Donald Trump will be inaugurated as our 45th President next week. That much has been a given for a while, despite numerous calls on the Electoral College to consider doing its job. Understandably, electors chose not to upend centuries of tradition, likely not armed with the legal knowhow nor the intelligence briefings to justify such a drastic measure.
Pretty much everybody I know is deeply fearful of the incoming Trump administration for various reasons, primarily covering issues of:
- Elevation of white nationalist platform
- Violating civil rights and liberties in the name of security
- Women’s health and safety
- Privatization of various government functions
These are all very real concerns that will require staunch and organized opposition from Democrats, though the GOP will likely be able to pick and choose its battles and get most of what it wants, albeit with Democrats extracting considerable political cost (hopefully).
The issue I want to speak about today is how should non-conservatives view the Republican Party today and the voters that enable it?
To be clear: the Republican Party is far past any altruistic or even principled ideological stands. Small government means nothing to them, despite what we heard during Obama’s years in office. Crony capitalism is only objectionable when carried out by Democrats. Poor people should try not being so poor.
The modern GOP has made it clear since the late 60s that they will never consider any Democratic president to be “legitimate.” The Great Depression and WWII enabled the massive expansion the federal government under FDR, from public infrastructure projects to global military spending to social programs for the poor, including the everlasting but never-fixed Social Security. Conservatives have never gotten over this injustice, but Democrats only threw salt in the wound with JFK and LBJ following in short succession, expanding the government even more with Great Frontier and Great Society programs, this time including *gasp* civil rights protections on everything from public accommodations to voting.
The US government from this point on had a massive target on its back. This federal government fulfilled far more duties than the Constitution explicitly stated, with Congress content to use the elastic clause to regulate most industries as interstate commerce. When Richard Nixon was elected to office, Republicans felt the winds of power shifting back to them, with designs on setting the government back on course of being as small as possible. Of course, in practice Nixon was a Republican president who expanded Medicaid, increased NASA spending in the Space Race, and declared a War on Drugs that could hardly be considered an example of small government.
Regardless, conservatives enjoyed being in power: they consider the government to be the natural domain/habitat of the liberal, where they can spout their disingenuous rhetoric about caring for minorities and the poor, all the while rigging the country to benefit their elite political class. Therefore, conservatives have just as much a right to such power, since it’s all for show. In Nixon’s bid for reelection, this desire for power led to the infamous Watergate-scandal, where burglars paid by Nixon’s campaign broke into the DNC’s headquarters to steal information from the opposition, resulting in the biggest political scandal in American history (yes, bigger the Monica Lewinsky).
Nixon resigned rather than be impeached, and good ol’ Gerry Ford took over, promptly losing to Southern Democrat Jimmy Carter, who proved easy to dispatch after a well-intentioned but tumultuous and ineffective term. Reagan knew just what to say to get the country excited: lower taxes, more Christianity, and finally beating those pesky Ruskies. Well, he raised spending, increased the federal deficit and debt massively, and was largely a rhetorical victory for Republicans, who desperately needed a popular national figure to unite the party ideologically. It may be conservatives’ biggest disappointment of the last decade that his health deteriorated in his second term and his descent into Alzheimer’s kept him from becoming what would have been a very influential former President (a role Democrats will be happy to see a relatively young Barack Obama step into for decades).
Regardless, Reagan would prove to be the transformative figure conservatives would point to as their FDR, the pinnacle of their party and beliefs, and his canonization by the Right over the last two decades only hammers home the empty rhetorical nature of their advocacy for “small government.”
Then we got Clinton, and boy did people love Bill. Southern Democrats have a charm that just can’t be matched I guess. But boy, did they hate Hillary, a First Lady with some balls (ironically later paving the way for potentially the most powerful First Lady in history in Trump’s
wife daughter, Melania Ivanka).The Clinton’s relationship with the public as well as each other strained the morality of the Democratic Party, which quickly fell into the trap of “pragmatism”, gradually shifting the party to the center in order to cooperate with a Gingrich-led Congress that would succeed in neoliberal policies like Tough on Crime laws, NAFTA, and welfare reform.
Toss in the Lewinsky scandal, and you get a Democratic Party that by 2000 had totally ceded the moral high ground, if it had it to begin with. Even leaving office with a rising economy and the first budget surplus in decades, this country rarely elects the same party into the presidency three or four times in a row. Democrats predictably took for granted that the American public would see them as the good guys, and nominated climate change prophet (and bore-o-rama) Al Gore, against everyman George “Shrub” Bush. Just as predictably, Republicans were assholes and Democrats were pussies, and a sham of a Supreme Court challenge later we have our second Bush as president, solidifying our country’s backslide into oligarchy and monarchy.
Then we were supposed to have Hillary. I’ll say it again: our 44th President should have been Hillary Clinton. But Barack Obama exists (so says some certificate of “birth”), and he changed what a modern election would look like, foreshadowing the growing importance of social media outreach and data analytics that would propel Donald Trump to his shock victory.
Barack Obama is black. He’s also white, but that seems to come third to many Republicans, convinced he is Kenyan and Muslim first and second. This was the easiest President for Republicans to delegitimize, as he was already illegitimate to half their voters upon taking office. While Obama attempted to realize his high-minded campaign promises while in office, the realities of the job soon set in, as did the young politician’s inexperience. His naivete showed greatly in expecting Congressional Republicans to cooperate with him, and this miscalculation will be punished greatly when they are able to (with ease) repeal his signature healthcare law and fill a year-long Supreme Court vacancy within weeks, after Democrats fought tooth and nail while in power for years.
Finally, we arrive at Trump. Republicans are back in power, and while Trump is certainly not one of them, it is good enough for most after enduring 8 years of Obama and coming up to the precipice of another 8 under Hillary Clinton . Having avoided this hellscape scenario, Republicans seem content to abdicate their ethical duties as the party in power (best shown by the GOP’s motivated reasoning for cheering on the Russians this election), buying into their own argument that it’s really the Dems that have been kleptos for years, so they’re just being sore losers and now it’s time to get ours.
We’ve seen how the GOP reacts when faced with transferring power back to Democrats. In North Carolina, they pass laws to reduce the power of the office, they gerrymander unfairly to maintain disproportional representation, and they lie through their teeth to their supporters who distrust the media so greatly that they’d rather believe anyone else.
The next Democrat to come into office, with or without Congressional control, will likely be tempted into following Clinton’s and Obama’s path. To follow the middle road, hoping to appeal to the greatest number and receiving bipartisan support. This assumes a business as usual in American politics that hasn’t existed since before the rise of cable news and the internet. These modern developments have accelerated the rate of hyperpolarization, pushing many of us to the periphery of the discussion so that we only speak with those with the same opinion, often deepening our dependence on our insular news sources.
Do not make the same mistake of assuming cooperation is a desired outcome on both sides. Republicans said goodbye to bipartisanship a long time ago, and maybe it’s time Democrats acknowledged the balance of modern American politics, do some serious soul-searching (is this the party of the working class or not?), and then never cede that moral high ground again. The Clintons pulled the Democratic Party into a dogfight of moral relativism that Republicans know how to win every time. We can’t ask Americans to compromise themselves to vote for Democrats in a neverending game of thrones. In four years, we’ll have an opportunity to win over the American public again; we cannot afford to appear morally second-best to Donald Trump again.