’t rich and successful, according to this view, then you must not be trying hard enough. Out of work? Have a mental illness? Addicted? Diagnosed with a serious physical illness? Need some support from society? Sorry, but they can’t have you sucking off of the government teat (because the biggest corporations, especially the war machines and big banks, have been nursing for awhile now and are about to suck her dry.)
I also wondered about what kinds of alternate facts and alternate realities might be occurring these days in the local Republican party, especially around climate change. After all, the Idaho legislature excluded mentions of climate change and human disruption of ecosystems as realities in the science standards for public schools. How does one respond to somebody who doesn’t believe that humans are disrupting earth’s ecosystems or that climate change is caused by humans? It is a bit like dealing with someone who believes that the earth is flat or that the extraterrestrial reptiles are running the government. These kinds of interactions can be disturbingly common in Idaho. At the Republican dinner I had another one of these moments. I was able to ask Luke Malek a question as to whether he believed that humans were causing global warming. He responded:
“I don’t know if it is human caused, I mean volcanos put out a lot of Co2. So I don’t know- are humans contributing? Possibly. I don’t know.”
Really? We have elected officials throughout the local, state and national Republican party who are not able to recognize that the reality of climate change and global ecosystem disruption isn’t just another question like who we think is going to win the super bowl. Not only is there overwhelming evidence and 97% scientific consensus that climate change is real, happening fast, and caused by human activity (especially fossil fuels, animal agriculture and deforestation), but that it also will actually determine whether many millions of people on the planet right now (and being born onto the planet) live or die and what kind of life they are able to live. What our Idaho congresspeople believe, and therefore do, matters. If, for example, Idaho senators succeed in removing federal protections on Idaho lands and allow big oil and gas companies to drill and allow big logging companies to deforest the land, then it will contribute to biospheric destruction and the climate crisis by worsening it.
But the crown jewel of cognitive dissonance and alternate realities for the evening came at the end when a man named Trevor Louden gave the keynote speech. For starters, Louden claimed that “Brexit was a taste [of] people standing up against the oligarchs, against the political correctness, against the tyrants of the world.” Then he followed with “[Brexit] was the first step and then Donald Trump winning the election, that was the icing on the cake.” Yep. You read that correctly. He thinks that Donald Trump represents ordinary people standing up against the oligarchs and tyrants. Nevermind (just for starters) that Donald Trump has the richest cabinet in the history of the United States including half a dozen upper ups from Goldman Sachs. In his speech, Louden claimed that the democratic party had a plan to “legalize all the illegals, to flood the country with more Islamic refugees,” and create a “one-party state.” Louden went on to claim that the democratic party is “completely owned by the Marxist unions” which is why we have “Obamacare…immigration amnesty…a nuclear deal with Iran, and recognition of Cuba. All of those policies came out of the communist movement in this country.” He went on to claim that “if Hillary Clinton had prevailed she would have brought the hammer down on every enemy she has. She would have persecuted conservative businessmen. She would have persecuted anyone who stood against her and she would have consolidated power for the rest of our lifetimes.”
The alternate reality time machine had traveled back to the 1950’s Red Scare and senator Joe McCarthy was in the room with us.
Louden continued: “All of the riots are done by professional Marxist agitators, folks. These are not college kids, these are professionals tied to Putin’s Russia, tied to Iran, and tied to Venezuela and Cuba. And they are causing mayhem…
I bet you some of them were out there demonstrating in front of this event. They are coming into the heartland… You have to get involved in school board and county commissioner elections because that is where they are coming for you. They are moving in here… If you take this great [Trump] victory for granted and coast for the next two years, your children will live in slavery in this land. That’s inevitable. That will happen.” Seriously! Now I know that the people standing next to me at the protest weren’t just local retired teachers or nurses or students. Nope, they must have been agents of the Kremlin here in CdA posing as local residents with a master plan to enslave our children! Meanwhile, the fact that (just to pick one of many examples) Trump’s secretary of commerce is business partners with a former Putin appointed KGB agent who together with a third partner own a Russian bank known for money laundering is just fine. According to Louden, the monolithic communists are everywhere- they control the Democrats, the unions, the protest movements- but we shouldn’t be at all concerned with Trump’s extensive business ties to Russia and the Russian mafia. Ironic.
Louden ended with a rallying cry for Republicans to open their checkbooks when “they are cutting regulation and cutting taxes” and the “federal government is getting rid of the EPA and returning the land to the states” and when Trump “opens the energy fields up.” Once again we hear the same Republican propaganda that democratically created laws protecting workers, health and the natural world on which we depend for our very life are bad and need to be destroyed so that big business can be free to exploit and pollute. Louden was given a standing ovation for his speech.
As a species we are racing toward a cliff of catastrophic proportions and the extremist Republican death cult is pushing the gas pedal to the floor. As thinking people who care about the fate of humanity and other species, what can we do to change this bizarre dynamic of fundamental ignorance and shameless greed?
We need to elect people who reason about the world according to evidence and craft policies with mindfulness and compassion for the natural world, other people and future generations.
In order to do that, we need to change the cultural norms of what is expected, what is tolerated, and what is encouraged in those around us. We should have compassion for those who are lost in ignorance and hard-heartedness. We must remain aware that there are plenty of kind and reasonable conservatives that do not have these views. But we also must stand strong in basic facts and core moral principles and communicate clearly with those around us. Those of us who count reason and care among our gifts must organize, educate and activate our community to create a more just and livable world.