On Monday, writing for The New York Times, Nobel Prize-winning economist and liberal political columnist Paul Krugman suggested that the GOP's current structure is closer to that of cults of personality in authoritarian regimes, than to that of a typical political party in democratic nations.
"'The Mechanisms of Cult Production' compares the behavior of political elites across a wide range of dictatorial regimes, from Caligula's Rome to the Kim family's North Korea, and finds striking similarities," wrote Krugman. "Despite vast differences in culture and material circumstances, elites in all such regimes engage in pretty much the same behavior, especially what the paper dubs 'loyalty signaling' and 'flattery inflation.'"
"In the context of dictatorial regimes, signaling typically involves making absurd claims on behalf of the Leader and his agenda, often including 'nauseating displays of loyalty,'" continued Krugman. "If the claims are obvious nonsense and destructive in their effects, if making those claims humiliates the person who makes them, these are features, not bugs. I mean, how does the Leader know if you're truly loyal unless you're willing to demonstrate your loyalty by inflicting harm both on others and on your own reputation?"
All of this, wrote Krugman, is essentially identical to the GOP's current infatuation with Trump, right down to the party's tendency to punish members like Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) who display anything other than complete loyalty to the leader.
This, he argues, has had devastating consequences, such as when Trump's personal denialism against COVID-19 led to stalled vaccination in areas that heavily supported the former president.
"None of this should be taken to imply that Republicans are the root of all evil or that their opponents are saints; Democrats are by no means immune to the power of special interests or the lure of the revolving door," concluded Krugman. "But the G.O.P. has become something different, with, as far as I know, no precedent in American history although with many precedents abroad. Republicans have created for themselves a political realm in which costly demonstrations of loyalty transcend considerations of good policy or even basic logic. And all of us may pay the price."
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