There was a brief spurt of publicity when Dictionary.com chose “complicit” as its 2017 word of the year. The site defined complicit as follows:
Complicit means “choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having partnership or involvement in wrongdoing.” Or, put simply, it means being, at some level, responsible for something . . . even if indirectly.
And that brings me to today’s Republican Party.
I emphasize that I am talking about today’s GOP, and not the party that used to operate under that name. It’s one thing to disagree with positions taken by either of our major parties (or minor ones, for that matter), and quite another to recognize that a political party that was once a responsible voice for defensible policy positions has disintegrated into equal parts semi-criminal enterprise and White Nationalist cult.
I left the GOP in 2000, when George W. Bush was still the most appalling personification of the party, so I am no longer a credible “ex-Republican.” But I’ve been impressed by several commentators with impeccable Republican credentials who currently are sounding the alarm–and (quaint as it may seem) putting country above party. One of those is Michael Gerson, whose recent column in the Washington Post began:
I find myself wandering in an unfamiliar place. As a pro-life conservative, I am honestly happy — no, positively elated — that pro-choice Democrat Doug Jones won Alabama’s U.S. Senate election.
Gerson enumerated both his discomfort and his reasoning:
Roy Mooreism was distilled Trumpism, flavored with some self-righteous moralism. It was all there: the aggressive ignorance, the racial divisiveness, the disdain for governing, the contempt for truth, the accusations of sexual predation, the (just remarkable) trashing of America in favor of Vladimir Putin, the conspiracy theories, the sheer, destabilizing craziness of the average day.
Gerson considers what it would take to weakenTrump’s hold on the GOP; he dismisses the possibility of moral considerations, and he uses the Word of the Year.
The president has crossed line after line of decency and ethics with only scattered Republican bleats of protest. Most of the party remains in complicit silence. The few elected officials who have broken with Trump have become targets of the conservative media complex — savaged as an example to the others.
This is the sad logic of Republican politics today: The only way that elected Republicans will abandon Trump is if they see it as in their self-interest. And the only way they will believe it is in their self-interest is to watch a considerable number of their fellow Republicans lose.
Most political observers share Gerson’s conclusion that, “In the near term, this is what victory for Republicans will look like: strategic defeat. Recovery will be found only on the other side of loss.” And then, the Word of the Year again.
Trump and his allies are solidifying the support of rural, blue-collar and evangelical Christian whites at the expense of alienating minorities, women, suburbanites and the young. This is a foolish bargain, destroying the moral and political standing of the Republican Party, which seems complicit in its own decline. It falls to Republican voters to end this complicity.
I don’t know whether there are enough old-time Republicans left to make their desertion noticeable. Those polls that show 80% of self-described Republicans still supporting Trump tend not to point out that the number of “self-described Republicans” has been shrinking, and shrinking rather substantially. The voters who remain in the Grand Old Party are precisely those rural, blue-collar and evangelical Christian whites who cheer the racist, minsogynst and xenophobic rhetoric that is alienating everyone else.
That said, Gerson is absolutely right about one thing: today’s complicit GOP has to lose. Badly.