The Republican Party is imploding. It’s on the verge of nominating someone who doesn’t even embrace some of the bedrock conservative principles upon which the party has stood since Ronald Reagan (e.g., trade, entitlement spending, foreign policy).
It’s also ready to nominate someone who viciously attacks anyone who dares disagree with him, including pillars of his own party.
Some party faithful already have distanced themselves from the presumptive nominee, indicating they will sit this election out rather than vote for Mr. Trump. Even the Republican Speaker of the House has balked at supporting Trump.
Yet millions of people have voted for this man. No one knows how many will vote for him in the general election. Will it be enough to put him into the White House?
Whichever way the election goes, party leaders know that the party of Lincoln has been forever changed and even may be in danger of being dismantled entirely.
Personally, I could care less whether the Republican Party implodes (or the Democratic Party for that matter). I never have cared for party politics and, at best, view it as a necessary evil or something to be avoided altogether (a view shared by some of our founders). But more to the point: I really don’t care whether this party in particular implodes because they are getting what they deserve (although I am concerned the rest of us could end up paying the price).
For a generation or more, at least since the days of Lee Atwater, the Republican leaders have been feeding the monster. The demonization of anyone who disagrees with them has been one of the hallmarks of their national strategy. And it has worked.
They’ve attacked as anti-American (or worse) anyone who dared disagree with their key positions. They have routinely lied to advance their cause (although it’s not always easy to distinguish gross willful ignorance from lies). They have embraced extremism when it suited their purpose, i.e., when it helped get them elected and wield power on behalf of their donors.
They’ve shut down the government unnecessarily, ignoring the damage inflicted on our nation. They’ve threatened to default on government debt obligations (something Trump is now parroting). They’ve refused to accept the decision of the electorate when they didn’t like the outcome (e.g., by announcing their goal to disregard the judgment of the electorate and neuter President Obama politically, and by refusing to perform their constitutionally mandated duty of acting on Supreme Court nominations).
They’ve claimed to love the Constitution but have ignored it when it suits their narrow, selfish purposes. They’ve incessantly promoted an ideology that attacks the legitimacy of government itself, while hypocritically trying to use the power of that very same government to regulate our personal lives (e.g., Terri Schiavo) and trample on states’ rights they frequently tout as sacrosanct (e.g., Bush v. Gore, District of Columbia v. Heller, and a host of other hypocritical Supreme Court decisions). They’ve encouraged right-wing ideologues at every opportunity and, occasionally, even condoned lawlessness.
Therefore, it’s not surprising to me in the least that they have created an environment in which someone like Donald Trump is ending up as their nominee. They fed the monster and now the monster rules them.
That’s not to say I think the Democratic Party is pure and wonderful. It isn’t. Indeed, it, too, is a deeply flawed — and oft-times corrupt and incompetent — enterprise. At their core, political parties have a lot in common. Yet the Democratic Party has not devolved to the same degree as its ideological adversary (although it truly is rotten to the core as well).
Moreover, it’s not to say that the rise of Trump is solely a product of Republican hate-mongering. It isn’t. People are rightfully disillusioned for good reasons.
And Trump is an absolute master at tapping into this anger. Understandably, some of his prescriptions resonate with people who have been trampled by the elite’s policies and priorities (which, no matter the party in power, have strongly favored capital and finance [i.e., the wealthy] at the expense of the working and middle classes as well as the poor).
People are fed up with a system that bails out bankers who nearly brought our entire financial house down upon us while standing idly by while the middle class gets destroyed.
People are tired of trade policies that gut the working class while protecting the highly paid professional class.
People are weary of reading about CEOs who make tens of millions of dollars a year while their minions get the boot or see their wages cut or retirement plans jettisoned.
People are angry when their savings (if they’re fortunate to have any) yield less than 1% as health care expenses skyrocket.
People are upset at seeing their kids go deeply into debt just to get a college education. (Total student debt now stands at about $1.4 trillion.)
People are sick and tired of being lied to by their presidents (e.g., Nixon about Vietnam and Watergate, Clinton about sex, and Bush II about Iraq and deficit spending). And they’re sick of Clintons and Bushes, realizing there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between them.
People are angry that their elected representatives (both parties) do the bidding of the rich and powerful — the very people who help make our politicians rich and powerful in return — while making little or no effort to improve the quality of life for the average working person.
People are finally recognizing that there has been what Anis Shivani called “a revolution of economic decline for the working person,” and they’re pissed.
Indeed, there is a lot for the American voter to be upset about. It’s understandable many have come to loath the political establishment. That’s not in doubt. What is open for debate, however, is what to do about it.
I am not naive when it comes to politics. One cannot expect others to give up privilege without a political fight. It took people going into the streets in the ’60s to secure greater democratic freedom. It took the threat of communism and fascism a century ago, and a Great Depression, to rectify some of the flaws of an unconstrained economic system that primarily served the interests of the upper-crust. And it may take another movement of sizable proportions to reclaim our government from the special interests that have co-opted both political parties. But is someone like Trump the answer?
I’d like to think we can progress without the necessity of creating a self-imposed crisis. I’d like to believe there is no problem too large for reasonable people to address. But there’s the rub: people have to be reasonable. And act in good faith. And not ground their decisions in anger and hatred. And be willing to accept that smart, well-meaning people might see the world differently. And people have to be willing to compromise.
Moreover, as a country, we have to value the common good, and not succumb to the false promises of unconstrained individualism and greed, for when we turn against each other and focus our anger on the most vulnerable among us we are playing right into the hands of those who actually fear democracy and seek to retain their privileged status by keeping the general population divided and weak. Indeed, we are playing right into the hands of people like Mr. Trump. And Mrs. Clinton.
Yes, I like to believe we can progress in a collaborative manner. Yet when a national party has spent the past two decades hate-mongering, I have to recognize that many bridges have been burned. And many people’s emotions are inflamed. And so we end up with a presumptive nominee who spouts the rhetoric of fascism unlike any previous major candidate in our country’s 229-year Constitutional history.
People see the world differently. We disagree on the role of government. We disagree on fundamental public policies. That’s fine. There is nothing wrong with vigorous debate.
But when we seek to undermine the entire democratic process when we don’t get our way, that’s not O.K. And when we do it long enough, particularly at a time when our median standard of living is stagnant or falling, when the next financial crisis seems to loom overhead, and when more and more people are feeling desperate and losing hope, we lay the groundwork for autocrats, fascists and other mean-spirited narcissists.
Life will go on no matter who is elected president. And most of us will manage to get along even when we hold different political views. And if we’re lucky, the toxicity of our time (the era of the ideologues and modern robber barons) will soon come to an end, so that we may get back to working out our differences, together, for our collective good. And get back to making government work for the common folk.
But it’s not inevitable. History reveals that crisis often precedes reformation, the advance of liberty and healing. Whether we are at the precipice of such a moment, no one can possibly know.
It seems clear to me, however, that when we lose any sense of humility and think we know with certainty what’s best (as if our preferences were divine), when we incessantly engage in inflamed and hate-filled discourse and routinely demonize those who hold contrary views, and when we naively allow the elite to deceive us with cultural distractions while wielding the instruments of power to fragment and disempower the working population, we are playing with fire. And when you play with fire long enough, you’re likely to get burned.