The gathering storm

Credit: DeviantArt user Estruda, "No Peace In Life No Peace In Death"Credit: DeviantArt user Estruda, "No Peace In Life No Peace In Death"

Anyone trying to figure out how Donald Trump became the presumptive presidential nominee of one of the two most powerful parties in the United States, itself the most powerful nation in the world, would have had to either be a) asleep or b) lobotomized at some point in the last four eight years to not at least have some clue as where the political trajectory of the Republican Party was headed. And only someone completely deluded by their own red-hued ideological blinders would have the gall to cast blame across the aisle.

Credit: Getty

Credit: Getty

Sure, even the most wonky of political junkies like Nate Silver failed to see Trump coming and predict that so many people would, apparently, be galvanized around a message that has practically dripped, at nearly every phrase, with some combination of bigotry, xenophobia, sexism and in-group, out-group hostility.

But the proverbial writing has been on the wall for a long time, and for someone like Jeb Bush to lay Trump at the feet of President Barack Obama and the Democrats is the height of absurdity.

But he did exactly that in this op-ed piece for The Washington Post. Here is part of it:

Call it a tipping point, a time of choosing or testing. Whatever you call it, it is clear that this election will have far-reaching consequences for both the Republican Party and our exceptional country.

While he has no doubt tapped into the anxiety so prevalent in the United States today, I do not believe Donald Trump reflects the principles or inclusive legacy of the Republican Party. And I sincerely hope he doesn’t represent its future.

As much as I reject Donald Trump as our party leader, he did not create the political culture of the United States on his own.

Eight years of the divisive tactics of President Obama and his allies have undermined Americans’ faith in politics and government to accomplish anything constructive. The president has wielded his power — while often exceeding his authority — to punish his opponents, legislate from the White House and turn agency rulemaking into a weapon for liberal dogma.

In turn, a few in the Republican Party responded by trying to out-polarize the president, making us seem anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker and anti-common-sense.

The result has been the vanishing of any semblance of compromise or bipartisanship in our nation’s capital. Simple problems don’t get solved. Speeches happen; the important stuff doesn’t. The failure of elected leaders to break the gridlock in Washington has led to an increasingly divided electorate, which in turn has led to a breakdown in our political system.

He goes on to lay out his plan for returning the Republican Party to respectable status in American politics by advocating for the following:

  • Continuing to control Congress and hold on to seats in state government;
  • Establishing a program that supports “greater economic growth, revitalized leadership on the global stage and a strengthened democracy”;
  • Bolstering what he called the “true pillars of America,” which he said include two-person families, communities and the business sector;
  • And returning to civil political discourse that has been all but lost this election cycle.

First, let me get it out of the way at the start: I think Jeb Bush would have been far and away a better option for president than Trump. While I don’t think Jeb and George W. Bush are miles apart intellectually, I would have actually preferred to have Jeb in George’s footsteps between 2001-2009. I think Jeb, for all his faults, largely because of the influence of his wife and his experience with the Hispanic community in Florida is a little more worldly and more attuned to the larger planet and the complexities of living in a multicultural society. While he definitely would not be my first, second or third pick for the presidency, I could have at least imagined waking up to a Jeb Bush White House and the world not burning to the ground on day one. With Trump, we don’t have the luxury of that thought experiment; it is actually a potential and disturbing reality, and a reality that’s polling at about 50 percent if recent data is to be trusted.

So, for all that I’m about to say about Bush’s piece on how far the GOP has fallen with Trump as its best offering, I will say that I agree with his final point. Trump’s over-the-top style has pushed the political discourse beyond the realm of civility, such that people like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who have normally displayed at least a certain level of decorum when engaging with the opposition, were drawn into the fray and resorted to name-calling and petty insults during the primary debates.

In any case, let’s consider a few of Bush’s statements about the rise of Trump inside the GOP. Bush claimed Trump does not represent the “principles or inclusive legacy” of the party and did not make the country’s “political culture on his own,” while he said Obama’s “divisive tactics” have damaged Americans’ trust in government.

Obviously, much of the framework that led to Trump getting so much support among grassroots voters, closeted bigots and the rest of the riffraff, didn’t happen overnight or over the course of a year. It has been brewing under the surface for a long time, possibly since the race riots near the end of George H.W. Bush’s tenure when Rodney King was beaten by police officers, who were subsequently acquitted, and when Reginald Denny, a white semi-truck driver, was pulled from his vehicle and likewise beaten by a group of black residents, such that it seems race relations in this country were actually better through parts of the 1970s and ’80s until tensions boiled to the surface in the early 1990s. We experienced a relative cooling off period through the rest of the 1990s into the early 2000s and then a period of solidarity after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack. That’s not to say isolated incidents didn’t occur during this period. They did, but in my lifetime, the greatest periods of racial tension in the nation have occurred in the early 1990s and in the last couple years before Trump got a national platform to spew his incendiary rhetoric.

Although I don’t know how far back in history Jeb Bush was intending to go by arguing that Trump doesn’t represent the party’s “inclusive legacy,” he would certainly be in error if he was thinking about Abraham’s Lincoln’s legacy on race because Lincoln’s Republican Party was simply not the same as the modern iteration of the Republican Party. In the mid-19th century, the GOP was the liberal party in the United States, while the Democratic Party included all the not-so-closeted bigots and know-nothings (distinguished from the actual Know Nothing party). Not until the 1960s did the Republican Party come the represent the conservative wing of American politics when de facto racist and old-guard Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond from South Carolina, displeased that certain members of his party at the time were supporting the Civil Rights Movement (those bastards), he decided to switch, thus essentially turning the GOP over to the white supremacists, evangelical Christians and small government types for the next 50 years and counting.

If Jeb Bush was referring to more recent history, I will concede that Ronald Reagan has been one of the most inclusive major Republican figure in the last 30 years, especially in providing amnesty for millions of Hispanics, but he would be conspicuously out of place in today’s Republican Party that has evolved even since George W. Bush took office. Even if we take it as a given that Reagan was the most inclusive of all Republican presidents since the mid-19th century, to say that the party has been generally inclusive and on the forefront of civil rights since the 1980s is just patently false.

Here is a look from The Washington Post on how the GOP party platform shifted from the 1960s and ’70s to the 1980s with a few examples:

The GOP, like its opposition, has responded to ideological, demographic and social changes by hardening some of its positions and adopting entirely new planks, all part of an effort to create a coalition capable of winning national elections. In the Republicans’ case, that meant adapting and appealing to a new base in the South from the 1970s forward, becoming the dominant party of white suburbia, and finding ways to marry its traditional pro-business foundation with less affluent, more socially conservative voters.

Many positions Republicans often tout as traditionally conservative are actually relatively new to GOP ideology. Indeed, although the party’s stance on the issues has shifted rightward over the past 20 years, Republicans have studiously avoided using the word “conservative” in platforms.

In 1972, the platform celebrates Republicans’ use of wage and price controls to curb inflation, a doubling of federal spending on manpower training, and a tripling of help to minorities.

Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, the GOP platform includes vigorous support for an equal-rights amendment to protect women. Then, in 1980, the party stalemates: “We acknowledge the legitimate efforts of those who support or oppose ratification.”

In the 1960s and ’70s, the party positions itself as a strong advocate for D.C. voting rights, in the Senate as well as the House. Then, in 1980, all mention of voting rights vanishes; the subject has not appeared since.

In the past 30 years, then, we find the Republican Party becoming less, not more, inclusive — by implication or otherwise — on issue after issue, supporting policies that undermine minorities, Hispanics, women, low-income families and labor union members, to name a few.

So no, while Trump may not directly reflect the modern Republican Party, he is its manifestation in its most unbecoming state, and his willingness to say what is, apparently, on the minds of millions of angry, white, disaffected Americans has ripped off the scab of tensions that we have, by whatever force, been able to contain to some degree since the early 1990s.

The other part of Jeb’s column that I take issue with is the contention that Obama’s “divisive tactics” created the political climate that we find ourselves in and not Trump. As I have already said, Trump didn’t create it, but decades of ill-conceived policies led to its rise. Trump just lit the torch.

Jeb is also wrong to suggest that Obama and the Democrats solely fostered distrust in lawmakers and the political process. They may have certainly contributed, but I would say that many lawmakers and politicians, including Obama and Hillary Clinton, along with a veritable gaggle of past misfits like George W., Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, all contributed largely to Americans’ hostility toward Washington.

The situation was not helped during Obama’s tenure, when, as he was attempting to move forward on some of his campaign promises, lawmakers like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner led efforts to block him at every level, no matter how beneficial the policies could have been for their own constituents.

Republicans blocked the jobs bill. They blocked the infrastructure bill. They wasted untold taxpayers resources passing symbolic repeals of Obamacare and looking like complete buffoons, took up more than 60 votes to repeal the law, knowing all along they wouldn’t pass. Indeed, GOP leaders in Congress have been so busy trying not to do anything the past eight years in these juvenile games that they have actually been quite busy finding new and creative ways to obstruct and halt the legislative process.

Add to this political malaise people like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, who have turned anti-intellectualism into a virtue, and the constant drone of the 24-7 news cycle with its borderline sensationalism and paranoid-level headlines, and it’s no wonder the party is in the process of careening off the edge or imploding altogether.

Trump absolutely reflects a certain demographic of people in the Republican Party. Quite literally, the only thing he has brought to the table was that he made it OK to come out into the open about who they are and what they really think about American society and their place in it. He played to their most base concerns and fears, exposed the GOP’s vulnerabilities and in doing so, laid bare its inner demons and now threatens its destruction.

[Credit: DeviantArt user Estruda, “No Peace In Life No Peace In Death“]

About the Author

Jeremy Styron
Jeremy Styron
I am a newspaper editor, op-ed columnist and reporter working in the greater Knoxville area. This is a personal blog. Views expressed here are mine and mine alone.

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