The Grand Ol’ Party ain’t what it used to be. Most certainly it is not the political organisation led by Abraham Lincoln. It is hard to know when its rapid descent from a powerful elephant to a pint sized one – with a very large bellow – began, but it was not helped by Nixon’s paranoia (a man who was capable of being a great Republican), nor by the arrival of the exorable neo-cons, the extremist Tea Party, fiercely untruthful radio jocks and television anchors, and the fatal affliction of Trumpism. This current disease is now so virulent that no recovery seems likely. The most awful thing about Trump’s ascent was that, before he won the nomination, almost all of the party leaders knew exactly what a danger he represented and spoke out about that inherent risk in the most violent terms. After his nomination as their candidate, it was heart-breaking to watch supposed protectors of the Commonweal suddenly transform themselves into ambitious disciples whose language of dignity and honour turned out to be incapable of resisting the magnet of power. Trump himself is barely worth analysing. An empathy and intellectually free bully with a minor talent as a reality actor who still seems to believe that his role was real. He is to be pitied, but the damage he has done will haunt us all for a very long time.
One of the consequences will be the eventual, but likely, annihilation of the party he was supposed to be representing whilst in office. Its disappearance will not be sudden. It will be delayed by the oddity of an ancient constitution that is treated as Gospel and apparently to be so for eternity. Nor will it be helped by a binary, two party only, electoral system and the never-ending electioneering that is required to elect Congress every two years. It will happen, but the further damage to American society and democracy caused by any delay will be incalculable.
The current party policy platform would not seem to amount to even a small hill of beans. The message would seem to be entirely negative – not to allow the current administration achieve anything – good or bad. It is a very strange way to represent their constituents. In such circumstances, modulating our language is actually improper. When a child is nervous of thunder, it is perfectly reasonable to quiet them with a story of God moving furniture. This is not a reasonable response if used when standing under the only tree in an otherwise open field. That does not mean that we are free to call Trump a new Hitler, which he is not, Hitler was a very clever evil genius, luckily Trump is just silly. Nor should we succumb to the falsehood of calling Republicans, Fascists. Behind fascism is a coherent, if mistaken, philosophy. But we should be overcoming our reluctance to use a very sensitive, and history laden word, by proclaiming openly what they really are. That both he and his party are fast becoming proto-Nazis.
We tend to forget that The Nazis themselves did not arrive out of the blue, replete with terrifying legions of SS and Panzer divisions, but rather as a collection of ordinary people of the kind found in any state, particularly in times of chaos; embittered victims and veterans, super nationalists, ordinary citizens without hope, and a ragtag band of bullies suffering from misplaced Leader worship. Their violence was encouraged by their party and the members encouraged to engage in ever more reprehensible behaviour. Numbers were increased by false history, endless lies and encouragement of hatred of those who were perceived to be different: particularly Jews, but also trade unionists, foreigners who were not Aryan (that is white, excluding Slavs), Social Democrats, Socialists, Communists, Roma people, LGBTQ+ people, intellectually and physically disabled and God knows who else. Part of their very nature was to own the liberals and stake out the territory that was the proper place for women. They used the radio stations and print media who were favourable to them to disseminate impossible falsehoods and conspiracies. They promised that their leader was the only one who could restore Germany to its rightful place in the world: MGGA in other words. Despite all the hatred they bred, they never did achieve a majority. If Trump and his acolytes were made of the same stuff as Der Fuhrer and his associates were, the mini-insurrection at the Capital would have been much more violent and consequential, and the coup might have been successful.
Following the early nature of the proto-Nazis, the Republican Party has accepted the idea of a Great Leader who is never to be questioned. They have persuaded their own badly treated workers that unions are a kind of communist threat, thus annihilating any hope of reasonable balance between capital and labour. They have increased their control of the courts, including the Supreme Court, using the shadiest of political means. The obvious fallout effects of this can be seen in giving corporations the right to use their enormous wealth to influence elections, forgetting the long, and necessary, legal wars in trust busting (corporations are just a modern word for trusts). This, combined with a complete disinterest in protecting the central glory of democracy – the right to vote and their willingness to espouse the founders’ words as holy writ, Christian holy writ at that. The party has also almost entirely prevented any move to bring human rights in line with the rest of the democratic world. Even more egregiously they wasted endless lives by belittling Covid precautions as a liberal plot and/or unnecessary.
The Republicans are going to win the 22 midterms. Well, so the pundits have it anyway, and perhaps they are right. Everything is on their side: even history. Parties in power usually lose seats in midterm elections. Gerrymandering is being developed into dark fine art. Voter restrictions are becoming ever more inventive. Even the Constitution is in their favour with its two senate seats per state, irrespective of population size. How can they lose?
And yet! In physics we all know the meaning of equal and opposite reactions. In politics it is sometimes called push-back. Is there any reason to believe that there might be such a strong reaction amongst the electorate? The answer has to be yes, and the reason has to be in what exactly the Republican Party stands for at the moment. They are blatant in their professed aim of not helping to run the country. They want no part of anything that might improve the lot of their own population. They have turned bipartisanship into a dirty word and refuse any inquiry into the most heinous events, for example the violent invasion of their own seat of government.
What they do say they want is to reduce tax for the wealthy yet again. To get rid of the Affordable Care Act. To stop nearly all immigration and any additional gun restrictions. To get rid of abortion in all circumstances and to control the country through the Supreme Court if all else fails. Not a single one of these policy positions commands majority support.
This kind of zero-sum game of politics is not a new development in the party. The idea that the job is not to do your best for your people but to win at any cost. To persuade enough people that your mistakes were victories, or failing that to persuade enough of them that the unfortunate fallout was due to someone else’s hatred. That twisted view of politics within the party started quite a long while ago. It mostly began with the advent of Newt Gingrich, Denis Hastert, the Neo-cons, and the plethora of insane, attention-grabbing radio jocks, particularly Rush Limbaugh. They provided lift off for the Tea Party and that was followed by the faux philosophies of Bill O’Reilly, Tucker Carlson and the published inanities of people like Anne Coulter. The effects of all this were multiplied by Carl Rove’s brainchild that policy and principle did not matter: just numbers (Rove’s idea was embraced all too warmly by Cummings in the U.K., which has led them into the Maelstrom of Brexit).
They seem to have decided that women and university graduates are predominantly liberals, but disregard any consideration that this might be because of an extremist agenda, one that regular conservatives might not like to be associated with. A platform that supports religious fundamentalism, racism in all its forms, gun extremists, super nationalism, conspiracy theory followers, cult followers and anyone else who can be considered to have strange beliefs.
Trump has put at risk even their own extraordinary, self-serving achievements. During the last half century, they have persuaded their population that Americans are, in various ways, slightly superior to other humans, that their history is overcrowded with heroes and saints. That Christianity is the only true religion and that American democracy is the envy of the free world. They have, with some help from the Supreme Court, persuaded workers that unions are bad for them, although professional unions are to be lauded. That in fact workers are basically lazy and are only motivated by money. That poor people are poor because they won’t pull their socks up and making it difficult for them to vote is right and proper, because they are not really proper stakeholders. That liberals will, if given the chance, destroy the American Dream and need to be owned. That those same liberals will waste the hard-won money of the country by giving it away to damaging programs like social welfare, Medicare, Medicaid and the very concept of socialized medicine. Because of Trump, the danger and injustice inherent in all of these beliefs will become more obvious.
It is already obvious to most observers that the future is not a world where only a small elite part of the world’s population will be exclusively privileged. It is probably too late to rescue the party from its own self-caused demise, which leaves the necessity of finding a strong Conservative party, whatever it may be called. It will have to be one that does not just listen and speak to itself alone. That does not allow a hardcore of extremists to use primaries to decide who is unclean and must be banished. That appreciates that cross party negotiation is right and proper. That truth, evidence and expertise are among the essential tools of politics. That puts conspiracy free conservatism back on its pedestal. When will this happen? I don’t know, but with the accelerating dangers of climate, it had better be sooner than later.
The American conservative movement needs to rediscover Reason.