Republicans hate social justice more than they love free markets
It’s not at all suprising to see a GOP politician hysterically fear-mongering about issues of social justice. What is a bit surprising is when they do so by framing deregulation and property rights as part of the nefarious left-wing conspiracy.
Pat McCrory, the former Republican governor of North Carolina who’s currently running for Senate, recently tweeted this in response to the city of Charlotte attempting to do away with exclusionary zoning laws. The proposal — a form of deregulation which would allow for more affordable housing to be built — is something free-marketeers have been advocating for decades as a way to make housing more affordable with less government interference rather than more. But increasingly, the modern Right seems eager to oppose anything that might help poor people or disadvantaged minorities, including markets.
Negative partisanship is likely playing a role here. Many high-level Republicans once seemed fairly sanguine when it came to zoning reform, at least until Donald Trump decided to make it a wedge issue in the 2020 election, indiscreetly dog-whistling about the death of white suburbia. Fortunately for us all, this tactic failed — with Biden gaining ground in the suburbs as many predicted he would. Unfortunately, though, Republicans aren’t exactly great at learning from defeats (or even accepting them).
But this also seems tied into a deeper narrative that ran through the Trump years, which is that many (perhaps even most) Republicans never had any sort of ideological commitment to “smaller government.” Their true first principle, it seems, is traditionalism above all else. Maintaining the status-quo and warding off the threat of inclusive, cosmopolitan attitudes is simply a much higher priority for US conservatives than things like liberty or economic growth. In cases where less government actually results in more diversity and social equity (i.e., zoning), anti-social justice bias will trump pro-market bias.
This would also suggest that the inverse is true: Progressives’ bias towards social justice seems to outweigh their anti-market bias, at least in this case. This is encouraging. If the goal is actually to help people, we shouldn’t really care if that requires more government involvement (as in healthcare) or less (as in housing). So at least there is some cause for optimism here.
At the same time, a harder lesson for progressives might be that pointing out the racist history of zoning laws, while accurate, could further polarize the issue in a way that is counterproductive. This is understandably frustrating for social justice advocates, but probably worth considering for the sake of long-term success.
McCrory’s tweet referring to deregulation as “nanny-state liberalism” is superficially hilarious, but also a potentially serious warning. The conventional wisdom that local politics are generally more immune to toxic tribalism might not hold in a world where negative partisanship is so effective. If the GOP collectively decides that aggressive opposition to anything vaguely smelling of social justice is their new modus operandi, then it’s hard to see how the extreme polarization of the past decade is going to decline.