Together, Donald Trump and his GOP cohorts who won on November 8 represent some of the worst tendencies in the country. Trump personifies our economic and social contradictions front and center, loud and clear. The mainstream media recognizes that Donald Trump certainly won, but few seem willing to discuss how the far right wrangled a significant victory on Election Day.
This should not be surprising. While members of the intelligentsia are now scrambling to vindicate our democratic system and call for unity, they spent years ignoring the cracks in its economic foundation. No doubt they would ignore the growing fissures now manifest, oblivious to the system poised to crash upon us. Their belief in the American status quo ushered Trump into the presidency.
Now the media are speculating that the GOP leaders will rein in Trump and that a Republican House and Senate will act as the checks on executive power. Their faith in the system remains unshaken. There are many issues with these arguments, but most telling is that they rest on the premise that GOP leaders differ significantly from Trump. That premise is mistaken.
Calling for unity satisfies our collective desires to believe that the country will heal, that democracy won out, and that we will, in fact, recover. We want to believe that the undercurrents of racism and subordination in our society will not crest in violent political waves. But ignoring the fact that much of Trump’s ideology represents the mainstream views of GOP leaders belies the serious problems that our country must confront, and all but guarantees that a left alternative will face significant struggles.
The GOP depends upon the virulent nationalism and racism that defines Trump’s ideology. Trump is cast as a GOP “outsider” both because of his policies and because of his polemic nature. This categorization undermines the fact that Trump’s ideology largely aligns with the GOP’s. People have suffered socially and economically for decades under the ideas that Trump holds. Trump’s polemic hot-takes are a gloss upon an already dangerous platform.
GOP Leaders Also Cast Ludicrous Doubts on Obama’s Citizenship
For proof of how many GOP leaders have joined Trump in using racist dog whistles, we need look no further than the ruckus over Obama’s citizenship. Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, whom Trump is now tapping as a potential secretary of the Interior Department, explicitly stated that the “public rightfully [made President Obama’s birth certificate] an issue.” She was not alone.
Former governor-turned-pundit Mike Huckabee entertained the demonstrably false conspiracy theory that President Obama was raised in Kenya, did not attend Columbia University and failed to present a valid birth certificate. “I would love to know more,” Huckabee said when prompted on the issue. “What I know is troubling enough.” While Huckabee attempted to moderate his statements by saying that he believed President Obama was born in Hawai’i, he did not disavow any of the questions as ludicrous or rooted in racism. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich criticized President Obama for having a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” worldview.
Each of these statements taken on their own is readily defended by the GOP as not affirming the conspiracy theories about President Obama. In fact, they pose these questions as mere inquiries, divorced from any cultural or political implication. Never mind the fact that 72 percent of registered Republican voters doubt the president’s citizenship, a belief that would not exist absent prodding from GOP leaders. This is how one blows the dog whistle.
Despite the GOP’s attempts to distance itself from Trump’s more distasteful rhetoric, it is clear that it has no desire to distance itself from Trump’s most distasteful positions. This distinction is important because the party’s implicit condoning of the use of racist positions and dog whistles is the ultimate obstacle that prevents the party from maintaining any sort of legitimacy in its criticisms of Trump.
GOP Leaders Are Modeling Themselves on Trump
Upon his trouncing in the Florida primary, a belittled and beleaguered Marco Rubio denounced Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip style of political speech. He condemned Trump for the irresponsibility of his messaging and being willfully ignorant of its consequences. As Trump’s rallies were beset by violence, Rubio attempted to contrast himself with Trump as the cool-headed adult. He mimicked the most appealing Trump memes, stating that he believes, “America has a chance to be better than it has ever been,” and that “the 21st century has the chance to be our greatest era ever.” But at no point did he condemn the substance of Trump’s messages. Ultimately, he voted for Trump.
He did not condemn the substance of Trump’s message because it represents the mainstream Republican ideology. Following the leak of Trump’s blasé speech about sexually assaulting women, a number of GOP leaders came out against their party’s candidate, but 74 percent of registered Republican voters either wanted the Party to continue supporting Trump or to offer more support to Trump.
Support for Pence Does Not Rebuke Trump’s Worst Tendencies
A number of GOP leaders opposed Trump’s misogyny and argued against him. These arguments were mere head-fakes. Many called for Vice President-elect Mike Pence to lead the ticket. These leaders ran the gamut, from current senators to former governors and onetime GOP primary opponents to Trump. These were not bit players in the Republican Party.
While posturing as the moral superiors to Trump by criticizing his sexism, they simultaneously advanced a candidate who started the trend to defund Planned Parenthood. The GOP cognoscenti coalesced behind a man who refused to work to prevent prison rape. These wise figureheads for the “moderate” GOP stated that they would support a person who advocated for conversion therapy for gay people.
This is to say nothing of Pence’s abhorrent views regarding Syrian refugees, views that coincidentally align with Trump’s. Pence opposed settling refugees in Indiana due to the alleged danger they present, despite being unable to present any evidence of apparent danger. Judge Posner, a Reagan-appointed judge, rebuked Pence’s racist logic. He argued that it was the equivalent of saying that Pence wanted “to forbid black people [from settling] in Indiana not because they’re black but because he’s afraid of them,” something clearly discriminatory.
Other members of the GOP are not separate from Trump. They may play the game of walking back some of the more hyperbolic promises Trump has made, but they will ultimately support their new leader because the emperor’s clothes are very new indeed.
If so-called “left” leaders had any foresight, they would tie the GOP to Trump and sink them all together when they inevitably fail the working class. Pretending that the GOP maintains a moderate wing that may bring forth salvation in light of Trump’s incompetence is foolish and short-sighted.
They played with fire for years and now we all may burn.