In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Republicans were undoubtedly the good guys. (See a quick party history.)
In the middle of the 20th century and on into the early 90s, the Republicans were generally genial people for whom “conservative” simply meant “not quite as liberal as the Democrats and generally predisposed to look at private rather than public solutions to things.” Sure, McCarthy and Nixon took a scorched-earth approach, but they were brought to heel through bipartisan efforts. Nixon was hardly a staunch “conservative” by today’s standards, anyway.
The party gradually ran out of issues on which to campaign, with its ideas either firmly refuted or co-opted by “centrist” Democrats like Clinton (welfare reform) or Obama (Romneycare, I mean, Heritage Foundationcare, I mean, Obamacare).
So instead, they simply reject everything associated with Democrats. Gun control. Gay rights. Free trade, once a firm plank in the GOP platform.
Then science. Then medicine. Then the evidence that led to two impeachments.
Then the results of an election.
To an extent, the Republican rank-and-file has always had an undercurrent of hate, from lawmakers like Jesse Helms to the now-ironic “Defeat the Dope-Smoking Draft-Dodger” sloganeering aimed at Bill Clinton. They also managed to incorporate the most hateful Dixiecrats, swelling the numbers of the party but also steering the party farther into an abyss.
But Republican leaders never went along with that. Reagan was effective because of “Reagan Democrats.” George W. Bush had a reputation of bipartisanship as Texas governor and sincerely attempted to win over undecided voters. It was never perfect harmony, but it was moderately functional.
By the Obama years, though, that was all out the window. Without the specter of a Communist bloc, the GOP created a new enemy to attack — the Democratic Party. By 2009, Republicans were working at the grassroots to shout down opposition and bully people at local board meetings, a foreshadowing of the death threats that have become routine as school boards try to find a reasonable path forward during a pandemic and try to defend themselves against “CRT” hysteria. In 2010, David Broder drew a stark contrast between old-school collegiality and the modern (postmodern, really, but that’s another rant) era to the fact that old-schoolers like George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole fought in WWII and recognized real enemies as opposed to an opposition party: “They knew the difference between the Nazis, who were truly evil, and the Democrats, who were simply fellow Americans with different political beliefs.”
Fast-forward slightly to 2013, after Obama had somehow won a second term with relative ease …
- Bob Dole himself said the party should be “closed for repairs” and that Reagan and Nixon wouldn’t be welcomed any more.
- One example: Health care, where The Daily Show ran a segment on Team Incompetence (Samantha Bee, channeling the Affordable Care Act’s website woes) vs. Team Nihilism (Bee’s husband, Jason Jones, effectively capturing the GOP’s deeply ingrained cynicism. Jones gets the best lines: “Our founders established this great nation with one ethos: E Pluribus Unum! Which means ‘Every Man for Himself.’”
- Far scarier: Andrew Sullivan saw GOP intransigence driven in part by latent racism, at least on the “far right”: “(W)e cannot deny that race too is an added factor to the fathomless sense of entitlement felt among the GOP far right. You saw it in birtherism; in the Southern GOP’s constant outrageous claims of Obama’s alleged treason and alliance with Islamist enemies; in providing zero votes for a stimulus that was the only thing that prevented a global depression of far worse proportions; in the endless race-baiting from Fox News and the talk radio right. And in this racially-charged atmosphere, providing access to private healthcare insurance to the working poor is obviously the point of no return.”
The “far right” is now far more mainstream. White supremacists have been emboldened, even if Donald Trump manages to find some wiggle room on his statements that there were “very fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville and that the Proud Boys should “stand back and stand by,” which the Boys certainly took as a call to action.
So the GOP has morphed from a party that participated in governance and its necessary debates to a party that did nothing but obstruct and bully.
Then in 2016, they found the perfect messenger. They didn’t care that the new face of the party:
- is a cruel, willfully ignorant man who places his own whims ahead of expert advice,
- has no interest in responding to crises,
- is corrupt to his core and has committed several acts for which he was impeached and should have been removed,
- makes empty short-sighted gestures instead of attempting to have any sort of reasonable long-term economic approach,
- takes credit for the momentum of the economy that was rolling quite nicely when he took office,
- pretends to be on the side of the working man,
- builds on long-standing Republican unwillingness to face up to climate change,
- fails to deal with health care and undermines experts in that fields as well,
- embraces conspiracy theorists,
- has abysmal character traits,
- appeals to racists with anti-immigrant fervor (including cruel separation of families far beyond past administrations) and an unwillingness to stand up to white supremacists,
- is horrible to our military,
- lies with the full knowledge that his enablers will never accept any rebuttal,
- and responds to criticism not with reasonable rebuttal but with measures any good authoritarian would recognize.
If you really need more on the Trump record, click here.
Moving forward, we need to elevate the debate beyond negativity. At some point, maybe we can rewind to the civility of the past — somewhat romanticized, to be sure, but certainly better in contrast with today.
And there’s no need to hate “liberals” or “progressives.” You can make plenty of arguments against the Democratic Party, mostly along the lines of Samantha Bee’s “Team Incompetence.” But they’re not Nazis. They’re not Communists, not that anyone even knows what that means. A handful are “socialist” in a sense that would mainstream in Europe, and some residual Cold War hysteria keeps this Land of Free Speech from discussing such ideas rationally.
Make no mistake: The “progressives” will win in the long run. Millennials? Zoomers? They’re not buying any of this. They’ve grown up in a diverse world with legalized abortion and gay marriage. They’re starting to reject capitalism.
So the Republicans are a wounded animal. Which is dangerous. They’re trying to throw up as many roadblocks as they can before they’re overrun, and they’ll trample the Constitution to do it. They can also take advantage of some unintended consequences in our electoral system that stack the deck in favor of Republicans — case in point, a Senate in which half the country has 80 percent of the representation, and that trend is only going to continue as younger generations flock to urban areas.
Let’s once again cite A.B. Stoddard at The Bulwark, an old-school conservative publication that opposes Trumpism: “(W)e’ve had new state laws designed to help Republicans in corrupt the count in future elections, pathways to prevent certification by the states and absolution for those in Congress who would steal an election. Put it together and the picture is of a party focused on how to obtain power and protect it by anti-Constitutional means.
People who vote for Democrats would generally love to move forward more peacefully. But there’s no peace without justice. There’s no forgiveness without repentance.
So we have to detail the things that made the Trump movement such a stain on our flag. The cancer must be removed before we can be healthy again.
And instead of deciding whether Ron DeSantis or Greg Abbott will be the Kylo Ren to Trump’s Palpatine, this party must be changed. Or destroyed.
Let’s finish by talking about freedom.
“Your liberty to swing your fist is limited by the proximity of my nose,” said … somebody. It’s a great quote whose exact origins are lost to the sands of time.
We ban things for one simple reason — the harm that can be done to other people. If what you’re doing harms no one, there’s no reason to ban it. If it harms someone, we need to have a conversation. It’s not always easy — sometimes, two fundamental rights come into conflict, or sometimes the “harm” is difficult to quantify. Should cities have a right to say women can’t go topless and men can’t wear thongs? Probably, even though the only “harm” is my freedom to walk around without seeing breasts and buttcheeks.
In other cases, the balance is a lot easier to find …
- Pollution: Our right to drink clean water trumps your right to dump sewage into our reservoirs.
- Smoking in public: Our right to breath clean air without carcinogens trumps your right to turn a bar into a harmful haze.
- Guns: Our right to go to schools, malls and concerts without a significant risk of a guy storming in with a military-grade rifle and unlimited ammo trumps your right to pose for a photo with a cool-looking firearm.
- Financial regulation: Our right to avoid a Great Recession trumps the rights of banks to do whatever they want and then be bailed out to the tune of trillions of dollars.
And so on. You can argue that Democrats sometimes overreach on regulations. That’s a simply policy matter, no different than what you’d face if you’re on the board of a company or a nonprofit whose governance isn’t dictated by political parties.
You can’t argue that today’s GOP is making decisions that help the masses be free.
The individual issue pages will have all the details, but let’s take a quick look (with links to those pages):
Economics: Historically, or at least over the past century, Democrats do it better. In 2022, please don’t pretend a party devoid of ideas would be able to tame global inflation.
Guns: The evidence that more powerful guns in circulation leads to more deaths is incontrovertible.
Abortion: The theological and biological bases for banning abortion in the first 12 or 16 weeks of pregnancy are weak. After that point, opposition is more understandable — but abortion that late in a pregnancy is already rare, and GOP lawmakers risk counterproductive legislation that would make second-semester abortions more common.
Immigration: We need immigrants to work in our factories and fields. We also need them to be our doctors and engineers. If you’re really concerned about “illegal” immigration, then make “legal” immigration easier. If you don’t want to make “legal” immigration easier, you have some uncomfortable questions to ask yourself.
Foreign policy and corruption: I have to put these two together because, under Trump, they were inextricably linked. By pursuing a path of narcissism rather than protecting American interests, Trump eroded soft power — and astonishingly, weakened the military. What sort of Republican doesn’t support the military? And people call other Republicans “RINOs”?
Science (COVID, climate change): It’s not just ignorance. It’s willful ignorance and active efforts to prevent the truth from getting out. And it costs us lives.
Crime: Not really something that national politicians deal with, but it’s worth noting the crap arguments the GOP puts out, nationally and locally.
Dishonesty: You could argue that most or even all politicians stretch the truth like a yoga teacher. But Trump’s GOP has taken it to new extremes, saying some of the most ludicrous, easily refutable things and then taking no accountability for what they said. A typical politician might say crime has dropped, taking a few out-of-context numbers and hoping no one digs deeper. Trump would tell you it’s sunny in the middle of a thunderstorm. The occasionally updated “bullshit” archive is here.
Here’s the worst of the issues …
A party that’s losing its grip on the national discourse needs scapegoats. And boy oh boy, has the Trumpist GOP created some scapegoats. Muslims. “Critical Race Theory” (blow that dog whistle loud). Immigrants. The World Health Organization. Anthony Fauci. Mike Pence. RINOs (ironic considering how far removed Trump is from Reagan and how quickly Trump turns on people within the party who don’t do his bidding).
And this is a party that has no concept of being a public servant. One of the lowlights of the Trump years: Puerto Rico relief, or lack thereof. When The Economist says a president has “no grasp of what it means to be president,” that’s something to consider. Whereas past politicians might provide sage counsel, the modern GOP simply genuflected.
Consider this one horrid fact: One of the most popular — if not the most popular — prime-time “news” shows features Tucker Carlson, who weaseled out of a lawsuit by casting doubt upon the “facts” in his own show. Carlson is a proponent of the “great replacement theory,” which argues that immigration and interracial marriage are part of a plot to replace and erase white people from control of the country.
That’s not at all far removed from what we heard in Charlottesville. “Jews will not replace us.”
Meanwhile, inspired by Trump, armed militias are gearing up for … something.
I’m not going to suggest Trump is Hitler. Comparing anyone to the man behind one of the biggest genocides in world history is disrespectful to everyone who suffered because of that genocide. But scapegoating Jews, immigrants and everyone else who needs to be “othered” so that the white Christian “base” can feel good about itself has a familiar ring. The irony is that, in cozying up to Christian nationalists, today’s latter-day Falwells and Robertsons are driving people away from the church.
The difference, of course, is that today’s GOP isn’t genocidal. Many of them, like Donald Trump Jr., are just bullies who gloat about “triggering” people who have the courage to care about others. They don’t want to treat anyone else with respect, but they don’t necessarily want to kill them.
That’s a pretty low bar to leap over. Raise the bar a couple of inches, and they trip.
If you voted for Donald Trump — or Susan Collins or Glenn Youngkin or even Marjorie Taylor Greene — you aren’t necessarily a racist or a fascist. But it’s a vote to enable racism and fascism. And it’s a vote you simply cannot repeat until the racists, the fascists and the willfully ignorant are no longer in control of the party.
FURTHER READING: SIMPLE FACTS
June 2021, The Conversation: White Gen X and millennial evangelicals are losing faith in the conservative culture wars
June 2021, The Conversation: White Gen X and millennial evangelicals are losing faith in the conservative culture wars
November 2020, Washington Post: 20 norms Trump broke as president
November 2019, The Atlantic: Top military officers unload on Trump
June 2022, Penn Live: Woman accused of stealing Nancy Pelosi’s laptop met with man who planned to shoot up synagogue: prosecutorJuly 2020, Washington Post: President Trump has made more than 20,000 false or misleading claims
FURTHER READING: OPINION/ANALYSIS
Anti-conservatism and traditional GOP values
- October 2021, The Atlantic (Peter Wehner): The evangelical church is breaking apart
- January 2021, The Atlantic (former senator Ben Sasse): QAnon is destroying the GOP from within
- October 2020, National Review (Cameron Hilditch): ‘Christian’ Nationalism Leads To Extinction
- August 2020, Politico (interview with former GOP strategist Stuart Stevens): ‘He’s Destroyed Conservatism’: The Republican Case Against Trump’s GOP
- August 2019, New York Times (Timothy Egan): Why People Hate Religion
- May 2014, Maclean’s: America dumbs down — The U.S. is being overrun by a wave of anti-science, anti-intellectual thinking. Has the most powerful nation on Earth lost its mind?
- November 2008, Wall Street Journal (Mark Lilla): The Perils of ‘Populist Chic’
- “They mock the advice of Nobel Prize-winning economists and praise the financial acumen of plumbers and builders. They ridicule ambassadors and diplomats while promoting jingoistic journalists who have never lived abroad and speak no foreign languages. And with the rise of shock radio and television, they have found a large, popular audience that eagerly absorbs their contempt for intellectual elites.”
- October 2008, New York Times (David Brooks): The class war before Palin
- “What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole.”
- December 2020, Washington Post (Paul Waldman): Hatred of liberals is all that’s left of conservatism
- October 2018, Mostly Modern Media (me): What you should understand if you support Kavanaugh
- April 2014, Slate: Conservative Tribalism — Conservatives hate anything Barack Obama and liberals like
- November 2008, Brad DeLong: American Right Wing Crashed-and-Burned Watch:
- “The first is the despairing lament for the lost golden age of American conservatism. When was this age, exactly? Was it when National Review was calling for white southerners to engage in terrorism to keep African-Americans from voting in the south? Was it when William F. Buckley was saying that George C. Marshall was part of the conspiracy so immense that had handed China and was working to hand America over to Josef Stalin? Was it when Jeanne Kirkpatrick told the press that the murdered Maryknoll missionaries in El Salvador weren’t just Christian missionaries?”
- September 2020, Mostly Modern Media (me): This is where reasonable people give up you
- (a list of GOP atrocities written after some Republicans couldn’t contain their glee upon RBG’s death)
- January 2021, X-temporaneous (me): Don’t let the door hit you, Donald
- The bottom line: Donald Trump is a petty narcissist with no empathy, no intellectual curiosity and no sense of responsibility who will never understand that elected officials are public servants, not kings.
- June 2020, Washington Post (George Will): Trump must be removed. So must his congressional enablers.
- June 2020, CNN: Massachusetts GOP governor rips Trump’s ‘bitterness, combativeness and self-interest’
- December 2018, originally posted to Facebook: The legacy of George H.W. Bush