At work last night, I received a text from Hollie.
Sigh! Me too, darling daughter. Me too.
What can I say to reassure her that it is all going to be okay when I myself am no longer so certain.
I am certain that this is not my late father in law’s Republican Party. Perhaps it really isn’t my influence or the kids’ influence that has caused my darling husband to cross over to the dark side.
But how? How did we get here? Who in their right, fucking mind would seriously be okay with a bombastic, mysognistic, racist bully as their candidate? Then I came across Jim Trum’s (in his own words) way too lengthy response to that question.
1. The GOP outsourced its communication strategy to Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and the like. Those people and corporations are in the business of selling fear. For 20 years, they’ve been telling people that the only reasonable response to any event is fear — fear of terrorism, of moderate Democrats like Obama, of losing their guns, of black people, of economic calamity, of homosexuals, of the rise of other countries, of disease, of Obamacare, etc. They’ve created an entire fear-based culture. Reagan, for all his many faults, was a sunny, optimistic fellow who told us it was morning in America. Now the message of the GOP (crafted by Fox/Limbaugh/Beck) is that America is a shithole where you are in terrible peril. So along comes Trump who cynically exploits those fears, fashions himself as a classic authoritarian strongman who promises to keep everyone safe by being “tough.”
2. The GOP allowed itself to become, in Bobby Jindal’s apt phrase, the party of stupid. It denied evolution. It denied global warming. It denied geology. It denied the need for any education beyond what might be needed to get a job. It kept returning to the theory that tax cuts would produce a booming economy, despite the fact that there was no evidence that that was so. (Kansas, anyone?) It denied the importance of facts themselves. Some Republicans even denied Enlightenment principles of scientific inquiry and discourse and embraced theocracy. And there was no intellectual enforcer like a Buckley who was willing or able to call out such stupidity. Stupid people are easy for carnival barkers like Trump to manipulate.
3. The GOP was infiltrated by and is now heavily dependent on religious literalists. As Barry Goldwater pointed out years ago, those people are impossible to work with in a democratic government because they refuse to compromise. If you are acting in accordance with God’s law, then even the smallest deviation from that (i.e., the compromises democracy relies on for its very survival) becomes heresy. Though Trump is far from religious, he promises no-compromise tactics in defeating ISIS, in keeping Americans “safe.”
4. The GOP became the party of the Lost Cause, the party of the south. Though it drives some of my Republican friends crazy to hear this said, the party went out of its way to embrace bigoted voters. And the party encouraged their racism, especially when Obama won the presidency. But for years, Republicans thought they had to couch their racism in dog whistles and cutesy allusions. Now comes Trump who proudly disdains polite speech and openly expresses his bigotry. And the reaction is delight and relief: finally, we can say what we really think and express our prejudices — by voting for a man who does just that.
5. The GOP adopted Leninist tactics. “No enemies to the right” became its electoral message. No matter how kooky, antidemocratic, or reactionary you were, the GOP was willing to embrace you. And so unsurprisingly, the party moved right. Far, far right. Fear of being called a RINO drove party members to extreme positions. And at the extreme end of every ideology is authoritarianism (which is true of both left and right). Today the party bears almost no resemblance to the one my parents supported. So along comes Trump, whose ideology (to the extent he has one) isn’t conservative, but is authoritarian. His very campaign slogan is revanchist: Make America great again. While his policies are not in line with past GOP policies, his tone and his authoritarian style are the inevitable result of the Republican’s embrace of more and more extreme ideas.
6. Trump is a celebrity. He’s best known as a reality TV personality, not a politician. We live in a culture that glorifies celebrities, but for years few celebrities have identified as Republicans. The entertainment industry is overwhelmingly moderate to liberal. For years, Republicans had to make do with C-list celebrity endorsements (Ted Nugent?). Suddenly, here comes an A-list guy and the Republican faithful are delighted. Finally, a celebrity who isn’t a Democrat!
There are many other factors, of course. But these, I think, are a good starting point. As a liberal, I cop to feeling some schadenfreude at seeing the GOP in a Trumpian dilemma. But as an American, I am dismayed. Our democracy needs a principled, intellectually coherent, forward-looking conservative party. It doesn’t have one now. And that’s dangerous
Yes! Yes! Yes, Jim Trumm! Yes!!!
Of course it doesn’t make me feel better.
Frankly this whole election cycle is basically fucked up. There’s Trump, er, Drumpf…thank you, John Oliver…and Drumpf’s minions, whether he is directly associated with them or not. All part of what is in the air where it is perfectly okay for candidates to attack one another based on their looks, their parents, the size of their hands and even the size of their penis…thank you, Marco Rubio, you are the first presidential candidate ever!
And now, thanks to the Super Tuesday voters who have genuinely scared my child, it’s certainly about to get uglier…and perhaps scarier. There is no room for coherent focus on that which is important to Americans as a whole. There are investigations and special committees and hearings ad nauseum and impossible demands that usurp the checks and balances of power between the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of our Republic. Ultimately, there is no respect and with that it is virtually impossible to imagine the peaceable transfer of power next January that has been the tradition of our country’s government since John Adams took the oath of office. Whether it is Drumpf or Sanders or Clinton who takes the oath it is difficult to imagine the sunny optimism of a new morning in America…a bright, sunshine-y morning in America that, more than anything, I want for this little girl and her sister.
The harder that it becomes to imagine this for them, the more terrifying it becomes.