The situation of the current Republican Party in America has been a long time coming. It’ll be a long going. The fury and frustration so exemplified by some of Trump’s “lock her up” fans will inevitably lead to action by the sort of men just arrested in Kansas for planning to kill off local Somali-born residents. I expect a continuous string of violent incidents from the fringe, gun-toting nationalists who have been promised they will take their country back this election cycle…and then November 9th they will realize it is not their country any more. Indeed, most households do not own guns in America; yet some households simply own more and more guns. There are more women than white men in America. The 19th Amendment will not be repealed. People without white skin are a growing minority in many states. In California non-Hispanic whites are no longer a majority. Too bad the Alt-right can’t accept facts…California has one of the most dynamic economies in the world. With 5% of the U.S. population is has 20% of the corporate headquarters. If traditional Republican tax-cut politics were related to reality those corporations should be flocking to low-tax states like Kansas and Mississippi. Fat chance.
Old-fashioned blue collar jobs are gone and not returning in most instances. Fossil fuels must and will be phased out, Koch Brothers notwithstanding. Coastal cities will be moved to higher ground when we can no longer afford to re build at sea level after each disaster. Fancy coffee drinks, same sex and mutli-ethnic marriages, non-religious households, fights over corporate greed and its results (Wells Fargo just the latest example) will continue. All these social trends go against what the alt-right males want for their America. This Presidential election shows how the Alt-righters are out-numbered and now out-spent by the forces of global capitalism, urban life, international connections and secular civilization. Gone are the days when white, Protestant, male Americans were in charge of everything. I grew up in that world and thought it normal. I hadn’t heard a Yiddish word until I went to college. In high school I went with a high school friend to a Catholic mass out of curiosity. My Methodist parents were not pleased. These days it is mind-boggling to recall that every person on the Senate Committee that okayed putting Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court– thereby dismissing Anita Hill’s testimony– was a white male. That was less than thirty years ago. No wonder the backward-looking, economically marginal white male in America feels he has lost his country. Today Clarence Thomas might even lose a mayoral election in Kansas. Women are now much more likely to be seen as persons not just prey…Trump notwithstanding.
GETTING TO TODAY
The roots of this 2016 Republican Party go back to Barry Goldwater and his opposition to national civil rights legislation and support of “states’ rights” which always means white people first, corporate greed first if you follow Congressional messaging. When California wanted tighter restrictions on auto exhaust those same states rights’ folks supported a lawsuit to try to stop such regulation. So it was Goldwater who first gave the Republican Party a big push toward the Old Confederacy where racism seems to grow in the soil like mushrooms, bursting out on the surface when the climate is right.
Nixon then played to that, as did Reagan in his time. Nixon–for all his faults–was more like Kissinger and Bismarck–respectful of wealth and power with little moral judgement about right and wrong. He signed into law the Endangered Species Act, now totally anathema to anti-federalists who prefer dead wolves to live ones. And he even endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment for Women which got up to 35 states to ratify it, three short of what it needed to join the Constitution. Two of the Confederate state first approved, then rescinded that approval–Tennessee and Kentucky. No state in the Deep South ever voted to approve it. “Don’t say ‘rights’ around here little lady, them’s fightin’ words.” Finally there were only 30 states with unrescinded approval and time ran out. It needed 38 states to approve. Congress was not going to give the amendment another chance. Finis.
Nixon’s strident anti-communism may have enabled him to make nice with China. He wasn’t soft on communism. Business then trumped ideology.
Reagan especially solidified the states rights stand within the Republican Party, cut taxes and then weakened any environmental regulations. He was the first to deliberately criticize federal regulation as an intrusion on real American life. And he publicly worshipped family values, code for not trusting all those black welfare queens who lived off the sweat of honest hard-working whites. This despite being our first divorced President. He signaled all the then-conservative ideas with no need to be explicit except for touting tax cuts and the ensuing economic heaven they would bring. What Reagan and his ilk missed: American was becoming less and less purer white. And it was happening most dramatically in Reagan’s home state of California but nobody could accuse him of being a serious student of history or demographics. While the 1980s Republican Party played to middle class and blue collar whites [remember those Reagan Democrats?], their corporate donors were doing away with factory jobs, hiring more and more non-union Hispanic and immigrant workers and thus firing the Republican base.
“Family Values” ignited the ardor of the fundamentalist, Protestant and conservative Catholics. It heolped them deny their own econmomimc interests on behalf of cutlural ones. The culture wars became as nasty as they had been in the 1960s. Reagan was great at playing his role as a feel good actor in the White House. Yet it was he who first made it respectable to call doctors providing abortions “murderers.” He did this with some Hollywood timing and phrases. Anti-abortion violence was born. Timing was perfect and his party got to take credit for the collapse of the Soviet system and Russia’s pull-back from eastern Europe.
The 1990s saw the politician/media-induced panic over urban crime, car-jackings and crack smoking. This led both parties to endorse harsher laws and punishment. Three strikes. Longer sentences. Workfare not welfare. Bigger prisons and even private prisons, a major victory for pro-Republican corporations. War on drugs, another endless war.
It would seem that Bush II was the apotheosis of all the Republican Party had been building toward. He was avowedly “born again.” I took it as a cover for his former years as a drunk and druggie. His followers took it was real and authentic and he certainly didn’t talk like a wealthy Yale graduate, did he? Well, once elected he did precious little to reassure the born-again voters. He did very little for the Faith-based initiatives that had looked for huge funnels-loads of federal money to spread their Christian truths. Frustration spread.
The horrors of 9-11 gave Bush II political cover and sympathy all around. Then he prosecuted two wars in the Muslim world and spent billions on them. Believing the only good regulation is no regulation his administration also oversaw one of Wall Street’s periodic and inevitable melt-downs totally screwing huge sectors of the American population and economy. Neither Bush II nor a newly-elected and cautious first President Obama had the gall or guts to go after anybody important on Wall Street. All the money and lobbying the financial businesses had put into politics paid off. Bailed out, blamed but never legally liable. Like gun makers. More anger and frustration for many Americans. This when it became clear to even those who don’t “follow politics” that there is an economic double standard in America. Result: Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street. The federal government continued to prosecute small-time drug dealers and deport hard-working immigrants without papers but the special folks on Wall Street continued to skate freely over the thin ice that makes them so much money. Some financial regulation did get through Congress under Obama but there were no perp walks for CEOs. The public was not impressed, it was embittered.
Meanwhile billions were spent monthly on Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Obama tried to get a big spending bill through Congress to put Americans back to work as unemployment in many states rose well above 10%. Republicans fought every step of the way and whittled it down in terms of dollars and duration. Once they got control of the House two years into Obama’s term there was never any hope of more federally subsidized work. Those unemployed were many of the same people who wanted to take back America, supported the Tea Party, wanted change and honest jobs and see plutocrats suffer. Nobody wanted to hire a 50-something laid off worker. People involuntarily took themselves out of the work force. “Early retirement.” Little happened for the economic underclasses as the recovery slowly built during Obama’s time. Yet stock prices more than doubled and it became clear that the top 1% were the winners, the rest of us just here to fuel their bonuses. Why ias it that Wall Street sets records under a “socialist Muslim” President. To be alt-right you gotta be fact free. More anger and frustration. Billions continued to go into the wars overseas.
All this while, over more than two decades, right-wing media on radio and Fox News had amplified and then drove the Republican orthodoxy as it became more strident and more radical. Obama was a Muslim and not even an American. Obamacare would destroy America. The government had planned 9-11. Also there was a war on Christmas. Conspiracies abounded on the Internet and cable channels. A Texas governor actually called out the Texas National Guard to watch over a Pentagon-commanded set of military maneuvers because it might be some kind of federal plot to…take over Texas?
For decades the National Rifle Association drove gun and ammo sales for its clients by warning of the imminent seizing of all private guns by whatever conspirator was handy: a Democratic governor, Obama, the United Nations, Hillary Clinton, Bloomberg, you name it…Americans with guns are more endangered than Christmas or the wolf. Any gun regulation is a step toward seizing your deer rifle or shotgun for hunting ducks, or target pistol. If you can’t have an assault rifle or three with an unlimited size of magazine, then you won’t even have a 22. “Good guys with guns…yadda, yadda…”
Which industry has spent more money corrupting American politics so it can kill people with impunity—Big Pharma (how are those opioids doin’ huh?) or the gun industry? At least you can sue the drug makers…can’t even sue the gun makers who want everybody to own an assault rifle or an arsenal, without any background checks on the buyer. We finally got seat belts in cars and planes, try putting current tech safety devices on private guns. Hah. You can sue a car manufacturr but not the gun guys. They’ve got more immunity than professional sports monopolies.
So that’s how we get to Trump. A Republican Party that fueled conspiracy theories, federal government hatred, resentment toward any and all non-whites, hatred of socially liberal causes from gay rights to women’s right to an abortion (I have actually heard voters say they will vote from Trump just because he says he opposes abortion, regardless of what he will actually do as President), paranoia about all those Isis fighters landing at LaGuardia or JFK Airport, fear of any immigrant because they have come here to kill you (but don’t try to take any guns away from anybody) and at the same time doing exactly nothing to help those whites who are out of work, out of hope, out of options, out of the big cities and the mainstream and the world of the future. Take their votes with clever bumper stickers, but don’t spend a dime on them. Keep ’em mad and worried and thinkng about the global conspiracies. During the Mideast wars the Republican Congress kept trying to hold down spending on the Veterans Administration. For decades the government tried to deny Agent Orange poisoning. Then the government tried to downplay PTSD and its long-term damage. Republicans often led those efforts to cut costs. Trump still says those with PTSD are just too weak. From a man who got out of the Vietnam Draft because of “flat feet.”
[There have been many fine essays written on how the clever use of gerrymandering allows the Republican Party to often get far more legislative seats than their popular vote would suggest. And now it can be seen that has moved the party toward the Alt-right because the candidates in those safely red districts don’t need moderate voters but can still be over-run by a far more right-wing opponent. Thus Repubs have become more intransigent on abortion, same sex marriage, open carry of assault rifles, etc. while the general population moves in the opposite direction. The Republican district-managing has led the party to move away from where those clever leaders thought it should be. The Repub elite lost control which often happens in large organizations. See Wells Fargo Bank, Enron, Volkswagen, Deutsche Bank.]
Big money has so corrupted American politics, thanks in no small part to Republican refusal to allow any campaign restrictions and a pro-corporate Supreme Court who helped push the gates open wider to dark money and hidden campaign fund. If you are an ordinary American it is clear that Big Money talks. That means fewer people trust the process and fewer people trust the “leaders” who take the money. No wonder Trump’s specious claim that he would self-fund sounded like the bell of populism being run loudly. No wonder the big name Republican pols had almost no influence this entire election process. Almost nobody believes them.
So after decades of being used the Republican base is in revolt and doesn’t trust the elected leadership which has done nothing for them in years. If only the Republicans had embraced universal health care of some kind. Let’s remember that they were for it before they were against it because it would give Obama a victory… so they spent millions of dollars and many years trashing healthcare reform. The US now ranks 50th of all nations in the life expectancy for an average 15 year old male…behind Cuba and Costa Rice and 47 other nations. This is not due just to guns, or drugs, or drunk drivers…but to an entire laissez faire system of public health and safety.
The Repubs might have supported massive infrastructure spending (all of which would have been done by private corporations); millions of under-employed or unemployed would have had good jobs and some sense of belonging. “That’s the bridge I helped build.” A higher minimum wage would have helped. We could put fiber optics into every corner of the nation as Eisenhower did with interstate highways. We could have rebuilt or replaced old schools, taken lead pipes out of Flint, lead paint out of old apartment buildings, put in high speed rail at least as good as they have in Taiwan and Spain, started to deal with the moves required by high sea levels in Miami, New Orleans, Houston, New York, and dozens of other cities. We could have put solar panels on every parking lot and parking structure in America rather than paving open space with them. But far better for the Republican Party to oppose anything a black President tries to do because success would make him legitimate and that wouldn’t please our racist voting segment which we need in the South. So party loyalty trumped national interest every time. Even the government shut down and the repeated threats of default helped only the Party not even their corporate supporters. Any wonder why Hillary gets the big bucks now? The needs of the Republican voters were overlooked for the good of the Party’s anti-Obama stance and the people paid a continuing penalty. Lousy jobs, low wages, wars without end.
You want a clear example of what Republican ideology does in the real world, check out Kansas where a fundamentalist governor and a right-wing legislature are in total control. It is not a pretty picture by almost any measure and the de-regulation has not drawn thousands of promised jobs because who wants to live in a state where schools and law enforcement and safety agencies are all under-funded and wages are low. When you subtract the ups and downs from fossil fuels you find the healthiest economies are in the blue states. North Dakota, how’s that oil boom doin’ for ya now? Is “drill, baby, drill” still a viable slogan even in Texas? Does Oklahoma like being the new earthquake capital of the land? Not many really want their company or home in a lost-cost, de-regulated, low-wage slum regardless of what the Republican Party preaches.
Now the Republican Party is getting its political pay back. No organization is stable over time…it is always made up of the strengths and weaknesses of those in charge at any given time. You look at the four horsemen–Trump, Priebus, Ryan and McConnell (or did he slip out of the country quietly?)–is this a group any body would trust to do anything except say “No.”
What’s the the top counts for any organization. Would the Cubs be wining without a good manager? Leadership counts. That’s true of Google, General Motors, Congress, CNN, the Los Angeles Dodgers or your local PTA. Today’s Republican Party would not be recognized by Lincoln or Teddy Roosevelt or Pete McCloskey (for whom I once voted), and now George H. W. Bush says he will vote for Hillary.