Comparing the Taliban and the 2017 GOP is fraught with land mines. It is hard to reconcile decades of murderous rule by the Taliban in both Afghanistan and the tribal regions of Pakistan with a loathsome U.S president, cabinet, and scores of self-interested right-wing GOP legislators. There is no mistaking the Taliban’s intention to violently enforce the strictest form of Islamic law: Women must be covered from head to toe in public, girls cannot go to school and adulterous women should be publicly executed. It is the Taliban, after all, who nearly killed Malala.
Since 9/11, our media as made sure footage of turbaned, bearded men riding in the back of jeeps with rocket launchers, blazing across arid terrain has been burned into our collective understanding of what evil looks like. So how do we draw a comparison between them and the GOP without sounding completely unhinged?
In part because you as a woman in this country have a right to speak is not a novel comeback. It is not new. It is a construct of the GOP political machinery. Women think it’s bad here? You have a right to speak! Look at those nations imposing Sharia law on their women. Good thing the U.S. doesn’t govern using fundamentalist religion … But of course the GOP powerbrokers do indeed write laws based on fundamentalist Christian interpretations of the Old Testament.
It’s not such a radical notion, this idea of the GOP as an American Taliban, if we look at each group’s essential shared premise: hardline religion as rule of law. Of course, the optics and methods differ but the desired outcome is the same: men of a certain religion imposing their will on a nation. Taliban? Shoot little schoolgirls in the head, stone loose women in the public square. GOP? Legislate away the rights of women and girls with similar desired outcomes.
The Taliban emerged after the Soviets left Afghanistan in the early 1990s. Here in the U.S., white GOP religionists have more than 40 years under their belts. The Moral Majority, founded by Jerry Falwell, brought together predominantly Evangelicals and Catholics to take over the Republican Party—and it worked to elect Ronald Reagan as president with a family-values platform.
The Moral Majority doesn’t exist anymore as such, but has spun off into non-profit organizations like The Heritage Foundation, The Family Research Council, Concerned Women of America, and the National Organization for Marriage, as well as through so-called “right to life” groups that litter the country. This group and the candidates they support at the state and national levels exist to reinforce the overall agenda: hardline Christian religion as rule of law.
Right-wingers may not be anything new, but at this moment, they have the perfect political storm: With a boob in the White House who would rather watch television and have a meltdown on Twitter than govern; an uber-evangelical, I “can’t go out without my wife” de facto president, VP Pence; a coterie of soulless billionaires installed as heads of state agencies to dismantle them; and a majority in the House, the Senate, and now the Supreme Court. It’s an administration, and indeed a government, that makes the previous GOP administration look liberal, and we’re talking about George W. Bush, the born-again Christian whose Attorney General John Ashcroft literally anointed himself with oil (it had to be Crisco in a pinch) and ordered $8,000 modesty drapes to shield Americans from the breast of Justice.
As a brief primer on how the religio-political machine works in practice, I turn to my home state of Iowa, one of the first states in the nation to rule in favor of marriage equality—even before New York. This made the GOP religionists at home utterly bananas—sparking an effort to have a ballot initiative called “LUV Iowa.” LUV stood for “Let Us Vote,” as in hey, let us right-wing Christians vote on LGBT civil rights.
The effort was led by local Christian group called The FAMiLY Leader or TFL (little “I” to show subservience to god). TFL is the local chapter of rabidly anti-gay hate group The Family Research Council. Part the LUV effort included a bus tour that was co-sponsored by the National Organization for Marriage, Family Research Council and other Christian groups. The bus stopped in all 99 counties spewing anti-gay claptrap to anyone who would listen. TFL gets a lot of attention because Iowa is the first state in the nation to caucus.
Candidates spend time stumping through Iowa and in 2012. The New York Times dubbed TFL head Bob Vander Plaats a “political kingmaker” for the GOP. I have met Bob. I have spoken with Bob. He has very earnestly told me that the reason they were rallying against marriage equality was because (as he was sure I was aware) gay marriage leads to man-on-dog love and fathers marrying daughters. Fortunately, the LUV Iowa effort failed to go anywhere but away.
Any time a piece of legislation passes that harms a woman is one of the easiest examples of how the GOP imposes the most fundamentalist religious views through government. The most obvious are the myriad anti-choice bills filled year after year. Denying that abortion is part of women’s health care is key. Vilifying the most obvious reproductive health-care provider, Planned Parenthood, has always worked to rally the base to the polls. So what happens when Planned Parenthood, or more broadly, women’s health clinics, dry up?
The GOP is not content to kill only women on American soil. By reinstating the global gag rule, pulling funds for UNFPA, and choking off funding to fight HIV/AIDS around the world (women make up over half of HIV/AIDS cases globally) will punish women everywhere. The god of the GOP doesn’t like women who have sex.
The singular focus on abortion (a symbol of women in control of their sex lives and bodies) as anathema to the god of the GOP allows “pro-lifers” to sleep at night. Targeting “baby-killers” takes the thinking out of it. The truth is more difficult; analysis and empathy are required. Many women’s only contact with a doctor or medical professional is through Planned Parenthood and well-women clinics. Abortion, even when outlawed, does not and will not stop abortion. Women will die without access to safe legal abortion, Planned Parenthood, and other women’s clinics.
You may ask, why don’t those women just go to another doctor?
Who can afford to have the choice? The GOP hates Medicaid. Though they haven’t explicitly invoked their racist, sexist, classist Welfare Queen-esque statement, the policies are unmistakable, from the drug-testing requirements in the offing to states refusing to expand Medicaid coverage through the ACA. There is a swath of states in the Deep South that didn’t expand Medicaid, which meant women, mostly women of color and women in more rural areas, fell into the Obamacare doughnut hole. Which is to say, these women make “too much” money for Medicaid but not enough to afford health care through the exchange. Of course, fixing this part of the ACA isn’t on the GOP agenda—quite the opposite. Jesus, to their minds, is all about small government.
Today’s GOP, the one born from the Moral Majority, embraces a fundamentalist interpretation of the right-wing Christian god they purport to serve. They are carrying out god’s will, very much like the Taliban. If shutting down women’s health clinics and blocking access to abortion doesn’t kill women, especially women of color, guns in the hands of domestic abusers just might. Stand your ground laws across the country will result in brown people dying; these laws are a license to kill. People of color will be swept up in the new war on drugs— the last war on drugs’ only accomplishment was incarcerating young Black and brown men, not only breaking up families, but forever taking away these men’s rights to vote. Voter ID laws targeting people of color along with gerrymandering will ensure reelection of god’s chosen legislators.
And if all else fails they have this: You as a woman in this country have a right to speak. The subtext: Only if we dress a certain way, wear our hair just so, don’t cover our heads with scary fabrics, and balance an aspirin between our knees. Otherwise we are asking for it: rape, assault, hate crimes, incarceration, forced birth. The Taliban will blow our heads off. The GOP prefers death by a thousand cuts.