This political season gives anybody who is vaguely familiar with the tenets of evolution much food for thought.
Darwin proposed in his Origins of the species that species arise through evolution from ancestral species. The most famous example, controversial in his time and ours, was expressed in his later book, the Descent of Man: humans evolved from ancestral hominids that initially were closer to apes than to H. sapiens. An interesting side note is that he delayed the publication of this book until almost the end of his life precisely because it was so controversial to a subset of religious and politically conservative people of his day (as it remains today). They have a vehement, sometimes poisonous, reaction to the idea that our species is subject to the same evolutionary forces of natural selection that affect all other species.
At the core of Darwin’s theory of natural selection is the concept of adaptation. A species that is capable of adapting to a changing environment will eventually evolve into another species and will survive. A species that is incapable of adaptation will become extinct. Neanderthals failed to adapt and are no more, dinosaurs with vestigial wings adapted into today’s astounding richness of the bird world. Dinosaurs that were not equipped with such wings are extinct.
What does that have to do with the Republican Party?
Social science has generated massive evidence that successful social movements accommodated change within them and the ones that resisted change became extinct. In our own short history the party that proudly dubbed itself as the ‘know nothing’ party is now a footnote in history. Its evolutionary “sins”? Xenophobia in the face of mighty waves of immigration, rank racism, and denial of anything intellectual.
Extremism, first cousin of intolerance, has wrought disaster after disaster in history. The Jewish zealots in the first and second centuries brooked no dissent, no compromise. The results reverberate in history to our present day. The Stalinist communists repeatedly purged their ranks of any hint of moderation or dissent and brought misery to the Russian people and eventually caused their own extinction.
Today’s Republican Party will implode if the crazies who grabbed control are allowed to wreak their havoc. Their war on immigrants and on women, in the face of a powerful rise of minorities and the status of women is reminiscent of the ‘know nothings’ of the 19th century. Their denial of climate change in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is mind-boggling. Their harebrained ideas about biology and reproduction would be laughable if they weren’t so dangerous. Their successful pressure on the Library of Congress to remove from its website an economic study putting the lie to their ideology that lower taxes on the rich would promote prosperity smacks of communist behavior in yesterday’s Soviet Union and today’s China. Their propaganda tactic of “the Big Lie” took a page from the Goebbels handbook on the subject.
Moderate Republicans are nowhere to be found in Congress. They were dubbed RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) and purged. Ironically, by doing it the crazies are planting the seeds of the demise of the Republican party as we know it. The purged moderates were the “genes” that could allow the Republican species to adapt. They are the equivalents of the vestigial wings of the dinosaurs, the communication skills of modern humans that allowed them to thrive over the Neanderthals. Without a moderate voice that acknowledges reality rather than fight it – this party is over.