I’ve been teaching a course about parables. I want to offer that as an excuse. One of the easiest things to do with a parable is to turn it into an allegory, in which each element of the story represents some other entity. If you are going to do that, you need to know a good deal about the “reality” the allegory represents and you need to know what your audience is likely to know.
You can violate that rule for the fun of it, certainly. In the movie, Galaxy Quest, Sir Alexander Dane (the analog to Mr. Spock) delivers this line to the dying Quellek: “By Grabthar’s hammer…by the Suns of Worvan…you shall be…avenged!” That’s good comedy because the viewers have no idea what any of that means and Dane (Alan Rickman) delivers the line with such intensity.
It may be that you didn’t see this coming, but I had a quick and very visual image of the plight of the Republican Party. This is just an allegory,(see cautions above) but I’ve enjoyed it so far.
The Republican Party is Bruce Banner. For those of you who don’t follow the comics, the TV shows, or the movies of the Hulk, Bruce Banner is the Hulk when he is not being the Hulk. Bruce Banner, as the icon of the Republican Party back in the day, was careful, prudent, and alert to what wold be good for us all. Banner is the Republican Party of Eisenhower, Rockefeller, Romney, and even, to a large extent, of Nixon Then something happened to him. He was given, accidentally, a dose of gamma rays during the explosion of an experimental bomb and ever after than, when he is subjected to emotional stress, he turns into the Hulk.
That is where the Republican Party is now.
This came to me in a moment of reflection. I caught myself looking back to the current time from a point in the future, when a democratic system driven by the contest of two policy-driven parties, had been restored. From that distance, the current identity of the Republicans as the Hulk seemed clear. Encouraging too, in a way, because after the rampages of the Hulk, he simmers down and becomes nice guy Bruce Banner again.
For the Republican Party, I see the gamma rays as the steady deterioration of the party’s position in American politics. We’re going back to the allegory, remember. Back in those days, the Republicans had a moderate wing and a conservative wing, just as the Democrats has a pro-civil rights northern wing and an anti-civil rights southern wing.
Some time in the 1960s, the Democrats threw out (most of the anti-civil rights Congressmen, and became much more ideologically integrated. At about the same time, the Republicans devised “the Southern Strategy,” popularized by Republican strategist Kevin Phillips, and became more ideologically integrated as well.
At this point, I am going to leave the two party analysis and focus just on the Republicans. In any case, it is this capitalizing on the racist politics necessary to win Southern votes that is like the exposure to gamma rays for poor Bruce Banner. Now, with the parties internally unified and with most congressional seats non-competitive, the primary election process drives the parties apart. For the Republicans, this could have meant an extreme and ruthless pro-business emphasis—something Karl Marx would have recognized and applauded.
But that isn’t what is did mean. The Republicans went the other way. They went on the path of populist rage. Congressmen elected as “Tea Party” candidates and seated in the House with the Republicans, rebelled openly against their Speaker and demanded populist rage. The Republicans kept nominating candidates for President who wanted more than that, but who could not be elected without the votes of the populist and paranoid Right, so they tried to appeal to both.
Eventually, this anger washed over the party—this is the overwhelming dose of adrenalin that pushes poor Bruce Banner over the edge and he becomes the Hulk. At last, the R’s nominate and elect a man with no policy aspirations at all. Donald Trump was a tantrum; a fit of anger against whoever the populists hated at the moment and there was no more left of the Republican party after 2016 than there is left of Bruce Banner after he becomes the Hulk.
That’s where we are now. A lot of Republicans are deeply concerned about this. There are lots of former Republicans who would like to see Joe Biden elected in the short run because they see that that is their only hope of recovering the Republican party to which they once pledged their loyalty. This morning I happened on REPAIR, the Republican Political Alliance for Integrity and Reform. They want “the old party” back, in a way, but of course, they would like to Build (the party) Back Better if they can.
This is the Bruce Banner faction.
But now we need to look at the last piece of this preposterous allegory. When he wakes up as Bruce Banner, what does he remember about what he did as the Hulk? It’s hard to say, really.
Here’s a conversation between Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) and Betty Ross (Liv Tyler)
Betty Ross: : Do you remember anything?
Bruce Banner: : Just fragments. Images. There’s too much noise. I can never derive anything out of it.
Betty Ross: : But then it’s still YOU inside of it.
Bruce Banner: : No. No, it’s not.
Jay Alexander, who seems to know what he is talking about, puts it this way:
Banner has recollections of what happened but not clearly as if he was seeing it first hand but more as if it was a very lucid dream. So he remembers bits and pieces and other stuff ends up becoming a mess as to what was really happening and what his mind was most probably trying to comprehend what was going on.
So let’s look at this from the standpoint of a group like REPAIR. As they go about trying to restore the party—to make it once more the party they were proud of—they have a distorted memory to work with. Imagine this. They are trying to restore some interest in actually governing the country and they need to talk to people who actively hollowed out the federal agencies, diminishing their ability to do the work that is required of them. They talk to them about what they did; what the records show they did. What they celebrated at the time—the time of their Hulkishness.
And they remember “bits and pieces;” as if it were a lucid dream. “Fragments,” Bruce Banner says, “Images.” That’s what he remembers of what the Hulk did.
Recovering from the rampages of the Hulk is going to be difficult under those conditions. If any of you are fans of the Hulk oeuvre, you might know about things that help Banner come to grips with what the Hulk has done. Any such information that could be made available to those few who are trying to raise the Banner of real Republicanism could be a real help to them and we Democrats wish them well.