Why Republicans long for a debt apocalypse

Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg We now know the date when our fragile economy recovery will die unless Congress votes to … Continued

Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg

We now know the date when our fragile economy recovery will die unless Congress votes to raise the debt ceiling. That date, according to Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew, is October 17, 2013.

This is the third time Republicans have held raising the debt ceiling “hostage” and threatened economic destruction if they don’t get concessions from the administration. This was a gambit used this past spring, and also in 2011.

Is this just “brinksmanship,” a power ploy to simply delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare, or is it something deeper this time, a “Death Wish” for the American and even world economy?

Disturbingly, the “death wish” scenario seems more plausible this time. Republican voters seem to be cheering on their representatives to not negotiate, but in fact urging them toward default. According to a recent WashingtonPost/ABC poll, “66 percentof Republicans Want Their Representatives to Cause an Economic Catastrophe.”

Democrats and progressive thinkers see this as Republicans having “gone crazy.” Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winning economist, opines, the “inmates have taken over the asylum” as he contemplates this latest in this series of hostage-taking maneuvers.

I don’t think the problem is as simple as labeling this behavior “crazy” and then dismissing it.

If 66 percentof Republicans long for their representatives to actually cause “an economic catastrophe,” something more is going on. This is, in fact, a very human impulse that Sigmund Freud wrote about in his complicated essay
Beyond the Pleasure Principle
. Human beings can manifest a “death wish,” or “thanatos.” This is the self-destructive behavior that is an expression of the energy caused by death instincts. Human beings are driven by competing impulses, some to creativity, harmony, connection, and self-preservation, and also to destruction, aggression and even self-destruction.

Freud’s work in this period suggests to me that he was wrestling with issues from Europe’s war trauma from World War I (1920), as well as the economic upheaval and depression that resulted. Americans have been living through what is called “the War on Terror,” and our second longest war (Afghanistan), as well as the war in Iraq and a “Great Recession” for years now.

All of what Americans have been enduring has produced such anxiety that it gets manifested in this impulse: ‘just crash the whole thing.’

Bring down the house. Just end it.

This desire to crash the whole thing is also the driver behind religiously driven extremism. It is the longing to destroy everything with the idea this will actually “save” us. After the destruction, we can start over, either with a new political leadership in charge, or in a heavenly “Rapture” in Christian terms.

The key to dealing with the current drive by 66 percent of Republicans and their representatives to just crash the economy is to realize this impulse is not “crazy,” but actually within all of us. Haven’t you also felt the impulse to just “tear it all down and start over” when you are frustrated with our politics or our economy or the global threats that seem to loom larger every day?

It is only when we don’t push away this impulse as just “craziness” in others, but recognize it as profoundly human that we can see a way out through cultivating other impulses that exist in us as well.

Robert Jay Lifton, an American psychiatrist who studies the psychological effects of war and violence, has considered the impulse toward
Destroying the World to Save It
. Lifton argues that once we can see the collective social and psychological roots of this impulse to destroy in order to “save,” “we are likely to see more of ourselves in it and to begin to think of such groups as something of a dark ‘cultural underground’ of our own society.”

What Lifton is saying is don’t move away from what you see as this destructive impulse, move toward it, see yourself in it, in order to understand what is lurking there in our own society, in ourselves in fact.

But what is best about Lifton’s work, and why I find it so deeply theological, is that Lifton shows there is a way out. In my view, this is the way of Jesus, the way of loving the neighbor as the self. (Mark 12:30-31)

Lifton argues that when we look at our own “cultural underground We are also likely to discover that whatever renders our society more decent and more inclusive in its benefits is likely to undermine the totalistic impulse to destroy everything.”

Oddly enough, then, “Obamacare” itself, as a way for our society to be “more decent and more inclusive in its benefits” is a path out of the impulse to destroy that is wracking our country.

I have wondered, in exploring this idea, if that is why resistance to the Affordable Care Act is so extreme. People desire their anger, they want it, they hoard it and they are reluctant to let it go.

Obamacare’s promise then may be the healing not only of the bodies of many in our nation, but of our soul as well.

Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is a Professor of Theology and immediate past President at Chicago Theological Seminary. She is the author of many books, including the most recent, #OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power.

  • Lukashenko

    As far as any Christian insight on debts – ‘And he [Christ] said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s.’

    – Luke xx.25 – all you need to know.

  • Yentakvetch

    They hate Obamacare because they hate Obama. They hate Obama because his skin has, uh, too much of a tan.

  • john_zee

    Some Men Just Want To Watch The World Burn …

  • Hermit1951


    “Im sorry mam, you card was declined”
    “Hello, yes I’m calling because I wanted to buy a pair of shoes today and my card was declined”
    “You are over your card limit”
    “Can I get an increase?”
    “No, you don’t make enough money, and you buy too much stuff. Reduce your debts and call back later”

    “I want to improve the some new programs and need to raise the debt limit”.
    “No, you are already on the verge of default, and have incurred an unsustainable debt”……..
    “WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA WHAAAAAAAAAAAA danged obstructionists!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Hermit1951

    We hate obamacare because it is a train wreck and is driving us to the verge of collapse

  • john_zee

    has obamacare already started?

  • Joel Hardman

    I’m sure the vast majority of people who want an economic apocalypse see it as a means to a greater end, not as the expression of some deep seated desire for destruction. I don’t find the desire to destroy the Affordable Care Act or to shrink government at any cost to be rational, but that’s a different question.

  • Joel Hardman

    Your analogy is somewhat flawed. Refusing to increase the debt ceiling is more like refusing to pay for things we’ve already bought. You’re also assuming that our debt is unsustainable. Why is that? If the economy grows faster than our debt, it’s not unsustainable.

    That’s not to say that some budget constraints might not be a good idea. I just find your analogy to be biased and inapt.

  • CCNL

    The solution is simple. Declare religion null and void. Said savings would pay for most of Obamacare.

  • SimonTemplar

    IF the economy grows faster than our debt? That’s a big IF.

    Also, I don’t think it is like refusing to pay for things we’ve already bought. If we have already bought them, then they are paid for so there is no issue. If we have merely budgeted for them with the idea of continuing payments and then find that we’ve spent more than our budget, or suffered a cut in our income, then we find ourselves unable to live up to the standard of living we once enjoyed and it is time for us to make some big decisions.

    Working class Americans are facing this situation on a daily basis only they don’t typically get to raise their debt ceiling with the optimistic viewpoint that their income will once again rise faster than their debts.

  • allinthistogether

    If Obamacare fails, if it is a train wreck, it will be because the Republican party distorted and amputated key parts of it, out of a racism based fear of political leadership change, despite the fact that the plan is essentially a conservative idea. This plan is primarily about having people pay their own way, through insurance, rather than waiting till they are in worse shape and getting a free ride at emergency rooms. It is no different than requireing that people buy auto insurance, and setting up a motor vehicles administration to manage vehicle and driver registration, testing, etc.

    We can’t run a country of 330,000,000 million the same way we ran a sparsely populated country that only had technologies that could impact a few people nearby. We now have tech, weapons, industrial poisons, etc. that impact millions of people at a time. The government needs to provide the protections indicated in the constitution, despite the growth in population. Can’t do that without laws.

    Where was all this concern about big government and spending big money when the conservatives pushed us into a totally useless war in Iraq?

  • Secular1

    Simon your anolagies, I am sure make sense when confined between your two ears. When you blurt them out, you remove any doubts we may had about your total ignorance or your poor mastery of logic and reason. Let me try once again. US federal government is not a financial entity like you and your domestic partner. Our representatives the 435 house members, the 100 senators and the President have to agree to the spending limits for each of the various buckets of expenditures. That is what is called the Budget. If they jointly decide that they spend more than the collections, then they are implicitly agreeing to raise the debt limit. So when the debt limit is reached, they really do not have the option to raise it or not. The decision to spend borrowed money and authorization to borrow were done during budgetary process. Raisng the debt limit is a formalty. It is similar to a a business deciding to buys stuff and generating the Purchase Order. Raising the debt limit is like receiving the invoice and authorizing to pay it. Time for financial controls is the time at which PO was cut. Not at the point an invoice is to be paid. Both may need authorization from the company treasurer, but that is a formalty introduce for other reasons.

  • PhillyJimi1

    It is all about finding someone to blame.

    The left was killing Bush over the wars. They got their guy in office and no more demonstrations about the war even though they raged for years after Obama got in office. Strange how that worked.

    The right is killing Obama for spending. While Bush was given a budget surplus and he started 2 trillion dollar wars without raising taxes. Strange the entire national debt seems only to be an Obama creation to some.

    What is at stake here is America it’s self. If we crash the world economy in an effort to prove a point there is no saying America will be as powerful again. America may end up being a 2nd world country forever.

    Is it time for Nero to tune up his fiddle?

  • PhillyJimi1

    The GOP gave us NoCare vs. Obamacare. Every have way decent country seems to be able to provide health care for it’s citizens. America gives out free heath care for it prisoners. If we can figure out how to give free health care to criminals in prison, it shouldn’t be that difficult.

    I mean we have public education, roads, fire departments and police departments. Don’t we live in a collective cooperative society? Or are we all lone wolfs who don’t care about anyone else?

  • PhillyJimi1

    The GOP hates Obama so much the very last thing they want is for Obamacare to be successful.

    If it is such a train wreck as they suggest why not let it just happen. If it creates as much trouble as they are saying, then in 2016 the GOP will prevail and the donkey’s will be shut out for the next 15-20 years. You would think the GOP would be very happy to just let it fall on it’s face.

    But now they are playing the game of I’ll wreck the car before letting that person drive it.

  • Kyuu

    Anyone who thinks that Obamacare will bring us to collapse needs to read up on the latest reports on it.


    Don’t have to long for it, it’s here!


    Which of the 15,000+ pages of regulations?


    Which of the 15,00 pages?

  • nkri401

    For whom the bell tolls – it tolls for thee.

  • SimonTemplar

    My point is that we can not continue spending money we don’t have under the assumption that our income will improve. Buying something on credit is not the same as owning it. If we can’t pay it back, our creditors own it. It’s true with a family’s big screen T.V and it’s true with the United States of America. I admit to not being much of an economist. But our economy is all beginning to look like one big ponzi scheme run by both parties.

  • SimonTemplar

    Also, if all of the damage is being done in the budgetary process, then Ms. Brooks would serve us all much better by complaining about that, rather than billowing a smoke screen by blaming one party to protect the other. I agree with PJ1 on this one, the politicians all seem to be blaming each other, covering their own butts without actually finding a true solution.

    I would ad that I think the Press is covering for one group of culprits in this scam. But I imagine said “journalists” (perhaps Ms. Brooks is one of them) continue to enjoy hobnobbing with those same politicians at the assorted Washington social settings, drinking Dom with one pinky in the air and eating expensive hour douvres while telling stuffy jokes about everyone outside of their insulated bubble.

  • SuburbanCuurmudgeon

    Read the reports, not the ACA, which is 2000 pages and written by lawyers. A normal person could cut it down to a couple hundred. The reports, however, indicate premiums are going to be lower than predicted. More people get insurance, physicians and hospitals get more business that comes with compensation instead of write-offs.

  • SuburbanCuurmudgeon

    No, just remove religion’s tax-exempt status.

  • SuburbanCuurmudgeon

    We can tighten our belts. Start with the military.

  • SuburbanCuurmudgeon

    The GOP hates taxes used for anything besides bailing out Wall Street bankers and shoveling money to the military-industrial complex.

  • SuburbanCuurmudgeon

    Republicans don’t want to share the pie with anyone they deem undeserving. Most of them think the uninsured are non-working freeloaders, when in reality 80% of the uninsured either work or live in a household where someone works. The reason we have Medicare is seniors would be otherwise be uninsured because insurance companies don’t want to underwrite old people.

  • CCNL

    Some added specifics:

    In order to pay down our $16 trillion debt and also to help pay for Obamacare, we need to redirect money used to support religions especially the christian and islamic cons and put it towards paying off our obligations..

    To wit:

    Redirecting our funds and saving a lot of “souls”:

    Saving 1.5 billion lost Muslims:
    There never were and never will be any angels i.e. no Gabriel, no Islam and therefore no more koranic-driven acts of horror and terror LIKE 9/11.

    – One trillion dollars over the next several years as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will end.

    – Eighteen billion dollars/yr to Pakistan will stop.

    – Four billion dollars/yr to Egypt will end.

    Saving 2 billion lost Christians including the Mormons:

    There were never any bodily resurrections and there will never be any bodily resurrections i.e. No Easter, no Christianity!!!

    – The Mormon tithe empire will now become taxable as will all Christian “religions” and evangelical non-profits since there is no longer any claim to being a tax-exempt religion.

    – the faith-based federal projects supported by both Bush and Obama will be eliminated saving $385 million/yr and another $2 billion/yr in grants.

    Giving to religious groups mostly Christian in 2010, totaled $95.8 billion,

    – Saving 15.5 million Orthodox followers of Judaism:

    Abraham and Moses never existed.

    – Four billion dollars/yr. to Israel saved.

    – All Jewish sects and non-profits will no longer be tax exempt.

  • Catken1

    Were you complaining when we got into two wars at once without raising taxes to pay for them?
    Do you complain when we pay, as a society, vastly more to treat illnesses in emergency rooms that might have been handled much more cheaply with basic health care (and with much more likelihood of restoring the patient to health, so they could work again, rather than leaving them permanently sick or dead)?
    Do you understand that there are very expensive hidden costs in the status quo, hidden costs most civilized nations manage to avoid by providing some form of sensible health care coverage for everyone?

  • SimonTemplar

    Oh well, since you’ve put it that way…lets just keep things they way they are.

  • AGuyCommenting

    I don’t understand this discussion of ACA in terms of its length. I understand it is shorter than the opposition continually post – but it seems to be the most banal of observations.

  • Garry B

    Your references to Freud bring up Romans 7:13-15(q.v.), which sound like Freud’s concept of Id, vs Super-ego fighting it out in “Ego”. Presumably the GOP needs some “analysis”. They had better get it quickly. See the RSV version of the verses:
    [13] Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.
    [14] We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin.
    [15] I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

  • Catken1

    Or, perhaps, we could work to pass jobs bills and boost the economy so that more people are paying taxes, and we can pay down the debt? You know, instead of throwing constant temper tantrums about Obamacare and trying to sabotage the government and the economy so that Obama doesn’t, God forbid, get any credit for any achievements during his term? Maybe get rid of a few of those supposedly “temporary” tax cuts on the very wealthy, so they can help? (I don’t suggest bringing taxes on the rich back to that commie pinko Eisenhower’s levels, but maybe back up to Reaganesque levels?)

  • edbyronadams

    The financing of the ACA requires corralling all the “freeloaders” into making payments.

  • edbyronadams

    Obamacare is not decent or inclusive. It relies on taking money from those who have little but good health, the young, and transferring it so that their more well heeled elders do not lose property due to ill health. In an era when those young are having great difficulty finding economic traction, placing another financial burden on their shoulders does not demonstrate compassion.

  • persiflage

    If the drive to undermine the federal government were merely self-destructive, we could employ Freud’s theories on thanatos vs eros as somehow explanatory. However, since it ultimately involves severe, willful damage to many innocent, defenseless bystanders i.e. citizens of the USA, it’s distinctly anti-social at some level.

    This then becomes the kind of pathology that Freud equated with the Nazi movement and the totalitarian mindset. That kind of assessment wouldn’t be far wrong………….

  • persiflage

    what nonsense………the phones were ringing off the hook and the ACA website crashed from user overload yesterday. I wonder who was calling??