A movie dramatization of the Stanford prison experiment opened this weekend, but if you believe Salon writer Andrew O’Hehir, that’s not the first time the 1971 psychological study has been restaged in some manner. O’Hehir asserted in a Saturday piece that over the past few decades, “the Republican Party has been the subject, willing or otherwise, of a version” of the Stanford experiment, with the result that the GOP is now “a xenophobic, all-white party of hate that seeks to roll back not just the Civil Rights movement and feminism, but the entire Enlightenment.”
The party, claimed O’Hehir, was “taken over” twice, first “from within” by movement conservatives and then “from above…by [an] ultra-rich, super-PAC oligarchy.” Those extreme-right forces have promulgated a “fictional narrative” about the GOP’s history in which there’s no room for moderates, not even Dwight Eisenhower or Richard Nixon.
O’Hehir stated that abortion, immigration, and other sociocultural topics that rile up the base are unimportant to those bankrolling the party: “Does anyone suppose that the Koch brothers…give a single solitary fuck about all those Megachurch Dad-Pants Yahoo Apoplexy issues…? Unless and until it impacts the bottom line, that stuff is just the icing on the delicious cake the Kochs are baking, a rich and eggy batter of soft corporate fascism inside a candy shell of imitation democracy. Can you smell it? It’s in the oven right now.”
From O’Hehir’s article (bolding added):
The evil zombie sock-puppet condition of the GOP is the most gruesome single symptom of our failing democracy, and one that has inflicted immense harm not just on our country but the entire world. It didn’t happen by accident.
I would contend that the Republican Party has been the subject, willing or otherwise, of a version of the Stanford prison experiment…A group of normal, middle-class California college students eagerly embraced roles as sadistic guards and abused prisoners, submitting almost immediately to the social order of an entirely fictional institution they knew had no real power. Properly understood, the Stanford experiment is not about prisons or schools or other overtly coercive social institutions, although it certainly applies to them. It is about the power of ideology and the power of power, about the fact that if you change people’s perception of reality, you have gone most of the way to changing reality itself.
The Republican Party did not organically evolve into a xenophobic, all-white party of hate that seeks to roll back not just the Civil Rights movement and feminism, but the entire Enlightenment. It did not accidentally become untethered from reality and float off to the moons of Pluto. Those possibilities were already present, but they had to be activated. Partly as a result of its own ideological weakness and internal divisions, the GOP was taken over from within and from above: In the first instance, by a dedicated core of right-wing activists, and in the second by the ultra-rich, super-PAC oligarchy epitomized by the Koch brothers. The two forces sometimes worked separately, but ultimately the first was funded and sponsored by the second.
One key element of this ideological conquest was that the party’s understanding of itself and its place in American politics and American history was reshaped to conform to a fictional narrative that is now widely believed to be true…
…Is it any wonder that after 30 to 40 years of sustained psychological warfare, most Americans who consider themselves conservatives believe that the current Republican Party represents undying, bedrock American principles that have never changed and never will?...
…[T]he Republican Party was not always anti-immigrant, not always opposed to socialized healthcare, not always committed to a fundamentalist reading of the Second Amendment and, for the love of Christ, not always obsessed with abortion.
Does anyone suppose that the Koch brothers…give a single solitary fuck about all those Megachurch Dad-Pants Yahoo Apoplexy issues at the supposed heart of the supposed Republican ideology? Unless and until it impacts the bottom line, that stuff is just the icing on the delicious cake the Kochs are baking, a rich and eggy batter of soft corporate fascism inside a candy shell of imitation democracy. Can you smell it? It’s in the oven right now.