If you trawl for votes by quietly suggesting to people that their country has been taken over by a socialist, foreign-born, America-hating Muslim, don’t be surprised when they gravitate towards a politician who plays more effectively to those fears
The Republican Party has a lot to answer for when it comes to the rise of Donald Trump.
As a British conservative who has lived in America, knows the country (and not just the coasts) well and is married to a Texan, I have a sense of perspective lacking in many American conservatives. I come from a country with a far more left-wing political climate, in which edifices of the post-war consensus – the welfare state, the NHS – are idolised and often exempted from nearly all meaningful criticism.
I grew up in a culture which is a lot more suspicious of conspicuous success and achievement, more collectivist (though less so than continental Europe) and generally more expectant that government will play a hectoring, overbearing role in our lives. And therefore, when I see Republicans rending their garments wailing and rending their garments about the intolerable left-wingery of Barack Obama, I know exactly how whiny and entitled they are being.
The Republican Party reacted to the election of Barack Obama as though his presidency was going to usher in the end of the Republic. They acted as though a suite of rather workaday centre-left policies were part of a sinister conspiracy to turn America into a socialist country. Needless to say, they barely uttered a peep when their own side was busy ratcheting up the size of the state under the “compassionate conservative” Big Government presidency of George W. Bush, in which massive Medicare expansions – heck, even entire wars – were placed on the national credit card, and fiscal conservatism was put through the shredder. No, it was Obama who represented an un-American step too far, according to this false narrative.
And of course it was all nonsense. As Barack Obama’s second term reaches its end, the size and scope of the federal government is still stubbornly large, but America has by no means transitioned into a Soviet-style planned economy. Even the hated (in right-wing circles) ObamaCare has only tinkered around the margins, funnelling a few million uninsured into some form of health coverage, inconveniently disrupting the existing coverage of a number of other people but otherwise doing nothing to change the private insurance, private provision model of American healthcare. The Second Amendment has not been substantially undermined, let alone repealed. Defence spending may be misaligned but still eclipses the rest of the world, and the US military has not been decimated. In terms of domestic policy, in other words, the world has not ended.
Has America become a libertarian paradise under President Obama? Of course not. But that’s because a Democrat won the White House and focused (as much as he could, given a spineless Democratic congressional caucus and entrenched Republican opposition) on the kind of centre-left priorities you would expect from a Democrat. And crucially, neither has America become a socialist dystopia in that time.
That’s not to say that the Republicans did not often have a point, or that they were perpetually in the wrong – in many cases, their opposition to Obama’s agenda was justified. But at all times this opposition was carried out in a shrill, alarmist and hyperbolic manner – much as British left-wingers are currently mirroring the American Tea Party with their “pass the smelling salts” horror at the thoroughly unexciting, centrist government of David Cameron.
And when you go trawling for low information votes by feeding on prejudice and stoking up concerns about the personal motivations, the loyalty and even the American-ness of the president in a childishly obstructionist scorched earth strategy, you can’t really feign surprise when the sentiments you unleash give rise to a populist demagogue like Donald Trump. And people should call you out for doing so if you even try, as many Republicans are now doing as part of their cynical #NeverTrump movement.
Bill Maher – whose politics I often disagree with, but whose criticism of the Right is usually depressingly accurate – was on to something when he said on a recent episode of Real Time with Bill Maher that Republicans had “made a Faustian bargain with the racist devil years ago”, and are now paying the price.
During the panel discussion on his show, Maher said:
So let’s get right to it – the Republican Party, having an existential crisis. They are very upset that half their voters wanna give nuclear weapons to a guy who gets into Twitter feuds with D-list celebrities, and we understand that. I almost feel bad for them, except I really don’t, because they brought it on themselves. They made a Faustian bargain with the racist devil many years ago, and now those chickens are coming home to roost.
Let me read what Paul Ryan said this week. He said “if a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party they must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry. This party does not prey on people’s prejudices”. LOL.
To which I would say to him: what about voter ID laws? What about once defending the guy who gets shot – the black guy, unarmed – instead of the cop? Y’know, I mean who are they kidding? This is the party they are, and Trump is just the latest.
And then the killer line:
They always say that it’s a big tent. To me it’s more like a house – think of it more like a house. And they let the racists have a room in that house. They didn’t go in that room with all the memorabilia, but they made a very comfortable room in there. And now they took over the house, and the regular Republicans are afraid to go to the kitchen at night to get a snack.
To be clear, while this blog does not support Donald Trump’s candidacy, neither does it subscribe to the idea that Trump or the majority of his supporters are racist. Certainly criticising illegal immigration in America is not racist, despite the cynical attempts by many Democrats and those on the left to suggest otherwise. Building a wall is not the solution, but the idea of properly enforcing the perfectly reasonable existing laws about illegal (the leftists love to leave out the word “illegal”) immigration is entirely defensible. Similarly, Trump’s nationalist, protectionist policies may well also be very counterproductive were they ever implemented, but this does not make them – or him – evil.
(One thing that does put Trump beyond the pale, in the view of this blog, is his lack of commitment to the constitution or to US treaty obligations, including those relating to torture. The First Amendment is not a plaything to be wielded like a weapon and undermined to snuff out criticism of a thin-skinned president, as Trump has suggested doing, and torture and reprisal killings were and are abhorrent and un-American).
As with many of Trump’s left-wing critics, Bill Maher is wrong to make this all about race. But he is quite correct in pointing out that in their desperation to win back the White House, the GOP tolerated all manner of crazy squatters and couch-surfers sleeping under their party’s roof. And while they did not explicitly add these people to the deeds of the house, they certainly left the front door wide open and stood on the street corner beckoning the crazies inside with a wink and a smile.
It is therefore exquisitely hard for me to feel sorry for the modern Republican Party as they are devoured by the very monster they kept as a pet and fed – particularly as I hail from a country which is planted a couple of steps firmly to the left in terms of the political centre ground, and have first-hand experience of the kind of “socialism” that the GOP cynically pretended was about to be unleashed on America.
I don’t want to see Donald Trump become the Republican Party nominee – though I feel much sympathy with many of his supporters – but if it does happen, as now seems increasingly likely, I cannot say that it was undeserved.
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