The Grand Old Party appears to have escaped much of the wrath over the ascension of Donald J Trump. But they’re in it up to their eyeballs, writes Max Chalmers.
This is what it has come to.
In January next year, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.
There will be plenty who celebrate his victory as a rollicking subversion of the status quo – as Michael Moore put it, the biggest fuck you the world has ever seen.
Democrats and progressives are now mourning and trying to understand how and why. Anger has been directed towards the party’s establishment, to Clinton, to those who severed the party from working class whites. These are valid responses.
Yet it must not be forgotten what an integral role the Republican Party has played in clearing the way for and then falling behind a sexually abusive proto-fascist.
Trump is the realisation of many things. He is the revenge of forgotten Americans on establishment politicians, journalists, and technocrats. He is the personification of hundreds of years of racism (figuratively – but also, if you try to imagine what racism would look like if manifest as an actual physical human being, surely you would see Trump).
He is the triumph of both reckless fury and careless privilege. While his actual personal qualities are fairly simple – a scurrilous and sociopathic narcissist – his symbolic value is complex and contradictory. This makes it hard to define Trumpism and to decide who is responsible and who is to blame for the rise of a true American demagogue.
Here’s what the Republicans did.
The brilliance and insanity of the Republican Party during the Obama era has been to drive the crisis of confidence in American institutions to its extreme while pursuing their own partisan objectives. Incredibly, they have now been rewarded with the Presidency, both houses of Congress, and soon the Supreme Court.
In 2010 the Democrats lost their majority in the House and Obama’s Presidency faced a Tea Party insurgency. It set the stage for six years of obstruction, paralysis and absolutism.
By the second half of his presidency Obama was fiercely obstructed by Republicans from selecting Chuck Hagel – himself a Republican – as Secretary of Defence. The government was shut down for 16 days in an effort do defund Obamacare.
Before the 2016 election, Republicans broke from precedent and delayed the confirmation of Obama’s centrist Supreme Court pick Merrick Garland. Now they will pick their own. This obstructionism was coupled with fever pitch campaigning against Obama.
The nakedly partisan politicking has helped Republicans bolster their numbers while ensuring Congress itself remains an institution of disrepute. Its approval rating is just 20 per cent, a high watermark compared to the last four years during which it dropped to as low as nine. That’s far worse than Obama’s even at its lowest point. He now sits at just under 53 per cent approval.
The wrecking done by Republicans, however, helps them twice over. It stops their opposition from being able to govern while proving a central party belief: that government does not work.
The anger the party helped ferment initially seemed to have spilled over when Trump became the party’s nominee. Its base was in such a frenzy, such a xenophobic anti-establishment frenzy, that they had gone far beyond the party’s control.
As of this week we know that sentiment has spilled out across the country. The fury they inspired overwhelmed them and then the nation, improbably resulting in their triumph at the Presidential level and insulating their hold over Congress.
This is not to diminish the legitimate criticisms of Hillary Clinton as a candidate, the justifiable anger of many Americans who voted for Trump, or the history of white supremacism that made his candidacy acceptable. All played a role in the result.
Yet a part of that anger was clearly a burning rage at not just individual politicians, but the institutions they represent. This time around it wasn’t some two-bit libertarian who benefited from that sentiment (the implosion of the Gary Johnson campaign is a small but satisfying side-story to the election). Instead, the anger extended to all of Washington.
Now the people have sent someone in to finish the job the Republican wrecking crew started, and then start all over again. Trump’s promise to drain the swamp, don’t forget, is not just directed at the lobbyists in D.C. or the corporate influence. He’s going to give them all a huge tax cut.
Instead, Trump’s candidacy centred on the idea that corporate lobbying, including his own, is naturally inevitable and that it’s up to politicians to resist it. He has consciously focused on those who take the cash instead of those who give it.
This should be transparently hypocritical and self-evidently selective. Yet the anger is so strong that it didn’t matter. Trump argued he was so rich that he didn’t need to be bribed while running for or serving in office. He boasted of the way he had used cash to influence and gain access. This admission of complicity paradoxically bolstered his campaign. By undermining confidence in politicians, the Republicans helped open the path for a corporate demagogue.
It’s important to note, too, that the election saw a precipitous drop in voter turnout. This likely (though not certainly) aided Trump and was part of his team’s strategy. Clinton’s weakness as a candidate aided him here, but so too did exhaustion and distrust with politics among the electorate.
In this climate, Republican leaders um’d and ah’d about how to keep themselves safe from what initially appeared to be a losing candidate. Paul Ryan, the party’s leader in the House, called Trump’s comments on Justice Curiel the textbook definition of racism. And still he backed the candidate.
GOP Chairman Reince Priebus campaigned hard for Trump and will be rewarded by the new administration. The self-interest of those looking to extend their own careers was as unsurprising as it was cowardly.
Republicans and Tea Partiers might have once hoped the madman sent to self-detonate in the highest political office would also blow away spending programs and regulations they don’t want. It’s unclear what will happen once Trump takes power, though that is a distinct possibility.
Now in control of the Senate and Congress, the Republicans are the only ones left who can hold back the monster they created: Dr Frankenstein’s face-to-face with their invention.
If the Republicans decide they now believe in government, the damage they can do will be untold. Perhaps the only thing that can stop them would be a chaotic but just outcome. Donald Trump has not shown any ability to refrain from his desire for adoration and domination. If that continues, Republicans in Congress may be the last to suffer his wrath. It would only be fair.
For those hoping Trump’s shocking ascent will be short lived, Australia may provide some comfort.
When Tony Abbott swung through to smash everything he could as opposition leader during Julia Gillard’s Labor government, he couldn’t stop the momentum after entering office, wrecking his own leadership and leaving his government in tatters. There’s every reason to think Trump could do something similar.
And then there’s also a warning.
Even that short-lived Prime Ministership moved Australian policy to the right in a way that hurt the sickest, the poorest, and those who did not have a voice to defend themselves.
If Trump’s bombast and the Republican Party’s hawkish wars on women, minorities, and the poor align, the scars on the country will last well over a generation.
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