A problem of American conservatism’s own making
In a recent show, Bill Maher took American conservatives to task for daring to suggest that responsibility for the rise Donald Trump rests with liberals.
Is political correctness out of control? Of course it is. I think I might have done some sort of show about that once [Maher was host of “Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher”]. I’ve been telling liberals when they had spinach on their teeth since 1993. I’ve ridiculed them for everything from offensive Halloween costumes to Islamophobia, from the self esteem movement to college campuses forgetting what free speech is. But none of that justifies embracing a dangerous buffoon, simply because his lack of political correctness is cathartic.
Trump is your problem. But somehow the party of personal responsibility doesn’t want to take responsibility for this one. Somewhere along the way, the slogan went from “Make America great again!” to “Look what you made me do!”
Amen to all of this. American leftists do indeed have much to answer for, but the rise of Donald Trump is not a problem primarily of their making.
It was the tri-cornered hat brigade whose admirable devotion to fiscal responsibility only materialised once Barack Obama took office, and then failed to force any meaningful change in Washington despite many of their number being elected to Congress in the 2010 midterms which, who have a case to answer. They were the Great White Hope whose inevitable failure formed the third strike against the political class.
It was not the Democratic Party which fanned the flames of birtherism (and then considered a nominee for president who was born in Canada) and refused to stand up to angry constituents demanding to see a birth certificate. That was all on the Republicans. Donald Trump led that effort, and nearly the entire GOP sat back with a tub of popcorn, thinking that the circus would benefit them politically. And so it did, until their attack dog finally broke the leash and turned on its handlers.
Has Barack Obama been a decidedly left-wing and in some (though by no means all) ways unimpressive president? Yes, he has. But is he a closet Communist, a secret Muslim planning to enforce hardline Islamism on America or a hopelessly incompetent buffoon? Absolutely not. He is a centre-left politician with undeniable skills, twice elected on a centre-left platform and governing according to a centre-left approach. But in their greed to quickly win back power without doing the hard work of making their own pitch to the voters more appealing, too many Republicans were willing to tolerate and sometimes actively participate in the anti-Obama hysteria for short term political gain.
If Democrats shoulder any responsibility for the danger that Donald Trump could soon be elected US president, it is only because they are now on the verge of nominating Hillary Clinton as their favoured successor – again, a highly competent technocrat and somebody with undeniable experience of executive power at the highest levels, but also somebody with no discernible core beliefs or values beyond the “bridges, not walls” buzzwords du jour.
Clinton’s political judgement has at times been…questionable. And she is dogged by a legitimate and troubling email scandal that cannot be dismissed as a mere partisan attack – to the extent that she is currently under investigation by the FBI. And that is to say nothing of the fact that the American political party supposedly the most committed to equal opportunity and social mobility is complicit in making the presidency a family affair. But none of this is remotely comparable to the danger which the Republican Party has unleashed on the country.
The warning signs were all there four years ago – a GOP primary debate stage filled with candidates like Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann, and whose few quasi intellectuals (like Newt Gingrich) were burdened with so much personal baggage that they were non-starters. Mitt Romney was the GOP’s best bet, but as their chosen candidate he was prone to gaffes and clangers (like the 47% remark) which helped ensure he would never reach the Oval Office. But did this generate any serious introspection as the GOP picked through the wreckage of the 2012 presidential election? No.
2015/16 saw a new slate of Republican candidates ranging from the well-meaning but vaguely ridiculous (Ben Carson) to the gormlessly patrician (Jeb Bush) to the empathy-devoid social conservative (Ted Cruz) to the not-quite-ready (Marco Rubio). No Paul Ryan. No promising new blood. The only candidate who fit the typical mould of a viable centre-right Republican candidate (John Kasich) never stood a chance, because he stubbornly refused to deal out sufficient quantities of crazy every time he opened his mouth.
Yes, the Democrats peddle in identity politics and often come down on the wrong side when it comes to favouring political correctness over freedom of speech, religion and behaviour. But it was the Republicans who opted to whip up (and profit from) blind fury about the state of the country instead of articulating a serious, coherent alternative. And in the end they were beaten at their own game. Why vote for the politician who smirks or winks when someone else is making ignorant, bigoted remarks when now you can vote for the real deal?
None of this means that the Democrats are not firmly capable of pushing Trump over the finishing line in November – as this blog has made clear. If their flawed presidential nominee doesn’t self-destruct on the launch pad before election day, the Left’s unbearable condescension toward those who disagree with them (you’ll see it earlier in the Bill Maher video, where he gloats about being the sole custodian of facts and truth) could well do the job.
But the Democrats and other American liberals did not cause this mess. Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee for president because there is a gaping void where serious, credible conservative policies which speak to Americans from every social strata (and which do not reek so strongly of elitist self interest) should be.
Or as Bill Maher puts it:
The Tea Party is named after a tax revolt. And TEA stands for Taxed Enough Already. And yet two years after Obama lowered taxes on 95 percent of Americans, 90 percent of tea people believed he’d raised them.
So if you don’t know the first thing about the thing you claim is the most important thing to you, are you bright? And is it my fault for pointing out “No”?
And through that gaping void of ignorance rode the host of The Apprentice, a man with no ideology, no policies and no impulse control, a man who gets into Twitter feuds with D-list celebrities and believes that the globalisation of trade can be reduced to a zero-sum game in which America always “wins”.
Oh, there is lots of blame to be appointed for how we arrived in this position. But as Bill Maher says, the party of personal responsibility should stop behaving like a petulant child – an innocent victim on whom Donald Trump was arbitrarily and unfairly inflicted – and take the lion’s share of responsibility themselves.
Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.
Follow Semi-Partisan Politics on Twitter, Facebook and Medium.