Nobody ever accused Republicans of not knowing how to make a buck or BS-ing somebody into voting for them. Lying to people for economic or political gain is the very definition of a grift.
Whenever there’s another mass- or school-shooting, Republican politicians hustle out fundraising emails about how “Democrats are coming to take your guns!” The result is a measurable and profitable spike in gun sales after every new slaughter of our families and children, followed by a fresh burst of campaign cash to GOP lawmakers.
But the GOP’s ability to exploit any opportunity that comes along — regardless of its impact on America or American citizens — goes way beyond just fundraising hustles.
When Jared Kushner was underwater and nearly bankrupt because he overpaid for 666 Fifth Avenue and needed a billion-dollar bailout to cover his mortgage, his buddies in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia and the UAE) blockaded American ally (and host to the Fifth Fleet) Qatar until that country relented and laundered the money to Jared through a Canadian investment company.
Just this week, after Trump deregulated toxic trains leading to a horrible crash and the contamination of East Palestine, Ohio, Steve Bannon — already charged with multiple fraud-related crimes and then pardoned by Trump — showed up this week to hustle $300+ water filters to the people of that town.
The grift is at the core of the GOP’s existence, and has been since Nixon blew up LBJ’s peace talks with the Vietnamese in 1968 and then took cash bribes from the Milk Lobby and Jimmy Hoffa in the White House while having his mafia-connected “plumbers” wiretap the DNC’s offices at the Watergate.
— Republicans successfully fought the ability of Medicare to negotiate drug prices for decades; in turn, Big Pharma pours millions into their campaign coffers and personal pockets (legalized by 5 Republicans on the Supreme Court).
— Republicans beat back Democratic efforts to stop insurance giants from ripping off seniors and our government with George W. Bush’s Medicare Advantage privatization scam; in turn, the insurance companies rain cash on them like an Indian monsoon.
— Republicans oppose any effort to replace fossil fuels with green energy sources that don’t destroy our environment; in turn, the fossil fuel industry jacked up the price of gasoline into the stratosphere just in time for the 2022 election (and you can expect them to try it again in 2024).
— Republicans stopped enforcement of a century’s worth of anti-trust laws in 1983, wiping out America’s small businesses and turning rural city centers into ghost towns while pushing profits and prices through the ceiling; in turn massive corporate PACs fund ads supporting Republican candidates every election cycle.
— Republicans authored legislation letting billionaires own thousands of newspapers, radio stations, and TV outlets; in turn the vast majority of those papers (now half of all local papers are owned by a handful of rightwing New York hedge funds) and stations all run daily news and editorials attacking Democrats and supporting the GOP.
— Republicans Trump and Pai killed net neutrality so giant tech companies can legally spy on you and me, recording every website we visit and selling that information for billions; in turn, major social media sites amplify rightwing voices while giant search engines stopped spidering progressive news sites.
Newspeak — George Orwell’s term for the grift where politicians use fancy phrases that mean the opposite of what people think they mean — has been the GOP’s go-to strategy for a half-century.
Richard Nixon, for example, promised to crack down on drugs, but instead used that as an excuse to crack down on anti-war liberals and Black people. Instead of an economic grift, it was a political grift.
As Nixon‘s right hand man, John Ehrlichman, told reporter Dan Baum:
“You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and Black people. Do you understand what I’m saying?
“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or Black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.
“We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news.
“Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.“
And it worked:
Source: adapted from Wikipedia on US Incarceration rates
The grift is a recurrent theme through Republican presidencies in the modern era.
Ronald Reagan told us if we just destroyed America’s unions and moved our manufacturing to China and Mexico, great job opportunities would fill the nation.
He followed that up by promising if we just cut taxes on the morbidly rich, prosperity would trickle-down to the rest of us.
Reagan even assured us that raising the Social Security retirement age to 67 and taxing Social Security benefits would mean seniors could retire with greater ease.
All, of course, were grifter’s lies. Republican presidents since Reagan have continued the tradition.
George W. Bush called his program to make it easier to clear-cut America’s forests and rip roads through wilderness areas the “Healthy Forests Initiative.”
His program to legalize more pollution from coal-fired power plants and immunize them from community lawsuits (leading to tens of thousands of additional lung- and heart-disease deaths in the years since) was named the “Clean Air Act.”
Bush’s scam to “strengthen” Medicare — “Medicare Advantage” — was a thinly disguised plan to privatize that program that is today draining Medicare’s coffers while making insurance executives richer than Midas.
Donald Trump told Americans he had the coronavirus pandemic under control while he was actually making the situation far worse: America had more deaths per capita from the disease than any other developed country in the world, with The Lancet estimating a half-million Americans died needlessly because of Trump’s grift.
Jared and Ivanka cashed in on their time in the White House to the tune of billions, while Trump squeezed hundreds of millions out of foreign governments, encouraging them to illegally pay him through rentals in his properties around the world.
Other Trump grifts — most leading to grateful industries or billionaires helping him and the GOP out — included:
— Making workplaces less safe
— Boosting religious schools at the expense of public schools
— Cutting relief for students defrauded by student loan sharks
— Shrinking the safety net by cutting $60 billion out of food stamps
— Forcing workers to put in overtime without getting paid extra for it
— Pouring more pollution from fossil fuels into our fragile atmosphere
— Gutting the EPA’s science operation
— Rescinding rules that protected workers at federal contract sites
— Dialing back car air pollution emissions standards
— Reducing legal immigration of skilled workers into the US from “shithole countries”
— Blocking regulation of toxic chemicals
— Rolling back rules on banks, setting up the crisis of 2023
— Defenestrating rules against racially segregated housing
While Nixon was simply corrupt — a crook, to use his own term — in 1978 when five Republicans on the Supreme Court signed off on the Bellotti decision authored by Lewis Powell himself, giving corporations the legal right to bribe American politicians, the GOP went all in.
Ever since then, the GOP has purely been the party of billionaires and giant corporations, although their most successful political grift has been to throw an occasional bone to racists, gun-nuts, fascists, homophobes, and woman-haters to get votes.
Democrats at that time were largely funded by the unions, so it wasn’t until the 1990s, after Reagan had destroyed about half of America’s union jobs and gutted the unions’ ability to fund campaigns, that the Democratic Party under Bill Clinton was forced to make a big turn toward taking corporate cash.
Since Barack Obama showed how online fundraising could replace corporate cash, however, about half of the nation’s Democratic politicians have aligned with the Progressive Caucus and eschewed corporate money, returning much of the Party to its FDR and Great Society base.
The GOP, in contrast, has never wavered from lapping up corporate money in exchange for tax cuts, deregulation, and corporate socialism.
Their most dangerous grift today, though, has been their embrace of the lie that America is not a democracy but instead is a theocratic republic that should be ruled exclusively by armed Christian white men. It’s leading us straight into the jaws of fascism.
Bannon’s grift in East Palestine is the smallest of the small, after his being busted for a multi-million-dollar fraud in the “Build the Wall” scheme and others, but is still emblematic of the Republican strategy at governance.
When all you have to offer the people is a hustle, then at the very least, Republicans figure, you should be able to make a buck or gain/keep political power while doing it.
This content originally appeared on Common Dreams and was authored by Thom Hartmann.