As the sad charade of the government shutdown concluded and the new charade of random (and possibly more frequent) “emergencies “works its way into daily life, it may be time to reflect on what American politics and its GOP component may look like in a few years.
There is considerable debate over how, or if, the American political system is broken. A system more or less designed in one sitting in the 18th century has proven somewhat less relevant and, perhaps more importantly, shockingly easy to manipulate in the 21st century.
When one peruses various articles and posts about the ‘broken American political system’ it is mostly the Democrats or self-styled independents who issue this complaint. This can be attributed to the predictable whining of losers, but I think there is something more to this imbalance.
Donald Trump has in fact justified the worst fears of all who opposed him, displaying a capricious, erratic style of governance more closely resembling Mussolini than it does any recent American president. Overly fond of rallies where he can scream divisive (and , as has been pointed out ad infinitum, patently false)rhetoric and claim huge victories for whatever movement he has decided he represents at the moment (farmers and Americans who can see through ‘fake news’ are a perpetual favorite), the simple fact is that this president gets very little done. Studying the minutiae of policy and listening to reasoned debate on current events is boring and, clearly, well beyond his understanding and attention span. The current obsession with building a wall is a pointless exercise in self-glorification not unlike putting his name on all those tall ugly buildings – yet it has absorbed a huge percentage of the national political debate since the beginning of 2019.
It is not all grim for the Republicans, however. Although Trump himself does very little that is usually considered presidential, he has managed to neuter various regulatory agencies (most notoriously the EPA and Interior), nominate a slew of far-right judges and give succor to various far-right movements who see a kindred spirit in this president. Many longtime Republicans are not especially comfortable with the last result, but they will live with it and as members of a party that now explicitly courts white voters (and, slightly less explicitly, is intent on denying votes to non-whites), they should not be shocked by welcoming these new friends to the party. As a bonus, the continuing ability to enrage the other side should not be minimized as a rallying point.
Although the GOP establishment publicly applauds many administration moves, many others are now meeting with, at least, public scrutiny and concern, if not overt resistance. And it is in fact true that Trump’s combination of race-tinged populism, crony capitalism and ‘America-first’ bombast are not really compatible with what used to be considered the mainstream of Republican thought, although of course ‘mainstream Republican thought’ has splintered in recent years.
It is a common theme, primarily (but far from solely) among Democrat and Centrist pundits, to contend that the system is broken. It is easy to point to Trump’s multi-million vote loss in the popular vote, the ease of manipulating public opinion through internet hoaxes, fictitious conspiracy theories, and continuing policies, both legal and illegal to discourage minority voting. Most Republicans, it seems, do not mind a broken system, one that they have in fact taken the lead in gaming.
If one looks at the United States it would seem on its face to be a voting public hostile to an increasingly backward –looking Republican agenda. The new strain of Isolationism dates can be traced back to the 1930’s – we know how that ended up. In a similar vein, embracing walls, tariffs and fossil fuels seems distinctly 20th century. The increasingly shrill warnings against waves of immigrants (and even extending to thinly veiled racism and anti-Semitism) would not seem to have much appeal to the incoming generation – it is hard to imagine a typical millennial being motivated by promises to limit immigration and suppress minority voting. And in plain math, Democrats and Independents outnumber Republicans today in any case.
Short of declaring martial law and /or suspending most voting altogether, What is to be Done?
It is not as simple as embracing a populist agenda wholesale. This means:
- The ‘law and order’ party is now represented by a mendacious con man who has little regard for the rule of law (constitutional or otherwise) and whose closest advisers (started with his original mentor Roy Cohn) appear to be full-blown criminal ‘fixers’.
- Similarly ‘free trade’, another bedrock GOP mantra, is now replaced by toxic crony capitalism, wherein the president’s businesses are favored whenever possible and organizations such as the WTO are marginalized. Trade wars, so relished by Trump so as to appear tough, are not just aimed at China but increasingly at (previously?) friendly allies in the EU.
- Concomitant to the tiresome and endless trade wars, GOP internationalism, a staple since the beginning of the cold war, has essentially been abolished, replaced by the aforementioned America First idea, an ill-defined nationalist and xenophobic policy featuring overt alienation of traditional allies, replaced by authoritarians and dictatorships that our leader feels much more comfortable with.
Although it was widely predicted that, win or lose, Trump’s nomination would damage or even destroy the GOP as we know it, it may not come to that. Certainly it will be debated repeatedly in the future as to whether Trump was a symptom, a turning point or an anomaly. I would guess it’s all three.
Certainly Trump the man is too foolish and vain to consolidate his political capital, now rapidly on the wane. Cheap stunts and endless nonsensical tweets are more his style, diehard habits that have done little to advance an agenda that was muddled and constantly shifting from the start. Ironically the line in the sand (more and more seen as a thoroughly pointless one) has been the wall, a symbol of hostility and power better suited to eras such as 17th century China. Creating sober policy is well beyond the desires and capabilities of this presidency, and thus the partisan standoffs are even more acute than in the Obama years.
Not only will the Trump administration, however long it lasts, accomplish very little of substance, it is fairly certain that at this point, Trump’s fellow Republicans are probably fed up with the endless turmoil and government by uninformed impulse. Despite the usual bleating to the contrary and quiet satisfaction at the endless appointment of right wing judges, a return to some degree of functional government would probably be welcome to even the staunchest Trump yes-men.
A desire for cessation of elementary school level insults and endless staff churn notwithstanding, the Republican Party will take many lessons away from rule by reality show. A primary lesson is the power of lying. The current administration (and society in general) has once again proved Goebbels correct. Not only does lying work, but the big lie works even better. While past GOP PR efforts have focused heavily on spin control and obfuscation (perennial examples has been turning a blind eye to racist activities under the heading of ‘states’ rights, or referring to the endless concentration of wealth and stagnating middle class income – for a shrinking middle class- as examples of freedom and economic growth), now we see that lying can be an easier and more effective policy. Racism? There’s no racism at all in GOP policy – anyone who brings it up is in fact racist and intolerant. Income inequality? A myth. Our system rewards the best and brightest, stop whining and work harder.
Naturally there has always been a large element of outright lies and absurd hyperbole from all corners of politics, both here and the rest of the world. The major difference now is that it comes straight from the top, dead center at the White House. The endless stream of outright falsehoods and nonsensical facts and figures has become so chronic that the public now expects it. Most journalists are by now accustomed to prefacing Trump quotes with terms such as “debunked” or “falsely claimed”. Spin control? Out. If the “facts” line up with the message, there’s no need for spin, better to roll your own facts and stick to them no matter what.
OK, so what conclusions have been drawn here? We can safely assume that the GOP has learned some valuable lessons:
- Lying works! Big lies work even better, and the party will hold on to their cherished ‘truths’ with a death grip, especially articles of faith that predate Trump e.g. the preposterous climate change denials, continuing attempts to‘re-interpret’ the constitution in a way to mainstream radical religious ideas, and of course denying that party is run by and for old white men, while continuing to evolve the shameful Southern Strategy that originated under Nixon.
- Being Trump doesn’t necessarily work (except when it does). It goes without saying that Trump could accomplish much more by staying out his own way and avoiding alienating everyone except ‘the base’. The hunt for a shiny Reagan clone has not been fruitful, so expect a bland ‘unifying’ (but still hard right) stealth operator like Mike Pence to pop up the next time around.
- Manipulating elections and disenfranchising minority voters is a necessary evil (er, strategy). The Wisconsin model will be a template going forward.
- The Constitutional Convention actually took roughly 100 days but it was, more or less, one large agglomeration whose attendees did produce the constitution in effect today. ↑
- I cannot stress strongly enough that my opinion here is a personal one and that many on the right wing also feel this way, although in many cases their wish is for a system that would veer in a more rightward direction of course. Among many ongoing complanits is the ‘left-leaning’ media bias e.g. this article claiming that “journalism is one of the most left-wing of all professions https://www.investors.com/politics/editorials/media-bias-left-study/ and the well-aged whine about PC behavior https://www.heritage.org/political-process/report/political-correctness-and-the-suicide-the-intellect ↑
- Although there is a certain Warren Harding aspect to some of it, although that is not a ‘recent’ president ↑
- See notorious socialist publication The National Geographic for some gory details https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/03/how-trump-is-changing-science-environment/ ↑
- Trump is nominating judges at a record pace, many of whom are considered unqualified and unvetted. It goes without saying that women and minorities need not apply. https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/03/how-trump-is-changing-science-environment/ ↑
- There is such an overwhelming crush of articles I recommend you search on ‘US political system is broken’ and select which ones you’d like to peruse ↑
- The introduction of the question census question “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”, clearly intended to suppress responses by immigrants of every stripe https://www.npr.org/2019/04/17/713762546/appeal-to-census-lawsuit-ruling-adds-uncertainty-to-citizenship-questions-fate ↑
- The wall idea is more like the 17th century of course ↑
- The absurdity of Trump’s endless and quixotic quest to prop up old school commodities like steel and coal cannot be overestimated. A future article will examine why many of the very industries he is attempting to ‘save’ are re-inventing themselves to address 21st century realities. ↑
- Yes, I am quoting Lenin here. Hey, why not? ↑
- Luminaries such as Roger Stone, Michael Cohen, Dr. Harold Bornstein, bodyguard Keith Schillerm and of course the original criminal fixer and Trump mentor: Roy Cohn, These should not be confused with the various cronies and hangers on hoping for a slice of that rich conflict of interest pie https://www.politico.eu/article/harold-bornstein-michael-cohen-trumps-fixers-revolt/ ↑
- North Korea, Israel, Phillipines, etc. And of course we have to include Vladimir Putin in this august company. ↑
- The only real constants have been the endless rants about the imminent threat of (legal and illegal) immigration and the repeated bullying of groups too weak to fight back. Er, immigrants and asylum-seekers might be included in there. That trade ‘revisions’ have been a bit more thorny, as continued Wall Street success is very important both symbolically and practically. ↑
- Sadly, it will probably destroy quite a bit of substance, most notably a sensible trade policy and a rational (or any) approach to climate change and pollution. ↑
- https://www.washingtonpost.com/ Interestingly, this article alos points out fewer Democratic appointees are stepping down in this period ↑
- The strangest about-face has surely been traditional warmonger and McCain buddy Lindsey Graham, now one of Trump’s biggest cheerleaders despite supporting an agenda at odds with most of Graham’s previous bleatings, as well as enduring repeated insults (of the usual 5th grade variety) from the great man himself during the primaries. ↑
- In a genuinely pathetic episode, Rep. Matt Gaetz introduced a ‘Pencil’ resolution to remove Adam Schiff as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, coming closely on the heels of the Trump campaign offering Pencil-neck Adam Schiff T-shirts for sale https://www.foxnews.com/politics/trump-campaign-unveils-pencil-neck-adam-schiff-t-shirts-for-sale https://thehill.com/homenews/house/438386-gaetz-introduces-pencil-resolution-to-oust-schiff-from-house-intel One has to wonder if the entire GOP congressional membership will soon take to flinging juvenile insults and stop even pretending to promulgate real policy ↑
- As a final cherry on top of Republicans hijacking a traditionally democratic state, There was clearly widespread minority voter suppression in Wisconsin in 2016. Enough to swing the state? That remains unknown. https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/10/voter-suppression-wisconsin-election-2016/ https://www.thenation.com/article/wisconsins-voter-id-law-suppressed-200000-votes-trump-won-by-23000/ ↑