House Speaker Mike Johnson
Coalition Warns Against 'Fiscal Commission' That Would Fast-Track Social Security Cuts
(Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Looming Government Shutdown Is No Accident—It's What Republicans Want

They think it will discourage voters by amplifying American cynicism, making it easier for them to take over.

With a government shutdown looming a week from yesterday, the House of Representatives adjourned Thursday for the weekend after Speaker MAGA Mike Johnson failed to get a successful vote on two essential funding bills.

One, a transportation bill, would have gutted Amtrak, so a few East Coast Republicans objected; the other, funding government operations and oversight of banks, went down in flames because it had a draconian anti-abortion provision built into it and Tuesday’s election appears to have spooked the GOP.

Just a week earlier, Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott — who became a near billionaire running a company convicted of the largest ($1.7 billion) Medicare fraud in American history and hails from Ron DeSantis’ home state — endorsed Donald Trump.

These stories are connected, and answer the question: “Why have Republicans in the House and Senate become so unable or unwilling to do the nation’s business?”

It turns out they actually want the chaos they’re creating, the government defaults, the mass shooters, the fights on school boards and city councils, the racist, antisemitic, and homophobic vigilantes. They think it will all work to their advantage: none of this is accidental.

They think it will discourage voters by amplifying American cynicism and discouragement, making it easier for them to take over.

Rick Scott is betting that when Trump becomes president and declares martial law on his first day, as he’s promised to do, morbidly rich people like Scott will be unscathed.

His vast wealth has always insulated him from having to interact shoulder-to-shoulder with the unwashed masses: private jets, exclusive clubs and restaurants, chauffeurs and butlers, a dedicated security detail and gated communities.

The billionaires and CEOs funding the Republicans in Congress who are disrupting our government believe the same thing. They think they’re invincible. They believe the GOP embrace of fascism to replace the democracy that is increasingly rejecting them at the polls will keep them safe.

They’re wrong.

From the time in 1980 when David Koch ran for Vice President on a platform of ending Social Security and Medicare along with gutting all federal support for education, healthcare, and “welfare” programs, “Libertarian” billionaires have worked to end every part of what they call “big government” that may help average working people, the environment, or the poor.

Reagan won the election that year, but Koch’s worldview prevailed, taking over the GOP.

Over the past 42 years, Reaganomics has moved over 60,000 factories and nearly 20 million good-paying manufacturing jobs overseas.

It’s cut taxes on billionaires to the point they pay an average 3.4% income tax (when they pay anything at all: Trump, taking in billions, paid $750 a year for almost two decades).

Reagan’s policies destroyed the American union movement and stole $51 trillion from working-class people, putting almost every penny of it into the money bins of the GOP’s morbidly rich patrons.

Devastating the working class was actually part of the plan: now that the American middle class has gone from over 60% of us down to a mere 43% of us, Republicans are trying to harness the outrage people are feeling and then use it to tear our society apart.

Out of the chaos, they believe they can rebuild a nation on the foundations of hypermasculinity, racism, religious bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, and threats of violence. These are the weapons that every fascist leader in history has relied on, and in every case those leaders — from Mussolini to Hitler to Putin — were first heavily supported by the morbidly rich who thought they could “control the madman.”

Pro tip: you can’t control the madman.

Fritz Thyssen, the steel baron who was one of Germany’s richest industrialists in the 1930s, wrote a book about how he made the same bet American billionaires and Republican politicians are making today: he thought he could ride a tiger that would make him richer and it would never turn and devour him.

His book I Paid Hitler (my book-collecting father gave me a copy 51 years ago for my 21st birthday) — which lays out how he personally convinced Hindenberg to make Hitler Chancellor and raised the Nazi Party’s first 3 million Reichsmarks so they could win their first national election — reads like a modern-day tragedy.

At first, Thyssen got along with Hitler, even believed he was influencing the man, but when he began to object to some of the Nazi leader’s worse excesses he had to flee the country with his family to avoid being murdered.

Fascists play for keeps.

Just ask the families of the four police officers killed by Trump’s January 6th rioters. Or the mourning parents of over 1,000 children Trump stole at the southern border and then trafficked into a “Christian” adoption scam and are still missing.

Once they acquire power, fascists rarely relinquish it, regardless of how many people must die, how many lives are destroyed. When they fail to hold onto power, as Hitler did when he was arrested in the 1920s and Trump did in 2020, they fight like hell to regain it. And once they succeed, their commitment to revenge makes them ten times more deadly.

Speaker Mike Johnson and his House Republicans are making the same bet as the morbidly rich men who own them. They naively believe that fascist leaders like Trump actually care about “unborn children,” budget deficits, and Drag Queen Story Hour.

In fact, all America’s morbidly rich who fund the GOP care about is power and the obscene wealth that is protected by it. Everything else is chum they toss into the water to bring along the lowest-common-denominator voters. And once Trump seizes total power, he’ll turn on them, too.

Nonetheless, American billionaires are still funding and thus growing this fascist movement within the GOP, just like Fritz Thyssen did back in the day.

Pushing conspiracy theories. Casting minorities (gender, race, religion) and politicians as actual evil. Passing laws that increasingly narrow our democracy until one day there will only be one party governing this country and that party will be wholly beholden to them.

Can they pull it off? Can they create a right-wing movement so powerful it will lock the Democratic Party out of national power forever? Will their stooges on the Supreme Court help them block future Democrats from the White House with more corrupt endorsements of political bribery, gerrymandering, and voter purges?

Or will the beast they’re empowering turn on them, like it did on Fritz Thyssen when he had to flee his homeland to avoid the brutal fate so many of his wealthy peers suffered?

Outlawing actual (as opposed to purely symbolic and impotent) opposition took a few months in Chile when Pinochet took over; it took about two years in Germany; arguably four or five years in Russia. If Trump, DeSantis, or somebody like them becomes president next year, it could happen very quickly. They even have a plan for it, called Project 2025according to the Washington Post.

It can happen here. And the morbidly rich are not going to save us.

Next year’s election will determine the fate and future of what’s left of our democracy, so badly battered by bought-off and corrupt Republicans on the Supreme Court and in Congress: this cancer that started with Reagan and was put on steroids by Trump’s racist “birther” claims about Obama in 2008 has now fully metastasized across American society.

As long as our right-wing billionaires can keep their billions in dark-money “donations” relatively quiet and minimize outrage over their practice of nakedly purchasing elections, of carpet-bombing American homes with lie-filled television advertising, of turning the algorithmic social media screws to fill our nation with hate, the path we’re following won’t change.

That will take an overwhelming number of us waking up and becoming politically active.

And we’re going to have to get it done soon, while it’s still legal to write, protest, and vote. Because if Trump or someone like him is elected, all those rights will quickly vanish.

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