The Myth Of Parties Of Ideas
Trump’s surprising win in 2016 led to a wide proliferation of myths about why the Democrats lost. As I’ve been saying since Day 1, most of those pithy analyses are ludicrous, and I am glad that at least now, six months in, some professional commentators are waking up to the reality that there is no point in courting the elusive Trump Voter. Still, many of these myths persist. Today’s entry into the Trump Era Hot Takes Hall of Fame is the myth of progressives having “no ideas”.
The problem, we are told, is that the Democrats have a messaging problem. And a candidate problem. And everything problem. But mostly a messaging problem, because if the Dems had a Great Message, they would have flipped the deep-red Georgia 6, no sweat.
What I wonder about, when I hear such arguments, is the implied notion that the reason the GOP is in control of the US government, and most State governments, is that it’s got ideas that appeal to Voters Who Matter (a minority of Americans). But what are they, those grand GOP ideas? Note, Reader, it’s not that I don’t like conservative ideas — something I could have still said five years ago. It’s that American conservatives have no policies, save one: the policy of Wreck Everything Because Fuck You.
Today’s conservatives and the GOP have no values. They just have talking points. I’m not even sure many of them can appreciate the difference.
Consider how Republicans have flip-flopped in the Trump era, not just on specific policy considerations, but on what used to be the major planks of conservative philosophy.
They have always prided themselves on being the Party of Family Values and traditional sex roles. So they have elected a serial adulterer who openly bragged about sexually assaulting women and made extremely creepy comments about his daughters (one of whom was a baby at the time Trump went on TV to comment on the future of her tits). To be fair, though, this is not the first time Family Values folks have embraced men who had proudly led abhorrent, squalid personal lives. All this, of course, lends credence to the age-old claim by progressives that “family values” is just code for treating women as second-class citizens.
They have been the party that cared about social conservatism and decorum to be exercised by public officials. So they rally to a man who has repeatedly and persistently engaged in the most vile discourse — in public, as a public official.
They have claimed, and continue to claim, to be the party that “supports the troops”. But they have increasingly voted to slash veterans’ benefits, and they are led by a draft dodger who has feuded with a Gold Star family and shamed a fellow Republican for having been a POW in Vietnam.
They have aggressively supported America’s dominant role on the world stage — and now they are ceding that dominance to Russia and China, and getting behind policies that are meant to unilaterally benefit those countries, with the United States getting nothing in return.
They have, at the most fundamental level, valued America’s sovereignty — or at least claimed to, any time this country got in a tiff at the UN. But now, they are okay with an administration that serves Russia’s interests at the expense of its own country’s. Note, it’s not that Trump supporters, and Republicans generally, don’t believe that Russia has Trump by the balls. It’s that they just don’t care. They like Putin, anyway. They like him because he’s authoritarian. They like that he kills journalists who are critical of him. They like that he jails rival politicians on bogus charges. They like that he destroys businessmen who won’t give him contributions, and that he allows those who support him to raid the public treasury like it is their personal bank account. They like that his courts and the law enforcement system act as personal revenge squads for the president, rather than as democratic agencies committed to justice and the public good. I doubt many Trump Voters care about the background to the Magnitsky Act that the Trump campaign apparently promised to kill in return for Russia’s assistance in winning the election. I’m sure some of them don’t care, and those who do, would like their president to be able to do something like that to Robert Mueller and anyone else who gets in his way. They are okay with the United States doing Moscow’s bidding. Putin is white, after all, and he hates gays. Nice guy! So now, even the most basic American sovereignty no longer has any value to the GOP.
They have always portrayed themselves as the pro-business party, but lately, they’ve been turning against businesses that make money in ways they don’t approve of — like, for instance, in renewable energy. Why? Because the policy of “fuck the environment to make tree-huggers sad” is apparently more important than facilitating big business profits and growing the economy. They push anti-LGBT policies even when doing so hurts business. They are getting ready to wreck the healthcare system despite insurance companies and the health care industry strenuously advising them that this would be an economic disaster.
They have always praised local governance and decried domination from the center. But as the modern GOP’s attitude towards cities shows, they don’t like local governments one little bit when they enact policies they don’t agree with.
They have always thought of themselves as the party of law-and-order. After all, they impeached a President whose “high crimes and misdemeanors” boiled down to lying under oath in a civil tort case that had nothing to do with his acts as President. GOP’s commitment to having the country be led by someone as blameless as St. Thomas Aquinas — at that time — was that strong. But now, they are saying colluding with a foreign government to throw the election and repeatedly lying about it — including multiple lies by government officials and candidates to Congress — is no big deal. “Concerning”, sure — but not a serious issue. GOP lawmakers are gently perturbed, but they can live with it. They are now apparently okay with perjury, unethical conduct, hell, even treason, provided it serves their purposes. The current GOP talking point is that “there is no proof any laws were broken”, seamlessly evolving into “there is no proof that any criminal laws were broken”. But ask yourself: would the GOP care if such proof, no matter how overwhelming, were to present itself? Of course not, because ButHerEmails.
They were, finally, the party of tradition — who are now embracing the notion of chaos and smashing long-standing norms, because fuck everything.
There is no traditional conservative value that conservatives haven’t repudiated in the last several years. The “ideas” they take to voters, to the extent there are any, are transparently false — i.g., everyone will have great health insurance coverage, all white people will have well-paid, secure low-skilled jobs, we will Build The Wall, etc.
There is only one idea that’s consistent and durable that the GOP is peddling to its base, and it’s working remarkably well: hate. Hate for the other: hate for women who dare to be financially independent from their menfolk; hate for people of color; hate for immigrants; hate for the college educated; hate for the academia; hate for experts; hate for accurate history; hate for books; hate for journalists; hate for anything constructive; hate for public service; hate for liberals, even if they comprise more than half of Americans; hate for liberals, even when they are family and neighbors.
As an adult, I’ve never been optimistic about human nature. Still, if you asked me, even a year ago, if there were any motivators stronger than hate, I’d offer two possibilities: (1) greed; and (2) love of one’s children. I am no longer sure that’s true. Since the election, we have seen Trump voters shrug their shoulders when asked how they feel about having voted for politicians whose platform threatens their livelihoods, even the lives of their families. But, farmers in California voted for the virulently anti-immigrant GOP, which has pledged to deprive those farmers of their workforce and thereby drive them out of business — and though they worry about the deportations, they still support Trump; and coal miners in the Appalachia have voted GOP, which has pledged to end vital assistance programs that allow them to survive — and though they worry, they are okay with that. Trump Voters are willing to pay the price for making the Other suffer, no matter how high.
Among this week’s most disturbing news is the Wisconsin GOP’s assault on the University of Wisconsin OBGYN teaching program. If you have even a layman’s most rudimentary understanding of the medical issues involved (which you should, if you permit yourself to have an opinion on reproductive rights), then you understand that a prohibition on the teaching of abortion makes the entire OBGYN program unworkable. This is, of course, the first major step towards the GOP’s ultimate goal of outlawing therapeutic obstetrics and returning maternal medicine to its mid-nineteenth-century form, when nature held women “accountable” for the crime of having sex: 30% maternal mortality rate, along with countless deaths from conception-related complications, such as ectopic pregnancy, Make America Great Again, I guess. The law which, in essence, deprives women of physician care for pregnancy, labor and post-partum complications will, of course, hit hardest in the rural areas of Wisconsin — you know, Trump country. Do you think that seeing women’s mortality rate skyrocket thanks to GOP legislation will make those Trump Voters change their political preferences? Not a chance. They’ll watch their children die because their elected politicians have banned modern medicine — and they’ll still blame Obama and whine about Hillary Clinton’s email.
Every day, the liberal media regales us with tales of Trump’s support supposedly slipping. I find little comfort, however, knowing that “only” 38% or whatever of Americans support Trump. These polls tell me that, while the majority of Americans reject hate, a huge chunk of the American public eats, drinks, breathes and shits hate. And it’s scary as hell.
Hate, today, is the most powerful motivator in American politics. True, these are not the beliefs of the majority of Americans — but love and optimism are a lot less effective at getting people to the voting booth than hate. If there is a more potent alternative that progressives can offer Americans than hate, I don’t know what that is. Hate persists, too. Fascisms tend to burn themselves out — but not in a year or two. Typically, it takes at least one generational turnover. And in the meantime, all bets are off, and all possibilities are on the table — including genocide and a major war. Trump is merely a symptom here. Trumpism had been brewing for a long time, and it continues to be reinforced and cultivated by the likes of Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and countless former Tea-Partiers and current Trump acolytes. It won’t be over in 2018. Nor will it be over in 2020. And the lower the stakes for Trump Voters — who, it should be pointed out, rely on the Democrats to reign in the worst GOP policies that threaten to hurt them — the longer Trumpism will last, and the more its “values”, such as they are, will become entrenched in American political culture.
So it’s not that progressives have no ideas — that accusation is, of course, patently absurd. It’s just that progressives can’t give Trump Voters what they want — a way to indulge their bloodlust with no boundaries, no values and no concept of truth.