As we count down to Election Day, I am looking for signs of sanity. One of those signs is the number of Republicans coming out publicly against Trump.
It isn’t just the Lincoln Group or Vote Vets or Republicans Against Trump. It goes way beyond Cindy McCain, or the letter signed by 500+ former national security officials whose number included numerous Republicans.
Political science research tells us that some people affiliate with a political party because they agree with the party’s basic approach to the issues, but others join because they identify with the people in that party. To an extent, that’s understandable; humans are hard-wired to be tribal, to prefer to associate with those they see as their “own kind” rather than those who register as “other.”
When you think about it, America’s entire history–our struggle for civic equality– might be characterized as an effort to develop a more inclusive understanding of who we are talking about when we use the word “we”–an effort to enlarge our definition of who qualifies as a member of the “tribe” we call American.
Admittedly, we have a long way to go.
Our current political tribalism, abetted by media bubbles and geographic sorting, is extreme. Political scientist Lilliana Mason argues that “A single vote can now indicate a person’s partisan preferences as well as his or her religion, race, ethnicity, gender, neighborhood and favorite grocery store.” Democrat and Republican have become our new mega-identities.
Because American tribalism is so pronounced, this election presents the remaining thoughtful members of the Republican “tribe” with a wrenching dilemma: do they ignore the multiple dangers posed by a lawless and corrupt President of their own party, and elevate partisan loyalty over all else, or do they place the good of the country above partisan advantage?
In last week’s Indianapolis Business Journal (behind a paywall) two notable local Republicans–John Mutz and Scott Newman—opted for country over party, endorsing Joe Biden and arguing that Trump should be defeated.
Mutz and Newman joined an unprecedented number of “defectors” nationally–including Indiana’s Dan Coats, who served as Director of National Intelligence and has been quoted as saying he believes Putin “has something” on Trump. (Wikipedia has an impressively long entry titled List of Republicans Who Oppose Trump). For people who have been lifetime Republicans—who have campaigned as Republicans, held office as Republicans, and embraced what used to be Republican ideals—people whose friends and families remain devoted to the Republican “tribe,” a decision to publicly endorse Joe Biden has to be incredibly difficult.
The behaviors that have prompted all of these defections are too numerous to list. I have previously characterized the Trump administration as a combination of the Mafia and the Keystone Kops—the degree of self-dealing and shamelessly criminal behavior has been matched only by the daily displays of incompetence. (One of my favorite FB memes is “I’ve seen better cabinets at IKEA”)
Most of the Republicans who have publicly “defected” are pundits or previous office-holders whose partisan allegiance was rooted in political ideology: preference for free markets, fiscal restraint, limited but effective governance. That today’s GOP no longer embraces any of those principles became too obvious to ignore this year, when the party didn’t even bother to produce a platform.
The Republican Party I belonged to for 35 years no longer exists, and a chilling White Nationalism too obvious to ignore characterizes what remains.
If the survey research and polling are correct, a majority of Americans agree with Mutz and Newman and strongly disapprove of Trump. Assuming a free and fair election—something we cannot, unfortunately, take for granted—the task for Republican defectors will be to rebuild their party into an adult, sane, non-racist GOP. America desperately needs two responsible, thoughtful parties with contending, evidence-based ideas about what constitutes workable public policy.
What we don’t need are tribes fighting for the dominance of male “Christian” Americans with white skin.