Tag Archives: GOP

Choosing a Future

If there is one clear message that emerged from the just-concluded political party conventions, it is that, in November, Americans will choose not just between two sets of candidates, but between two very different visions of America and our future.

I’ve always been a fan of science fiction–not “space opera,” but explorations of where mankind might be headed, extrapolations of current trends that raise interesting, even profound, questions about the nature of humanity and society. So the opening of the most recent Star Trek movie prompted me to compare Gene Roddenberry’s vision to the portrayals of America and its future on display at the Republican and Democratic conventions.

Roddenberry’s creation has been remarkably durable: there have been several television series and movies, spanning a period of fifty years. There is a reason for that. His portrayal of a positive future and a mature humanity is immensely appealing.

On the starship’s bridge, diverse members of Earth’s population work amicably with a variety of representatives of other planets. There is respect for difference, for the right of crewmates from other cultures to live according to their beliefs, so long as they respect the Federation’s rules in return. That respect is incorporated in the Prime Directive, which forbids interference with other planetary cultures. (The Federation doesn’t engage in “nation building.”)

There is explicit respect for science, education, and intellectual achievement, and for mankind’s quest to learn—to “seek out” and “go where no one has gone before.”

There is recognition of the importance of a legal framework that safeguards the moral foundations of society and confers authority. But authority, in Roddenberry’s world, does not come from legal status. It is earned by demonstrated competence and superior performance, and is expressed with intelligence, maturity and empathy.

There could hardly be a more dramatic contrast to Roddenberry’s “kumbaya” vision and humanitarian values than the overwhelming fear and anger exhibited by Republicans in Cleveland.

At the Democratic convention, we got optimism and uplifting messages about America’s potential.

In Cleveland, we got name-calling and stereotyping; the values displayed by the GOP at its convention were the antithesis of those championed by Roddenberry.

Respect for science? The GOP not only rejected scientific consensus on climate change, a significant percentage want to replace the theory of evolution with creationism in public school science classes.

Respect for the rule of law? Trump has demonstrated a total lack of familiarity with the Constitution, and has championed policies that are patently unconstitutional. Meanwhile, convention delegates clearly supported Senate Republicans’ refusal to follow the Constitution and “advise and consent” to Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination.

In Cleveland, in marked contrast to the multi-ethnic, multi-species bridge of the Enterprise, a crowd of overwhelmingly white, predominantly older delegates tried to mask the extreme divisions in their party by focusing on the one thing that they hope can unify them: fear and hatred of the Other. Hatred of Hillary Clinton, of Democrats, of Muslims, of immigrants, of LGBTQ Americans.

Throughout the GOP convention, Donald Trump displayed an understanding of “leadership”  very different from Roddenberry’s. Trump confuses authoritarianism with earned authority; he’s a “tough guy” who doesn’t bother to display mastery of –or even acquaintance with–the issues at hand, a thug who disdains restraint, nuance and expertise, who proposes to dominate by demanding, rather than earning, respect, and who responds to even the mildest criticism with childish name-calling in lieu of reasoned response.

Jean-Luc Picard he’s not.

At the Democratic convention, speaker after speaker argued for American possibility, and appealed to the “better angels of our nature.” One paragraph of President Obama’s superb speech, in particular, made me think of Roddenberry:

I see Americans of every party, every background, every faith who believe that we are stronger together, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, young, old, gay, straight, men, women, folks with disabilities, all pledging allegiance, under the same proud flag, to this big, bold country that we love.

Speakers at the Republican convention, in stark contrast, painted a picture of a dystopia in which our only option is to hunker down, arm ourselves against our fellow-citizens, and barricade America against the rest of the world.

In November, what we will really decide is which of these visions will shape our future.

The Party of Cultural Resentment

Among all of the thousands of words being penned and posted by observers of the GOP’s convention, the phrase that may have most aptly summed up the current character of the Grand Old Party was an observation that it had devolved into the “party of cultural resentment.” (I wish I remembered where I read that, so that I could properly recognize the author.)

Trump began this political cycle with his embrace of birtherism–a stance firmly grounded in the conviction that an African-American could not possibly be a legitimate occupant of the Oval Office.

Trump’s Presidential campaign has been upfront and unembarrassed about its anti-Mexican, anti-Muslim positions; it has been somewhat more covert in its appeal to white supremacists and anti-Semites, but not much. David Duke remains positively euphoric about Trump’s candidacy, as are a number of other avowed racists. The campaign has regularly tweeted out quotations and symbols first posted to white supremacist websites.

At the Convention, on day one, the party had to close down its online chat feature after it was swamped with what was characterized as an “anti-Jewish hatefest.”

You can live stream the Republican National Convention on the RNC’s official YouTube page, but you can’t chat about it live anymore.

Why, you ask? Because the Republicans have now disabled the live chat window on the page after it got overrun by anti-Semitic Trump supporters.

It is hard to avoid the impression that the major source of Trump’s support is cultural grievance–resentment at the perceived displacement of WASP Americans from their formerly privileged social status. That sense of displacement hits particularly hard in people who are otherwise dissatisfied with their lives or economic prospects; it is noteworthy that Trump currently trails Clinton in polls of college-educated whites, a demographic that has previously been a reliably Republican voting bloc.

Trump’s campaign has drawn comparisons to Nixon’s southern strategy, but his appeal to the dark side has actually been far more blatant. The question is: how will the American public respond?

The frightening possibility is that, win or lose, this campaign will normalize an ugly underside of American culture, an underside that “political correctness”–aka civility and humanity–had kept mostly contained.

The hopeful possibility is that voters will reject Trump et al by a margin crushing enough to send the clear message that he, his campaign, and increasingly, his party, are the antithesis of what America stands for.

At the end of the day, the Republican “team players”– the ones who Rick Wilson (a longtime GOP operative) calls “Vichy Republicans”–  will have been responsible for one of two results: furthering national division and tribalism, making the country even more ungovernable; or the destruction of the current iteration of the Republican party.


Birthday Wishes…

Today is our nation’s birthday, and birthdays are a time to take stock.

If the 4th is a day to focus on America and its government “of the people,” it may also be a day for considering the sources of our various dysfunctions.

Like gerrymandering. (Yes, I know I talk about that a lot. But it’s more important than most of us realize.)

While I was on vacation, I read a book with a title that cannot be fully shared: “Ratf***cked” tells how operatives of the Republican party raised money, gathered experts and manipulated the redistricting process across the nation after the last census–totally outsmarting Democrats. (Democrats emerge from this story as disorganized and feckless, at best.)

The book is worth reading; it was written by a political reporter who interviewed most of the central “players” and followed the process in the most gerrymandered states (including Indiana). The obvious moral of the story is that in politics, attention to process matters hugely–and that the disinterest of most citizens in our democratic processes enables the sorts of chicanery that the book documents.

But there is a rosier side to this story, at least for those of us who are into irony, and it falls under the heading of be careful what you wish for.

The Congressional representatives elected from the large numbers of “safe forever” seats have made it impossible for their enablers to govern. They have no party loyalty; they are not team players in the appropriate sense of that term. They know that the only threat to their continued electoral success comes from their right flank back home–not from the party, not from the Speaker, not even from the party’s big donors.

If you don’t believe me, ask John Boehner. Or Paul Ryan. Or closer to home, Brian Bosma. Those oh-so-safe districts created by mapmaking whiz kids have given each of them a group of wholly intransigent lunatics to deal with, officeholders accountable to no one but the most rabid members of the party base in their home districts. Those zealots have made it nearly impossible to pursue the party’s legislative goals.

The success of the GOP’s “ratf**cking” (otherwise known as redistricting) is why most political observers do not think the Democrats can retake the House in 2016, even if they win the Presidency resoundingly. As one of the effort’s technicians put it, it would take a Democratic sweep of 5 or 6 points to reclaim the House, and victories of that scope are highly unlikely.

Of course, the party operative making that observation didn’t anticipate Donald Trump…

Happy birthday, America! Maybe your citizens can get you a reformed redistricting system for your next one…

Who Are We?

It’s bad enough that after the tragedy in Orlando, despite a Senate filibuster and a House sit-in, lawmakers remained in thrall to the NRA, refusing to pass even the most tepid gun control measures.

Less publicized was the fact that– even as they were offering their “prayers” for the victims–House Republicans once again refused to allow a vote that would have extended equal civil rights to LGBT citizens.

The Crux of the Problem: The Party’s Over

I’ve never been a particular fan of Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist. Not that I’ve necessarily disagreed with his opinion pieces, I’ve simply found them a bit too self-consciously measured (and occasionally pompous). Among Times columnists, I tend to prefer the wit of Gail Collins or the red meat of Paul Krugman. If I want thoughtful and measured, I choose David Brooks.

But this time, Friedman has hit a home run.

If a party could declare moral bankruptcy, today’s Republican Party would be in Chapter 11.

This party needs to just shut itself down and start over — now. Seriously, someone please start a New Republican Party!

America needs a healthy two-party system. America needs a healthy center-right party to ensure that the Democrats remain a healthy center-left party. America needs a center-right party ready to offer market-based solutions to issues like climate change. America needs a center-right party that will support common-sense gun laws. America needs a center-right party that will support common-sense fiscal policy. America needs a center-right party to support both free trade and aid to workers impacted by it. America needs a center-right party that appreciates how much more complicated foreign policy is today, when you have to manage weak and collapsing nations, not just muscle strong ones.

But this Republican Party is none of those things. Today’s G.O.P. is to governing what Trump University is to education — an ethically challenged enterprise that enriches and perpetuates itself by shedding all pretense of standing for real principles, or a truly relevant value proposition, and instead plays on the ignorance and fears of the public.

I completely agree that America needs a healthy two-party system.

I leave it to political scientists more informed than I am to debate the relative merits of a parliamentary system and our two-party system. Whatever the conclusion, however, we have what we have. Our two-party system is institutionalized, our civic culture is accustomed to and embedded within it.

Because that is so, the intellectual and moral maturity of the two parties is supremely important. The ability of those parties to conduct adult, responsible arguments about the issues of the day is what allows the American enterprise to advance, to adapt to changing realities and to avoid the excesses that have taken down other dominant regimes. When either party becomes corrupt, or childish, or co-opted by special interests, our system doesn’t work.

I’m not Pollyanna; even when the system is working, both parties provide citizens plenty to criticize. Disfunction is a matter of degrees.

I was an active Republican for 35 years. The party I worked for, the party I belonged to and supported, no longer exists. I left in 2000, and I’ve subsequently watched the deterioration of a once-responsible political party from the sidelines. I’ve watched as the Republican friends I worked with “back in the day” have become discouraged, and then appalled, as a party that had usually nominated thoughtful and substantive candidates devolved into a circus, a party in which Sarah Palin and Donald Trump and their like are embraced by an angry and bigoted base.

The GOP’s devolution may be good for Democrats’ immediate electoral prospects, but in the long run, it isn’t good for either the Democratic party or the country.

Friedman concludes that the existing GOP cannot be salvaged–that America needs a new center-Right party.

This is such a pivotal moment; the world we shaped after W.W. II is going wobbly. This is a time for America to be at its best, defending its best values, which are now under assault in so many places — pluralism, immigration, democracy, trade, the rule of law and the virtue of open societies. Trump will never be a credible messenger, or a messenger at all, for those values. A New Republican Party can be.

Friedman says: if you build it, they will come.

But who will build it, and who are the “they” who will come?