Is the Imminent End of Civilization a Winning Ticket for the GOP?

Opinion

Guest Essay

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Is the Imminent End of Civilization a Winning Ticket for the GOP?

Stephen F. Eisenman

Mr. Eisenman contributes a weekly column from Washington, D.C., on politics, demographics, and inequality.

Is the recent discovery that rising global temperatures will quickly render the Earth uninhabitable, a net plus for conservative Republicans? Will it be their path to retaking Congress in 2022 and their ticket to the White House in 2024, assuming voters live that long? I asked my friend Prof. William Waffle at the Rand Institute and columnist for the Wall Street Journal if it’s true that Republicans are more trusted than Democrats in a time of national emergency.

He emailed his reply:

“Two decades of polling show that the American public would rather have a Republican than a Democrat in the White House during times of heightened security concerns. We learned that after 9/11 when George W. Bush’s ratings went sky high, even though his response to the attack was to continue to read “My Pet Goat” to preschoolers. The same held true during the George Floyd protests last summer, when Donald Trump’s approval ratings briefly climbed above 50%, despite having, a few weeks earlier, advised Americans to drink bleach to prevent Covid infections.”

But won’t the end of civilization scramble the usual political loyalties, I asked?

Prof. Waffle responded directly:

“Maybe. But the Republicans are the party of law and order, and with televised images of people fainting from heat and even dying in the streets, voters will want stability. Besides, in a crisis, tribal loyalties tend to solidify.”

He continued:

“Don’t count the Democrats out in 2022 and beyond, if there is a beyond. There’s a chance they can pivot by focusing on bread-and-butter issues. Senator Bernie Sanders’ proposal that the Affordable Care Act cover funerals, polls very well. Unfortunately for him, the Squad has been pushing for Single Payer Funerals, a non-starter with moderate Democrats and Independents.

Americans are not only motivated by party loyalty. They are also moved by what Columbia Prof. Morris Zapp calls “catastrophic class conflict.” I asked him about that in a Zoom call:

“There is a widespread sense among non-elites, that elites are experiencing a smoother exit from civilization than they are. That’s why we are seeing sporadic protests and acts of vandalism, such as people throwing rocks at vintage Chevy Impalas, Chrysler Imperials, and similar vehicles. They are the only cars with air conditioning that can cope with the heat and therefore are preferred by the mega-rich. A 1979 Chevy Nova recently sold at Sotheby’s for $1.6 million!

Zapp continued:

The party that can best exploit “catastrophic class conflict” will win in the next (and possibly last) electoral cycle.”

Racial as well as class divisions are also key determinants of electoral outcomes. So, we asked the Gallup organization if they were polling to see how white, Black, and Latinx communities viewed the end of civilization, and how that might impact the next contest. It turns out major polling was already underway. Dr. Harry N. Adimup provided some preliminary results:

“Whites are about twice as likely as non-whites – 53% to 25% — to say that the end of civilization is a good thing. (22% of respondents were either undecided or had no opinion.) Not surprisingly, that parallels the major party platforms, with congressional Republicans generally supporting civilizational collapse and fracking. Democrats on the other hand, regret the immanent end of human life on earth — and support fracking. They’ve just proposed a major policy initiative: an excise tax on ceiling fans larger than 36” – so-called 1% fans — claiming it will revive the small fan industry and create hundreds of thousands of good paying, union jobs, albeit short term.”

Finally, I wanted to know how the imminent demise of humanity ranked among voter concerns. So, I reached out to Professor Pamela Parsons, who holds the Talcott Parsons Chair of Sociology at the Parsons School of Design at the New School in New York. She asked a random sample of 100 registered voters to list in order of importance the following issues: a) abortion; b) the teaching of critical race theory; c) transgender athletes; d) de-funding the police and e) the end of the world.

She shared her findings in an email:

The end of the world was the issue of least concern (21%), either because they hadn’t heard about it or didn’t trust the media. Just 23% chose abortion, likely perhaps because many pro-life voters assume that that few pregnancies will have time to come to term.

Transgender athletics were the most important issue for 25%. They apparently accept the scripted Republican position that granting transgender rights will undermine end-of-times protections for “women and children first”. But de-funding the police and the teaching of Critical Race Theory were tied for top concern with 31% each.

I asked Prof. Parsons how she interpreted this surprising result, and its significance for 2022 and (possibly) beyond.

It’s really very simple. At times of crisis, in-groups (whites and non-Black Hispanics) retreat to their traditional positions, treating out-groups (non-whites) as if they were a threat. The key to the next election, therefore, is for Democrats to assure white voters that they fully support the police, that they revere the U.S. flag, and that nothing will change for them even when civilization collapses.

In other words, if the Democrats can just hold off their progressive flank a little while longer, they can maintain their razor-thin electoral majorities until the end of time.

Stephen F. Eisenman is Professor Emeritus of Art History at Northwestern University and the author of Gauguin’s Skirt (Thames and Hudson, 1997), The Abu Ghraib Effect (Reaktion, 2007), The Cry of Nature: Art and the Making of Animal Rights (Reaktion, 2015) and many other books. He is also co-founder of the environmental justice non-profit,  Anthropocene Alliance. He and the artist Sue Coe and now preparing for publication part two of their series for Rotland Press, American Fascism Now.