‘Owning the libs’ is the current mantra of the Republican Party and it resonates through much of conservative thought these days. It means that anything you can do or say to anger or rattle the liberals and Democrats is an acceptable way of grabbing power and attention. It’s essentially a verbal middle finger, and they are using it to express policies and beliefs that end up hurting others, the environment, and even themselves.
Today’s GOP is a political party with no intelligent program to benefit average people. Consequently, it resorts to name-calling, hate-mongering and other tactics intended to arouse an emotional response. They know that if their true purpose was revealed (to further the rich -- and themselves -- getting richer, and to placate racist and anti-abortionist evangelicals), they would not win elections or sustain their power. Since they can’t employ logic to promote their ideas, they use propaganda to inflame, discourage, promote distrust of “the other,” and galvanize resentment and hate. ‘Owning the libs’ is their last feeble attempt to retain the loyalty of their base.
This has been tried before. Joe McCarthy in the 1950s used fear of the rising power of Communism to gain power. His efforts ended in his censure from the Senate in 1954. The disgruntled victims of their own hatred melted back into the collective. But then this fear-based appeal was used again by Sarah Palin when she ran for the vice-president with John McCain, and more recently by Marjorie Taylor-Greene and Loren Boebert. Today, we see those same tactics (and resulting censure) embodied in Republican Congressman Paul Gosar. The specific use of “owning the libs” was used effectively by Donald Trump in 2016 when he ran for president and as of this writing, is still being used by him and Don Junior.
Owning the libs is an attitude of superiority reminiscent of the playground tactics used by bullies. It is a tactic to divide and conquer, as well as to divert attention away from the fact that the GOP’s platform is without merit. It appeals to those looking for a charismatic leader to save them from a changing world in which their sense of privilege is no longer guaranteed. They are furious, and feel disenfranchised by a society that is moving on without them. Like in the Wizard of Oz, they can’t bear exposing the small man behind the curtain because in doing so they would have to realize that their worldview is stuck in the past and their party has nothing hopeful to offer. That lack of hope creates volatility; and that volatility becomes focused on liberals. Their fury blinds them to the sweeping social and environmental changes that are knocking on their door.
This is a highly dangerous game that the GOP is playing. We have seen it play out in the current pandemic as hundreds of thousands of people have refused vaccinations and have turned masking into a political issue. Why? Because those who they classify as ‘liberals’ have told them to comply. They give new meaning to the phrase “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” With blinders protecting their worldview, they refuse to listen to science, refuse to trust the government, refuse to be open-minded, refuse to consider the well-being of the greater whole. Sadly, 99.5% of people dying from COVID today are those who have not been vaccinated. Yet, in the face of needless sickness and death, the GOP is willing to sacrifice the very base of their support.
The greater meaning behind the strategy of ‘owning the libs’ is the major contention between legitimate conservatives and the Trump Republicans. I predict a similar outcome as what happened to the GOP in the 1950s, when widespread bully behavior ushered in the progressive era of President Eisenhower, a period of infrastructure building and significant reform.