Tag Archives: Whigs

Of Whigs And Wackos

A few nights ago–as I previously reported–I was a guest lecturer in a friend’s class on political activism. I had been asked to address America’s current political polarization, and I shared many of the opinions I previously posted here: the asymmetric nature of that polarization, with the GOP moving far, far to the right and the Democratic party only recently listening to its more progressive members; the fact that the Democratic party is a much bigger tent than the GOP (which is currently a lock-step cult), making cohesion far more difficult for Democrats; the outsized role of a fragmented media; and of course, White Christian Nationalism, aided and abetted by Republican gerrymandering.
 
During the question and answer period, the undergraduates asked pretty sophisticated questions–this was clearly a group of politically-engaged and thoughtful young people. One of them asked me what I thought would happen to the Republican Party.

I responded honestly that I had no clue–that the GOP might go the way of the Whigs, or might return to something approaching a normal political party as the oldsters died off and the fever abated. Or??

However, the next morning, columnist Jennifer Rubin addressed that same question,  noting that Trump critics and disaffected Republicans have already begun to run for the exits.

Matthew Dowd, a former Republican adviser to George W. Bush, is running for Texas lieutenant governor as a Democrat. Evan McMullin, former CIA officer and Republican congressional aide, is running for a Utah Senate seat as an independent. This is a sound trend: If you can’t beat the MAGA cult, leave.
 
There is scant evidence that any appetite exists in the GOP for independent thinking or pro-democracy critics of the disgraced former president. When Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) is booted from House leadership and ostracized while anti-Semitic mouthpiece and crackpot Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) remains a member in good standing, it is obvious which way the wind is blowing.

The sane faction of the GOP could probably fit around a dining room table. The House minority leader apparently does not believe he cannot survive politically without showing unwavering loyalty to the former president who incited a violent insurrection. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans think it is acceptable to vote to send the country into default but not to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Trump and Trumpism remain firmly in control of the GOP–as Rubin reports, a recent Pew  survey found two-thirds of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents reaffirming their loyalty, including 44% who say they would like him to run for president in 2024. The poll’s results confirm Rubin’s conclusion that no one can oppose the cult leader and remain viable in the party.

Many well-meaning Republicans have tried in vain to shake the GOP from its Trumpian foundation. Finding no success, they now need to topple the MAGA party if they want to insulate the country from instability, authoritarian rule and possibly violence.

Reform from within is apparently impossible–a conclusion with which a number of former Republicans agree. Rubin encourages them to run as Democrats (providing evidence that the party is hardly the nefarious gang of “socialists” portrayed by the cultists) or Independents (hopefully splitting the GOP vote). 

In our two-party system, it is extremely difficult to “kill off” a major political party. But it has been done before.The Whigs were active in the middle of the 19th century;  although the Democratic Party was slightly larger, the Whigs were one of the country’s two major parties  between the late 1830s and the early 1850s. Four presidents were affiliated with the Whig Party during at least part of their respective terms, and Whig party leaders included names we all know–men like Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, William Seward, and John Quincy Adams. Ultimately, the Whigs divided over the issue of slavery, and were replaced by the Republican Party.

As the saying goes, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. Today’s GOP is now firmly committed to White Christian Supremacy, and Republicans who do not share that worldview are leaving, in a reversal of the desertion that destroyed the Whig Party. (Pro-slavery Whigs left to join the nativist, pro-slavery American Party.)

Rubin is right, and Republicans appalled by the party’s descent into racism and nihilism are recognizing the fact.

 I think we may be seeing the beginning of the end….The only question is, how much damage can a party in its death throes inflict on the rest of us?

 

The Once-Grand Old Party

According to Nate Silvers’ 538.com,

Democrats have deep divides over policy. In contrast, Republicans, at both the state and federal levels, are largely unified around an agenda of cutting spending for programs such as Medicaid that are targeted at low-income people, defending Americans’ ability to own and purchase guns, limiting abortion, and reducing regulations and taxes on businesses.

If you analyze those GOP positions, they all come down to screwing over poor people–either by shrinking the social safety net, by refusing to respect their personal autonomy, or by allowing businesses to ride roughshod over laws that were originally passed to protect them (and the rest of us).

Oh, and of course, ensuring that “good Americans” have access to guns to protect themselves against the freeloaders.

If you do a deeper dive into these positions–especially if you consult research conducted in the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential election–you’ll notice that Republicans picture the poor people they disdain as overwhelmingly black and brown. Other. Them. Those people. Not like “us.” Not “real Americans.”

The GOP of my younger days has been replaced by a White Nationalist cult.

I can remember when the Republican Party–at least in Indianapolis–was the party of good government, when the party people with whom I worked genuinely cared about building a society that worked for everyone.

Were there always some venal people in the GOP? Was there a racist and anti-Semitic fringe? Sure. There were also plenty of unsavory characters among the Democrats. No political party, no movement, no government is free of all corrupt influences. No party supports policies that all turn out to be good ideas. Especially when a political party is in power, the climbers and hangers-on and self-interested will gravitate to it and if those in positions of authority aren’t careful, they’ll pollute the entire organization.

Purity, unfortunately, is inconsistent with humanity.

That said, in the GOP I knew, among the candidates I supported and the volunteers with whom I worked, most were genuinely good people, and they are almost all gone now from the party ranks. When I talk to them–party workers, former political appointees and officeholders–they are depressed and appalled at what the Republican party has become.

Nixon’s southern strategy has become the Republicans’ national identity.

The problem is, America desperately needs two adult, reasonable, non-racist parties. In the absence of Republicans of good will, intellectual honesty, and rational policy prescriptions, the Democrats will fracture into warring factions. (We’re already seeing that, as the quote from 538.com recognizes.) That’s because, in a two-party system, when people with respectable political philosophies can’t imagine affiliating with one of those parties (because it is no longer respectable), and thus join the other party, that other party loses coherence. Policymakers lose the benefit of competing, rational prescriptions for dealing with the nation’s issues.

The Whigs went the way of the buffalo. Today’s iteration of the GOP needs to go with them.

America needs a new center-right party that is genuinely conservative–as a philosophy, not as a cover for racism, theocracy and plutocracy.