Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Republicans receive their reward--the US pays the price

For the past 34 years, the Republican Party has waged an unending propaganda war upon our political system and the men and women who try to make it work.  Ronald Reagan brought this campaign to the White House in 1981, declaring that government was the problem, not the solution, and Newt Gingrich developed a vocabulary to make the campaign continuous background noise in American life.  An army of talk radio hosts and Fox News correspondents waged the campaign with a relentless ferocity that a Stalinist propagandist might envy.  Meanwhile, thanks to tax cuts, the growth of enormous fortunes, and finally the Citizens' United decision, politicians became slaves to economic power, doomed to four hours of fundraising a day.  The campaign has now reduced the Democratic Party to a Congressional minority and threatens to complete the destruction of the Progressive, New Deal and Great Society reforms of the last century next year, but in the past two months it has taken an unexpected turn.  It has taken its revenge upon the Republican Party itself, elevating Donald Trump to the lead in Republican primary polls.  Thanks to Republican strategy over the last few decades, the United States, which needs real leadership as much as it ever has in its history, is focused upon a fraud and a buffoon who wants to ride the hatreds of his fellow citizens into the White House.

We can understand Trump's success by comparing him to his rivals.   Recent Repubican candidates fall into two types.  The first is dynastic Republicans, such as George H. W., George W., and Jeb Bush, but also Mitt Romney, who had politically successful fathers, substantial wealth, and ready-made networks.  The two Bush brothers both settled in the Sun Belt and jumped into the forefront of the pro-life and anti-government movements.  Romney settled in Massachusetts and morphed into a moderate Republican as Governor, but quickly tacked rightward in his presidential runs.  The second type might be described as "bright young men," such as Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Thomas Cotten.  Although they come from relatively modest backgrounds, they often have Ivy League undergraduate and legal educations, and began their working life as clerks to conservative federal judges.  Cotten, a veteran, is unusual in that he is trying to make his name mainly as a foreign policy expert. (He is not, of course, a presidential candidate, but I expect he will get some attention as a possible vice president.)  They have generally been adopted by one or more billionaires to whom they are beholden and they have made their names attacking Barack Obama, rather than trying to accomplish anything positive for the nation.

Nativism, or anti-immigrant feeling, as become a tenet of Republican faith in the last thirty years, and it is rather striking that even the bright young men whose parents were immigrants--Cruz and Rubio--take a harsh line towards the 11.5 million immigrants who are now deeply embedded in American life.  Jeb Bush, whose wife became an immigrant when she married him, is a liberal by Republican standards because he wants to give those people some kind of legal status, albeit without allowing them actually to vote in elections.  Meanwhile, none of the Republican candidates, including Bush, seems very interested, much less insightful, about foreign policy.  They all want to undo the Iran agreement and they all cherish the fantasy that by spending more on defense and talking tough (like Ronald Reagan!) they can make our enemies disappear. (Here Rand Paul originally sounded like an exception, but like all Republican candidates confronted by a controversial issue, he is losing his nerve.)

Whether Trump can win the Republican nomination remains an open question.  The number of Republicans who say they will never vote for him exceeds the 28% support he has in the last poll--although the gap has been narrowing.  But it is clear how he has managed to get as far as he has--and it is deeply depressing.

First, of course, Trump is not a politician and he is making no attempt to sound like one.  I know it is unfashionable to compare anyone to Adolf Hitler, even favorably, but Hitler made far more of an attempt to sound respectable while contending for power than Trump has.  Trump is a famous entrepreneur--although one who has, to put it mildly, had his ups and downs in his business career.  He has also been a star of reality television for about a decade.  That gives him a much bigger place on the radar screen of the average Americans than any politician.  That is one consequence of what the Republicans and the media have done to us over the last few decades.  When politicians are constantly trashed, their personal lives scrutinized minutely, and any real attempt to do something for the country ignored, it is rather foolish to expect the bulk of the American people to pay much attention to what they are doing,  But they have paid attention to Trump, partly because he is so outrageous, and partly because he has an image of wealth and success, which also became a focus of network TV dramas during the Reagan years and has continued to captivate Americans, even as the majority of us lose econoic ground.

Secondly, Trump is the first candidate willing to pander to the worst prejudices of the Republican base on the subjects of race and  gender.  George W. Bush, to be sure, pandered shamelessly to homophobia, and some of today's candidate are doing the same, but until Trump came along, only hate-mongers like Anne Coulter referred routinely to Hispanic immigrants as rapids.  Trump has now gone so far as to advocate the ethnic cleansing of 11.5 million residents of the United States, more than 3% of the population.  He has also built on his reputation for misogyny, repeatedly and publicly insulting Megyn Kelly of Fox News.  I have long wondered whether it was a mistake to drive racism and misogyny underground in this country.  It may have been easier to fight them when we knew where everyone stood.  Trump is reaping impressive poll numbers by putting them back into the open.

What is most extraordinary, however, is that the Republican primary season has become  a contest in which the other candidates compete to see who can sound the most like Trump.  The new litmus test in the party isn't abortion, it's whether you're willing to try to repeal the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of citizenship to everyone born here.  Jeb Bush, after struggling for days to find a safe way to attack Trump, settled on Tump's political past as a Democrat.

Trump seriously threatens the American political system because he is a high-rolling businessman (who has lost nearly as often as he has won) who has shown no talent for public service and is rousing some of the worst instincts of the American people.  But he would never have gotten so far had not two generations of Republicans convinced millions of Americans that no politician can be trusted.   It's appropriate that those chickens are coming home to roost in the Republican primaries, but it's terrifying that the Republican drive to discredit our political system has been so successful--because we need it to function effectively as a nation.


Pierre Marlais said...

Great and insightful post. This is an end-of-empire symptom as the US views its politics as a mere form of entertainment. Most Americans feel removed from any meaningful contribution into the civil life of the nation and its general policies. Studies have shown that politicians, bankers and businessmen care little for the citizenry except to live off them as parasites as long as possible. It may not matter who wins in 2016 as the real power is hidden and views elected officials as puppets and window-dressing on a defunct representative republic. We are seeing massive problems arise in the US and around the world in economic-financial life, environmental distress, increased human suffering and poverty, pointless and endless wars that enrich a few to the detriment of the many, and a lack of any intelligent leadership in most nations. The few who speak the truth will be marginalized, ignored or demonized. People may have to act collectively outside the structures of the broken status quo matrix and set up parallel systems for their mutual benefit as and after the current corrupt systems implode. You are cordially invited to visit the WGO educational and advocacy website here: "" that is free for all and provides one viable, legal, creative and feasible alternative. Keep up the great writing and thank you.

Steven Winsor said...

David, the 'Republican drive to discredit our political system' is I think a poor way to put it. Republicans of the type you are talking about understand the value and necessity of our 'political system'...but they are rightfully concerned at the size and scope our federal government has evolved into. I am a conservative, though I read your blog posts because you are so talented at offering historical perspective on current events...and I recommend your blog to my conservative friends at the university I work at.

Your missive seems very one-sided...which is unusual. The Democrats are also doing their very best to demonize the other side (with propaganda), and that simply adds to the confusion of the electorate, which sees to major parties engaging in and endless war of propaganda against each other.

I would be curious to hear your opinion on the extraordinary ability of the electronic news/entertainment media to amplify the negative comments made by each side on the internet. The media apparently have decided that conflict between groups is the best way to sell advertisements. The Democrats have had a hand in enabling the creation of many wacky 'social justice' groups that appear to be discrediting our political system as well.

E pluribus unum appears dead. Common sense appears dead. Group politics is tearing the fabric of our society apart. Oh (and it's ironic and amusing to think about) that we still had the old Soviet Union as our 'common enemy' to distract us from seemingly dis-emboweling ourselves.

Steven Winsor

Unknown said...

Add that the Republican assault on government has been successful for other reasons, as well. The parents of the Boomer generation fashioned a government which reflected social values very different from those of their children, who were influenced by the Vietnam War, Nixon's resignation and the stagnation of the 1970's during which government seemed both corrupt and powerless. The old adage applies; "You are what you were when." The society from which the Boomers then fashioned their government was characterized by increasing individualism (the "me" generation) as replacement of a community that no longer met their needs, and its selfish markers for success, making the government they formed ripe for junior-backbenchers like Newt Gingrich to successfully challenge not only congressional leaders, not only the President, but the long established order, as well. From there is a forward, consistent thread of partisan recalcitrance leading from Reagan's conservatism through the Clinton impeachment, through Karl Rove's coupling of social/religious wedges to political strategy, to the establishment of the Tea Party as a powerful Republican faction within government. Today, we have Reaganism on steroids in the form of the Tea Party, which has effectively reduced the effects of government, if not its size, by gumming up the legislative process for the past eight years. This following on the tails of the disastrous Bush presidency, which looks less disastrous as the anti-government trend deepens and continues. Chicken or egg, society or government, individualism or community, this country's problems are only going to get worse, and it's not just current government but our Boomer created society that carries much of the blame.

Patricia Mathews said...

I am so reminded of the days when Pompey and Crassus were the biggest players on the Roman political scene, and the only alternative was either Caesar, or a collection of fading Establishment families who tried to field their best candidates (the Metelli? Not up to dealing with a megacrisis, alas) or else the sort of candidate (albeit a New Man) someone like me could work for, mainly Cicero. And the gods save us from that totally honest, probably somewhat autistic hard right-wing fanatic with his fantasies about the Virtues of Old Rome!

And the day's big-money boys could buy and sell the official government out of petty cash, which the tie-breaker, Augustus, actually did.

Oh, yes, history rhymes.

Bozon said...


Great post on the Republicans.

I would add that no successful Democratic presidential candidates in recent decades (at least 8) have been, or can be, economic nationalists in reality, including the present one, in spite of the rhetoric of one or another.

The end result, unfortunately, then, is that no presidential politicians can keep Americans from paying the price.

all the best

SDW said...

I believe that finding fault with Donald Trump, as much of the press has done, misses the point. Trump has lifted the curtain on the Republican "Southern Strategy", revealing the enraged nativist mob hidden behind it. Others, more savvy and seemingly more respectable, may organize this crowd into a mass movement. Frightening!

ed boyle said...

So repubs turn into NSDAP. The coming civil war is racial and sexual backlash of the white male ego.I guess this is revenge on hillary and obama. The right radicals have long since shown their attitude, now Trump allows himself to say what the man on the street thinks. Ethnic jokes and jokes about the sxs pre PC ruls used to be a safety valve amo g people to criticize steeotypical behaviour of everyone, jewish, irish, italian, wasps. The ban on this over decades is Trumps power. A little daily chauvinism brings reality into view among colleagues without really hurting feelings perhaps as long as all renmain good friends. This 1950s social stability is gone. The civil war was then, to take power from the wasp male and to silence everyone. Like in ex yugoslavia and ex soviet union the melting pot in USA is really a seething cauldron of hatred just under the surface waiting for a central authority to disappear for mass revenge, of every group on the other, to take place. Trump is just the beginning.

David Kaiser said...

Great to hear from you, Pat. Email me how you are. And are you on facebook yet? We'd love to have you on the 4T page.