Those of us who write political pieces should step back every now and then and look at what we wrote in the past. Is it still valid today?
I did that with the motivating theme being the transformation of the Republican party in the Age of Trump.
As Trump was running roughshod over his Republican rivals in the 2016 race, it was becoming clear that he was having a deep and lasting influence on American politics. I first thought that the GOP was splintering into two parties - the traditional GOP and those Republicans loyal to Trump.
What is unfolding in American politics has not been seen in over 100 years. And what is happening this year may never have been seen before. We are witnessing the division of one of our two major political parties with what amounts to a divorce between two factions. One is a traditionalist group (“establishment”) and the other is an awakened, psychologically distinct movement (“Authoritarians”). The distinction has its roots in psychological and political science research.
I changed my mind in just two weeks. It was not that Trump was splitting the Republican party. Rather, he was highjacking it.
In an earlier post [March 6, above], I predicted that the Trump campaign was headed toward being a third party. We may yet have a 2-party system, but one of those parties, the one led by Trump, will be most unlike what our parents knew. In that sense, Trump is fashioning a third party. And the mainstream media blew it. They continue to cover Trump the candidate and fail to understand Trump the party.
Starting around 1970, two things started happening. (1) The rich started getting richer, and poor got poorer, and the middle-class started disappearing. In short, in the ensuing years economic inequality became, in Trump’s terms, huge and left the electorate to fall further and further behind. (2) In pursuit of political power, the Republican leaders and strategists employed messaging that activated Authoritarian tendencies among the Republican voters. That left said voters seeking a strong leader who would promise more than the Republican Elite was able to deliver. Economic inequality and aroused Authoritarianism - both spawned by the reckless, feckless, factless Republican Elite - are the conditions that led to the ascendance of Donald Trump and are the reasons why we are now staring into the Awful Abyss of American Authoritarianism.
Sunday, July 24, 2016: The most important 100 days, part 2
When the DNC winds up in Philadelphia, we approach the 100 days remaining until the November general election. What happens in those 100 days will determine the fate of America. That’s not hyperbole …
The Washington Post editorial board believes that, in The Post’s View, “Donald Trump is a unique threat to American democracy.” Their recounting of Trump’s lies and unfounded rants, for example, disqualify him from the presidency. But the whole bundle of racism, dishonesty, and bullying, make Trump a hugely dangerous commander-in-chief.
The Post’s editorial … ends this way.
… The Republican Party has moved the lunatic fringe onto center stage, with discourse that renders impossible the kind of substantive debate upon which any civil democracy depends.
Most responsible Republican leaders know all this to be true; that is why Mr. Trump had to rely so heavily on testimonials by relatives and employees during this week’s Republican convention. With one exception (Bob Dole), the living Republican presidents and presidential nominees of the past three decades all stayed away. But most current officeholders, even those who declared Mr. Trump to be an unthinkable choice only months ago, have lost the courage to speak out.
The party’s failure of judgment leaves the nation’s future where it belongs, in the hands of voters. Many Americans do not like either candidate this year . We have criticized the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, in the past and will do so again when warranted. But we do not believe that she (or the Libertarian and Green party candidates, for that matter) represents a threat to the Constitution. Mr. Trump is a unique and present danger.
Donald Trump is merely the manifestation of the disease. The disease is a Republican Party that has abandoned democracy and embraced ‘Trumpism,’ the new American fascism. This fascism long predates Trump himself, he is merely taking advantage of its existence in the Republican Party. This fascism has been nurtured and developed by the conservative media entertainment complex propaganda machine for several decades. It is the people behind this propaganda machine who pose the greatest threat to American democracy.
Closer to the election we were finding out more about who was supporting Trump.
Tuesday, October 4, 2016: Seven things we know about Trump’s supporters.
It’s not a pretty picture. They really do live in a different universe. Here’s the scoop from SemDem at Daily Kos, If You Tell Me You Are Supporting Trump, I Already Know Seven Things About You. I’ll list the seven things but you need to read SemDem’s post to get the reasons for them (beyond the short takes I provide in parens below).
- You want to be ruled, not governed. (authoritarian like Putin = anti-American)
- You have no class. (Mocking disabled people and vets)
- You are definitely not someone to do business with. (OK with Trump’s lies)
- You are either a racist, or at best, have no problem with racism. (people who don’t look like you are criminals)
- You have an issue with women. (you also believe women are “pigs” and “dogs”)
- You aren’t really Christian. (a bully with several wives and several affairs)
- You don’t believe in the Constitution. (Trump promises to trash the bill of rights)
If you don’t think these seven points define an alternative universe, here is an excerpt from Jimmy Kimmel’s Lie Witness News on YouTube. Having made up their minds, anything, anything at all that Trump says or does can be rationalized by Trump supporters. And that is why civil discourse with most of them is not possible.
After the 2016 election responsible conservative writers had, at last, seen their party coopted by Trump. Whatever they once stood for was replaced by Trumpism.
Thursday, July 5, 2018: If Trump is not a true conservative - and he is not - what should conservatives do in November?
Quote of the Day: “While two-thirds of Americans disapproved of … state-sanctioned child abuse, forcing the president to back down, a majority of Republicans approved. If Trump announced he were going to spit-roast immigrant kids and eat them on national TV … most Republicans probably would approve of that, too. The entire Republican platform can now be reduced to three words: whatever Trump says." - Max Boot.
And now we are left with the old style Republicans bemoaning Trump and calling his actions “troublesome”, “disturbing”, and “worrisome.”
Sept. 29, 2019: NY Times opinion writer David Leonhardt tells Republicans, the Time Has Come. America is better than Donald Trump.
To the Republican members of the United States Senate:
You have always told us that you believe in the distinctive greatness of the United States of America. “America is different,” as Senator Marco Rubio has said. Ben Sasse likes to say that “America is an idea” — a commitment to universal dignity over brute power.
You have also told us that you went into politics to serve a higher purpose. Well, your moment has arrived.
The president of the United States is betraying his oath of office in the most fundamental way, by using the presidency for personal gain at the country’s expense. He has corrupted our foreign policy with grubby attempts to help himself that his own White House staff immediately recognized as improper. He is telling the world that America does not, in fact, stand for any higher ideal. Can you for a moment imagine the icons of your party, like Ronald Reagan or Dwight Eisenhower, risking the security of a country threatened by Russia, for the sake of smearing a political rival?
President Trump must go, and you — only you — have the power to make it happen.
You can start to distance yourself from him slowly, if it will help bring along your political base. A couple of you — like Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who called Trump’s behavior “inappropriate,” and Mitt Romney of Utah, who used the word “troubling” — have begun to do so. But more of you should be moving in this direction, for the sake of the country and, ultimately, yourselves.
During the Watergate scandal, George H.W. Bush and other leading Republicans initially defended Nixon, too. They did not do so forever. They didn’t want their own legacies and careers to go down with his.
And here’s the thing: You have a very good alternative. I don’t personally share Mike Pence’s worldview, but you do. He is a deeply conservative, anti-regulation, anti-tax, evangelical Christian. As a bonus, he has never paid hush money to a porn star or made big campaign donations to New York Democrats. Oh, and Pence has a lower disapproval rating than Trump.
The notion that America is different — a “light unto the nations” and “the shining city upon a hill,” in the words that Reagan liked to use and you so often quote — happens to be true. Some liberals may not buy it. Trump certainly does not; he called our country “a hellhole.” But you are correct when you say that America stands for something. Now you can show the world that you mean it.
Senators, I know that many of you now feel helpless — repulsed by this president and yet afraid that any criticism of him will end your careers. But his support is shallower than it seems, and you have more power than you may realize. If even a handful of you began speaking out, you would instantly transform this situation and begin to end our long national nightmare.
America is better than this, isn’t it?
Sept. 30, 2019: New York Times’ Peter Wehner asks What’s the Matter With Republicans? Trump has given them another chance to break away. Why won’t they take it?
As the psychologist I spoke to put it to me, many Republicans “are nearly unrecognizable versions of themselves pre-Trump. At this stage it’s less about defending Trump; they are defending their own defense of Trump.”
“At this point,” this person went on, “condemnation of Trump is condemnation of themselves. They’ve let too much go by to try and assert moral high ground now. Calling out another is one thing; calling out yourself is quite another.”
As a result, many in Mr. Trump’s party not only refuse to challenge his maliciousness; they have adopted his approach. They have embraced his “will to power” worldview. After dealing with Mr. Trump, “you’re definitely denuded and jaded,” one Republican who has interacted recently with members of Congress told me. “Your sense of perspective is totally warped.”
Many Republicans now find themselves in a place they never envisioned — not only defending Mr. Trump but doing so with gusto. Those who once defended traditional values now relish siding with the Great Transgressor. “Owning the libs” turns out to be a lot of fun. But it also comes at a high cost.
A person who was once an aide to a current Republican senator told me that his former boss, who in private will concede that he is quite troubled by Mr. Trump’s unethical conduct, will say “nothing that would cause the president to question his complete loyalty.” This individual went on to tell me, “The sad part about this is that no policy or new law is worth undercutting our norms and checks on power that will cause irreparable damage to our system.”
The Republican Party is the party of Donald Trump, through and through. As such, it has become morally disfigured. The party finds itself deep in a dark alleyway. It can eventually find its way back. Renewal and regeneration are always possible. But that will require the Republican Party and its future leadership to repudiate much of what it now embodies. I happen to believe that this is an essential task. But it won’t be an easy one, and every day it is delayed, the harder it becomes.
Mr. Trump’s most recent abuse of power — pressuring the Ukrainian president to do his dirty work — is the latest link in a long chain of corruption. If Republicans don’t break with the president now, after all he has done and all he is likely to do, they will pay a fearsome price generationally, demographically and, above all, morally.
September 30, 2019: Former AZ Senator Jeff Flake preaches to Fellow Republicans, there’s still time to save your souls.
Two years ago I stood in the Senate chamber and said: “There are times when we must risk our careers in favor of our principles.”
In my case, I had not supported the president’s election. One year into his presidency, I knew that I could not support his reelection. While I had hoped that I could still run for reelection to the Senate in 2018 as someone who would help to provide a check on the president’s worst impulses, it soon became apparent that this was not what Republican primary voters in my state were looking for. Whatever reservations they might have had when they voted for Donald Trump, one year into his presidency they wanted a senator who was all in.
At this point, the president’s conduct in office should not surprise us. But truly devastating has been our tolerance of that conduct. Our embrace of it. From the ordeal of this presidency, perhaps the most horrible — and lasting — effect on our democracy will be that at some point we simply stopped being shocked. And in that, we have failed not just as stewards of the institutions to which we have been entrusted but also as citizens. We have failed each other, and we have failed ourselves.
I do not know if these exhortations by former fellow Republicans will have great effect but I doubt it. To date, damn few Senators are showing anything other than fear of Trump no matter what he does or say, no matter if his acts are illegal or just plain criminal. If the impeachment process gets that far, and if the “Republican” senators acquit Trump, then the transformation of American politics will be complete. The two political parties remaining on the scene will be the Democrats and the Trumpublicans.