Wednesday, August 3, 2016

ITS THE PARTY OF TRUMP VERSUS THE REST OF US: THE SELF-DESTRUCTION OF THE GOP

The dynamics of this election have remarkably shifted from the usual Republican versus Democrat. It is no longer conservative versus progressive, with each side moderating its position to capture more of the centrist vote. There is a strong anti-establishment mood in the country, but each side of the political continuum has its strong anti-establishment faction, so the election can't be reduced to establishment versus anti-establishment. Instead, the election is being reduced to those who are aligned with the unique, boisterous, self-serving personality of Donald Trump and his slogan, quick-solution, aggressively-insulting brand of political thinking, versus the rest of the voting public. Uniting against him, certainly most Democrats, many independents, and an ever-increasing number of Republicans, who are offended, even disgusted with his mindless, attack-oriented approach to putting down rivals without ever discussing, or even evidencing any real knowledge, of the basic issues facing the nation. Initially his attacks were atypical, offsetting, somewhat entertaining, even seen as a refreshing addition to usual political dialogue.  When it became apparent that that's all there is to the man, that he had no other mode of operating, the fa├žade of promise and success his self-glorifying words suggested became exposed as fiction.  Even people who really wanted to believe him,  either out of party loyalty, or out of hope that he could somehow be the one to resolve their fears, their concerns, and solve the nation's critical problems, began to fall away.  They could no longer stomach his relentless, offensive manner. He is defeating himself, much more effectively and rapidly than any opponent ever could.

Donald Trump, however, is not the real problem.  He will fall on his own petard, a loser through self-inflicted wounds.  The real question is, how did such a fraudulent man arise to capture the base of the Republican party, and what accounts for such a sizeable number of Americans being drawn into such an angry, hate-filled approach to dealing with human differences and difficulties, as if the sheer will of his ego and forcefulness would somehow magically solve the nation's problems.  There has been a serious welling up of anger in the nation during recent decades, quite separate from Donald Trump and the fear of terrorism and uncontrolled immigration that he is so exploiting. The middle class has been in decline for decades, with both parties bearing responsibility for failing to meet the needs of what had been a relatively economically-healthy, thriving middle class from the 1950's through the 1970's.  Reagan was popular with the middle class, but his tax policies began to shift more of the nation's income and wealth from them to those in the upper income ranges. Bill Clinton's trade policies began to have a negative effect on the middle class job market, the global economic changes added to much job loss, and the termination of Glass-Steagall allowed for greater accumulation of financial power, setting the stage for the economic collapse of 2008. The deceit, mismanagement, and tragedy of the Iraqi War and the rise of ISIS terrorism needn't be reviewed here. Enough to say, the American public does have a lot to be angry about.  Barack Obama's approach was one of hope, driven by attempts to ameliorate the anger, resolve problems in realistic ways. It was not to happen.

The Republican Party welcomed Obama's inauguration with a ringing announcement by their congressional leadership. They would be dedicating their actions in Congress to ensure that the Obama administration would not succeed in its endeavors, and that its failure would lead to Obama's defeat in 2012. A remarkable pronouncement, and it did have profound effects. The nation was in the midst of the worst financial downfall since the Great Depression, people were hurting, the needs for relief and restructuring were great, and the GOP's main stated objective was to ensure the failure of the man the public elected to deal with the problems! To the nation's great loss, they were largely successful in blocking effective action by the president in dealing with the country's wounds. The Affordable Care Act was passed but largely panned by the press for its short-comings. The financial industry was not reigned in, largely forgiven for the losses incurred by the public, and free to resume unfettered operation. Needed infrastructure spending was not sufficiently approved by Congress, middle class re-employment seriously lagged with government help not forthcoming. With the vast middle and working classes, income recovery following 2008 was minimal or non-existent, while the upper income groups recovered and even exceeded the losses they had experienced. The GOP was largely successful in interfering with the desires of Obama, and the people who elected him, in limiting his administration's effectively.  They did not succeed, of course, in blocking his re-election. And, most significantly, their actions since 2008 planted the seeds for the rise of a man such as Donald Trump to appeal to their base, usurp power, and, in essence, lead to the party's demise.

How did this profound unintended consequence of Republican actions since 2008 evolve? In setting out to defeat Obama in every way possible, blocking action on necessary bills, endless congressional investigations on bogus charges that amount to nothing, closing down government at times, short-changing spending on social services for the needy while the more wealthy are doing as well or better than ever, these actions and more were increasingly making all of government look worse than ever. The general public's anger and frustration were mounting, a strong anti-establishment mood was gaining momentum.  Unresolved, escalating Middle East conflicts added fear to the anger, as the strife unleashed by the Iraqi War was spreading rampantly, ISIS developing into a military and terrorist force that was being exported abroad with increasing vengeance and casualties. Widespread fear and anger existed throughout the country, with both parties held responsible. Both parties had rapidly growing anti-establishment factions developing within their base. The Democrats were fortunate, they had a responsible man, Bernie Sanders, come forward, create a strong movement, providing leadership that channeled the energy in effective ways. The Republicans were not so fortunate.

The Republicans have been the "big tent" party since they successfully launched their Southern Strategy in the 1960's, adding conservative middle class southern voters to their previous base of more wealthy northern, Midwestern, and western voters from business, professions, farming, and white-collar workers. It began to embrace a very unlikely grouping of people, economic royalists from Wall Street, corporate headquarters, and the country club, along with under-employed ex-clan members from the deep south; NRA activists advocating open gun carry laws following their success in repealing the assault rifle ban, along with fundamentalist Bible-carrying Christians believing every word in the Bible is literally true, so scientific evidence has no merit; right-to life activists who foster the killing of doctors providing abortions to ensure that a woman doesn't have a right to choose, along with foreign policy war hawks who strove to promote wars abroad to achieve US dominance overseas.  They even accepted the birther movement within their ranks, giving credibility to Donald Trump's claim that he had evidence, never revealed, that Obama with not born in the US.  The Tea Party members, CEO's, science-deniers, racially-biased people, etc., were all welcome in the GOP, and their voting patterns in Congress catered to all theses groups, reflecting their biases. All their liberals had left the Republican party by the 1970's, the remaining moderates left during the early 2000's.  It had truly become a Conservative party, but what a disparate collection of conservatives! It became a party its historical founders and great leaders would no longer recognize, in fact would significantly condemn. Can anyone picture Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, or Dwight Eisenhower, all leaders that gave it some credibility as being called the Grand Old Party, having much positive to say about the current party? Ronald Reagan would undoubtedly be among those who would reject its current demeanor, certainly its candidate Donald Trump. Whether the GOP label is deserved these days is in serious question!

Pundits were uniformly amazed that Trump had such an easy time capturing the GOP nomination. Sixteen candidates vying against him, with varying degrees of experience and expertise. Surely the wild card outsider would not prevail. He insulted everyone. Everyone, that is, except the Republican voting base. The GOP establishment had grossly miscalculated how much they had offended their voters during the past seven years, by opposing virtually everything that Obama was trying to do to meet the public's needs. The entire political establishment was looking bad, and Republican voters listened to Trump expressing their anger, speaking to their fears. With Trump's opposition so scattered among 16 candidates, he had no trouble corralling those who were the most angry to vote for him. The GOP establishment's desire to defeat Obama had turned full circle, the anger it had generated was directed by their voters back at them, and the outsider Trump had taken over the party. Will Trump survive the election? Unlikely. Will the Republican Party regain its soul, return to respectability, become able to function again as a responsible party, whether as the opposition party or leadership party?  That remains to be seen.  It will need to make significant changes in its leadership, strategies, and tactics. The nation, however, desperately needs two responsible parties. I hope it returns to its better senses, and makes its way back to respectability.