It took a while but finally someone in the media voiced what most people who aren't Republican partisans have known for a long time. The day after the first Republican debate, Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote: "One of our two major parties has gone off the deep end. Or as the political analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein put it in their book 'It's Even Worse Than It Looks,' the G.O.P. has become an 'insurgent outlier ... unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science.' "
This might be stating the too-obvious-to-bother if it was just the Tea Party loonies, but it's not.
Krugman went on, "While media puff pieces have portrayed Mr. Trump's rivals as serious men... their supposed seriousness is all surface. Judge them by positions as opposed to image, and what you have is a lineup of cranks... Crank economics, crank science, crank foreign policy are all necessary parts of a candidate's resume... Talking nonsense is what you have to do to get anywhere in today's Republican Party... Leading Republicans have generally tried to preserve a facade of respectability, helping the news media to maintain the pretense that it was dealing with a normal political party."
No one so prominent as Krugman has put it so bluntly before. Certainly not the pundits whose jobs require that they "maintain the pretense" nor the Democratic politicians who must sit across the negotiating table from these "cranks."
There is not a single policy issue where the Republicans have science and/or the consensus of scientific experts on their side. Not one.
My point here is not simply to pass on these insights but to ask the logical question: where do we go after this realization? How do we proceed now that the opposition has ceased to be "rational players" (an old phrase from the Cold War that has found new usefulness)? A "rational player" in this context could be defined as someone capable of changing an opinion when it is contradicted by new facts. Who seriously believes that any Republican, or member of the Tea Party that now controls the Republican Party, is capable of this?
The Republicans were apparently traumatized by the catastrophic failure of the Bush administration, possibly the worst administration in the history of the republic, with its legacy of a pointless war and economic collapse. But rather than rethink their policy positions and change accordingly, the GOP has hunkered down and now operates with the psychological dynamics of a cult, a besieged sect huddled around unquestioned truths.
Our system is predicated on rational dialogue between the two major political parties, but right now only one is capable of rational dialogue. What is accomplished by continuing the pretense and expecting reason from the Republicans? I don't know what to do in terms of political strategy but let the colloquy begin and let's come up with something.
However, I do have an idea for how to proceed in interpersonal relations: refuse to engage. There is a precedent for dealing with this kind of irrationality in public discourse in the example of the Holocaust denier. If Republican positions don't have the visceral repugnance of the Holocaust denier, they are nevertheless every bit as divorced from reality. Civil society seems to have arrived at a consensus intuitively on how to deal with the Holocaust denier, which is: refuse to engage. If you engage him in serious debate, the Holocaust denier has already won. He knows he can't convince anyone, he just wants his position to be taken seriously enough to deserve a refutation, to be included in the list of possible positions. You can observe the same behavior in a Republican politician or spokesperson on TV discussing climate change. They don't expect to change any minds or win debates, they just want to keep their position legitimate. Let's delegitimize them by refusing to "maintain the pretense."
I'm not advocating an end to political discourse but a recognition that it has already ended and that we need to come up with a political strategy for dealing with the irrationality that confronts us and stop coasting on our old habits.