Republicans Try to Escape the Donald
In an election season that has had an unusual amount of unintentional humor, mostly in the form of various Republicans and “conservatives” trying to insist, against all evidence, that Donald Trump, with his vulgar campaign full of mean spirited invective spewed at virtually everyone, is somehow completely inconsistent with the principles of their Party and their political philosophy, we are now hitting maximum hilarity.
Notorious Nate Silver, the brain behind the Five Thirty Eight blog, who wowed everyone in 2012 by predicting the outcome in every state correctly — which he does the obvious way, by obsessively aggregating every poll he can lay his hands on — has on his site an essay under the title, “Republican Officials Are Stampeding Away From Trump,” by Daniel Nichanian, a postdoctoral fellow in political science at the University of Chicago. Dr. Nichanian also has an essay up at Five Thirty Eight dot com under the title, “Republican Women Are Unendorsing Trump Twice As Fast As Men Are.”
This latter reminds me of the tweet storm by Marybeth Glenn, who apparently is a prominent “conservative” woman. She uttered a string of tweets that I stumbled on quite by accident, having no idea who she is, but which also attracted some attention because of her stature as a Republican woman, in some quarters, anyway. I actually feel kind of sorry for her. She started out saying that she had defended the Republican Party against claims of sexism (!). She is now outraged that her fellow Republicans are not denouncing the Donald with the alacrity and vigor she thinks he deserves.
My immediate thought is, what did you expect? When I see seemingly intelligent people defending the indefensible, I always wonder if they really believe it, or if they are just cynically pursuing their own self-interest. With someone like Thomas Jefferson and slavery, it seems obvious that he really did just believe it because he grew up with slavery as a normal part of his world. He did, as an adult, come to realize that slavery was not a viable institution over the long run, but he did little to try to eliminate it. (See the two chapters on Jefferson and slavery in the book, Jeffersonian Legacies.)
In contrast, it seems clear that the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter have no loyalty to any particular ideology, but only adopted the mantle of “conservatism” because it happened to be the prevailing fashion when they began to seek fame and fortune, which is all either really cares about. Had liberalism been the ideology du jour when they got their starts, they would have just as happily adopted it and rode it to fame and fortune.
Ms. Glenn and her tweet storm falls between the two. She is nowhere near as (in)famous as either Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter. She sounds very sincere in her outrage at the failure of Republican men to denounce Trump’s profoundly offensive statements about how he treats women. Trump’s statements are undoubtedly grotesque and outrageous.
But, again, what did you expect? One supposes that, as a good “conservative,” Ms. Glenn opposes the right to abortion and fails to see how restrictions on abortion are really all about controlling women and their sexuality, rather than being expressions of concern for “the unborn,” as their proponents like to claim. We know how to prevent abortion — hand out free birth control to anyone who wants it. But “conservatives” don’t like that idea because they think it will encourage people to have sex. Hint: people don’t need any encouragement to have sex, which is why refusing to hand out birth control only has the effect of causing unwanted pregnancies, which are more likely to end in abortion.
Even as the position seems obviously absurd, we can recognize that Ms. Glenn is free to believe that the Republican Party’s position opposing abortion rights is not inherently sexist, any more than its position opposing same sex marriage is inherently sexist. If she is willing to defend the Republican Party against accusations of sexism, she must believe these things, and that alone does not make her stupid. Misguided, but not necessarily stupid.
But this is the Party that gave us “legitimate rape,” which even many Republican women deplored, and rightly so.
Yet the larger point is that, for any Republican to try to distance her/himself from the Donald is a fool’s errand. The Donald is just the logical outcome of Republican politics since Richard Nixon, who started the, um, deplorable practice of using dog whistle racism to signal to the white supremacist rump who abandoned the Democratic Party over civil rights legislation that they could keep forever their precious white supremacy and that Republicans would continue to demonize all federal social welfare programs as unjustified sops to lazy black people at the expense of hard working white people, even as those very white people were numerically the majority of the beneficiaries of the very programs the Republicans criticized. It should have been obvious from the outset that this strategy would fail eventually, but Republicans who bought into it were not big on planning and the near term political benefits in terms of allowing them to win presidential elections, as well as other elections, depending on the part of the country and the skill of the politician, were too delicious to resist.
It is vastly amusing and entirely condign that this bad project would ultimately come to grief at the hands of our first black President, whose ability to win two presidential elections showed clearly what Republicans had ignored studiously for three decades — that the much vaunted end of white Christian America was a demographic inevitability and that hanging tight to the white supremacist rump was a losing proposition. We have known since roughly 1980 at least that continuing immigration from all of the world, which the 1965 immigration reform act made possible by eliminating the racist National Origins Quota system, and the relative fecundity of immigrants relative to the native born — a “problem,” if one chooses to see it as such, that Teddy Roosevelt remarked in 1905 — ensured that Asians, Africans, and especially Hispanics would outnumber “white” people in the United States in the not terribly distant future.
Anyone who sees humans as human, that is, who chooses to minimize or ignore distinctions of national origin, ethnicity, or “race” — liberals — sees the growing diversity of the U.S. population as a neutral phenomenon, or even as a positive good. We’re happy to have neighbors who speak other languages, appreciate their cultures, their music, their cuisines, and the perspectives and energy — often, um, entrepreneurial — they bring to the United States. “Conservatives,” of course, being committed to the fantasy that they can oppose and/or control change, and only too happy to ignore the obvious fact that the United States was only ever “white” to begin with because a bunch of Europeans showed up uninvited and stole every square inch of the country from the Natives who were quite happy here before the intruders showed up, continue to think, with the Donald, that building a wall and violating the Constitution to bar international travel on the basis of religious belief are good ideas that will “make America great again.”
Culture changes slowly. African American civil rights activists managed to push the law well ahead of the culture with the major civil rights legislation of the 1960s. The policy changes of prohibiting racial discrimination (and discrimination based on religion and sex as well) and ensuring that black people could vote did have the effect of making all but the most extremely recalcitrant persons publicly disavow racism, which only pushed it underground. It lay there, abated to some extent if only because black people had legal remedies, until the Donald came along and revived it.
But it was easy for the Donald to revive it because Republicans had nurtured it carefully since Nixon. As late as 2012, we heard from prominent Republicans comments such as calling Obama the “food stamp President,” or saying he doesn’t want “to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.”
Of course, in the United States, “conservatives” can never really escape racism because there are no real conservatives in the U.S. They all left at the publication of the Declaration of Independence, which they could not abide, being good monarchists. The creation of a republic with the adoption of the U.S. Constitution made establishment of a monarchy here impossible, so the closest we had to conservatives at the founding were slave owners, who adhered to the good conservative principle that they could claim ownership in other humans. When we finally eliminated slavery, our “conservatives” retreated to defending racial segregation. When they lost that battle, they retreated to white supremacy. That was never a very convincing proposition, but it loses all credibility with the election of a black President. The Donald is the last, dying gasp of U.S. “conservatism,” ever a misbegotten excuse for a philosophy.
The attempts of Republicans and other “conservatives” to pretend that the Donald does not speak for them would be even funnier but for the actual harm that too many people are suffering at the hands of the “conservative” zombies Trump has called forth with his bad reality TV show of a presidential campaign.
The only good news is that he is almost certain to lose.