early and often

What Happens When a Party Rejects Humanity?

Photo: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

When two planeloads of migrants from Venezuela arrived in Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday, they had no idea where they were or where they could go to find shelter. A woman called Perla had lured them onto the plane with promises of a journey to Boston and expedited work papers, NPR reports. “She offered us help. Help that never arrived,” one migrant, Andres Duarte, said. “Now we are here. We got on the plane with a vision of the future, of making it.” Duarte’s plight provokes comparisons to kidnapping or human trafficking; either way, the culprit is Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida. Although the migrants had been in Texas, DeSantis paid for the flight and had them dropped like refuse a world away.

DeSantis is hardly the only Republican to abuse migrants in this fashion. In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott has been sending busloads of people to liberal enclaves including Chicago, New York City, and Washington, D.C. So has Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona. With each plane- or busload a transformation steadily nears its completion, and once finished, it can’t easily be undone: The GOP is becoming the party of inhumanity.

The nativism of Trumpian antecedents like Pat Buchanan has won out over pluralist instinct, completing a turn that has been in the making for decades. Southern segregationists once bused Black families north much the same way as DeSantis, Abbott, and Ducey are doing with migrants now. The idea back then, as Jonathan Chait pointed out, was to punish liberals for their professed tolerance; segregationists assumed northern liberals would come to despise Black people as much as they did. In more recent years, inhumanity characterized much of Donald Trump’s appeal. He denigrated migrants in particular from his earliest days as a candidate and subjected them to horrific conditions on the border as president. Like their segregationist predecessors, today’s Republicans assume liberals will react with fear and disgust as migrants arrive on their doorstep. To them, we are all Trumpists in waiting.

As inhumanity takes hold of the GOP and conquers whatever moral core the party once possessed, it has a totalizing effect on Republicans. They believe their own anti-migrant propaganda so sincerely that other perspectives seem naïve by comparison. Put another way, this transformation began with the conviction that migrants — and, before them, Black people — were not full human beings. A party becomes inhumane through the degradation of others. By treating migrants like parasites instead of people, Republicans lower themselves, too.

The conservative movement’s deep history of racial prejudice suggests that the GOP’s turn toward inhumanity is inevitable and irreversible. Once crossed, some lines cannot be uncrossed. Republicans take their marching orders not from elder statesmen like Mitt Romney but from racist demagogues like Tucker Carlson, who said on Thursday’s broadcast of his show that Martha’s Vineyard would need “shantytowns” to house its new residents. Carlson isn’t going away, and neither is the racism that animates the Republican Party. Anyone still seeking a reasonable governmental partner in the GOP is setting themselves up for personal disappointment and political failure.

As Republicans cavort over the suffering they’ve unleashed, they create an imperative for a different political vision. This vision remains distant but can be glimpsed, every now and then, through the generosity of others. Martha’s Vineyard did not react the way Republicans had hoped. The people of this small island opened their doors to migrants: feeding them, clothing them, translating for them. If Democrats truly want to become the party of opposition, a beacon in contrast to the “semi-fascism” of today’s GOP, humanity must lead the way. That would require a reckoning within the Democratic Party itself, as its leading figures have all crossed humanitarian lines of their own. Barack Obama’s drone program showed the party at its worst, and Biden’s immigration policies remain far too hostile to migrants like Duarte, who are responding to the stories America tells about itself. This is not yet a place where anyone can make it, but this could be true someday if there’s the political will to see it through.

In the meantime, Democrats must confront a dilemma. The GOP can’t be reasoned with, not at this moment and perhaps never again. The party’s transformation into a thoroughly inhumane entity threatens to become permanent, and it should spell the end of the bipartisan impulse. In these times, bipartisanship simply implies a concession to a cruel far-right vision that nobody can afford to countenance. If Democrats don’t acknowledge this, or if they fail to reform themselves, the resulting black hole could swallow our democracy completely. Migrants deserve better, and so does the rest of humanity.

What Happens When a Party Rejects Humanity?