There is little doubt that the Democratic National Convention had its failings, despite its broadly optimistic tone and policy-based prescriptions for our country. The party offered a relatively uncritical embrace of Hillary Clinton’s dangerous neoconservatism and its troubling implications for our country and the world. The occasional “USA! USA!” chants sounded a little mindless. The constant emphasis on American exceptionalism suggested that the Clinton campaign will follow the line it used during the primary and insist that it has little to learn from the world about forging a rational, functional social contract.
But the biggest failing of the DNC was in its attacks on Trump. Make no mistake. Donald Trump, a fascist, deserved each and every one of the criticisms levelled at him by politicians and members of civil society. But the Democrats are framing their attacks on Trump as though he represents an aberration in American politics, wholly divorced from any context. They are crediting him with reintroducing racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry to American politics. They suggest that he alone is responsible for efforts to strip people of their rights, short-change workers, and define citizenship in exclusive, ethnic and religious terms.
The Donald is many things, but original he is not. Trump recognized what had made Republicans successful among their constituents for years and gambled that he could take their show on the road to a bigger audience by being louder and more honest about the savagery, cruelty, and stupidity of his smoke and mirror politics.
The Supreme Court rebuke to recent GOP efforts to restrict voting prevented “the biggest setback to voting rights in North Carolina since the Jim Crow era.” Even in the virtual absence of voter fraud, the Republican Party has sought to introduce voting laws clearly designed to prevent black voters getting to the polls.
The GOP has long provided a big tent to racists and people who tolerate them. Ronald Reagan used race to divide Americans and enrich the wealthy as fluently, if more subtly, than Donald Trump. Today, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and John McCain acknowledge Donald Trump’s racism, but refuse to do anything about it.
Perhaps worse than these sins is the basic strategy of the Republican Party over the past eight years. Virtually all of its members have signed no-tax pledges that benefit their corporate sponsors, but turn them into mindless automatons, voting for or against a given piece of legislation without being able to consider it in context or evaluate its ramifications for their constituents.
It is one thing to believe that lower taxes are better for some people. It is another thing to forswear the use of logic and repudiate the very idea of taxes as a tool to pursue social and economic ends, come hell or high water.
But this vapid, jack-booted conservatism is essential to the obstructionist program that the Republican Party launched after President Obama’s election. Rather than attempt to govern in good faith, the Republican Party decided that the best way to strengthen their corporate masters in the face of Obama’s efforts to pursue regulation to protect the health and welfare of the average citizen was to sabotage the functioning of government.
Any measure put forward by the President has faced opposition of the most rabid and unhinged kind. Encouraged by their leadership, their sponsors, and their pledges to march in lock-step, Republicans have refused to consider or debate the merits of policy, and have instead presented to the public a claim that “government doesn’t work.”
The functioning of the Post Office, the popularity of social security checks, the ability of people to live on agricultural subsidies, the vibrancy of public research universities, the tremendous (if ill-used) power of our military, the success of emissions regulations, and a whole host of other elementary facts about daily life in the United States demonstrate how extraordinary this foundational lie of the Republican Party truly is. We might not agree with all of these policies, but they demonstrate that at the local, state, and federal level, government is capable of doing important things well.
The difficulty for the Republican Party, and its priorities as illustrated by both Paul Ryan’s budget and Donald Trump’s tax plan, is that when government works, by representing the interests of the majority, it cuts into the profits of their affluent funders. It does so by redistributing wealth downward to the middle and working class; by impinging their ability to poison our water and air; by giving bargaining rights to workers; by providing services based on public need rather than private gain; and by emphasizing collective investments rather than private extraction.
Faced with this conundrum--that when government works, their core constituency loses wealth--the Republican Party has adopted a strategy of sabotage in order to bring their lie to life.
If government isn’t naturally dysfunctional, as they have asked Americans to believe, they will make it so. Bringing this lie to life erodes public trust in government, and encourages voters to reward Republicans for their message of doom. Thereafter, Republicans have little to offer voters other than the pleasure of attacking the poor and denouncing black and Latino citizens. But the divide and rule strategy creates sufficient disenchantment and distraction for their purposes. In the absence of good government, and in the vacuum created by civil strife, powerful interests profit and flourish.
Republicans have used diverse tools in their campaign of sabotage: shutdowns, fiscal cliffs, economic crises, and the refusal to staff agencies, departments, and courts.
Democrats have their moments of partisan intransigence, but only Republicans have turned sabotage into a method of governing. Some might describe it as a method of not governing. But make no mistake, by diminishing the ability courts to provide oversight, tearing apart regulatory agencies, and de-funding offices devoted to pursuing the public interest, Republicans are creating a new state that protects predatory capital and facilitates the hijacking of middle and working class wealth for the rich.
Donald Trump has proclaimed himself the defender of the little guy. But everything you need to know is in his tax plan. His tax plan and the budgets proposed by his party work in tandem. On their best days they offer peanuts in tax breaks to average Americans and enormous gains to the wealthy, while destroying the collective investments that yield long-term benefits and stability to the majority, and cutting the public services that offer opportunity for mobility and prosperity.
Donald Trump, who attacks the rights of his workers in Las Vegas, and short-changed contractors and workers in his East Coast empire, is exactly the kind of magnate the Republican Party is designed to serve. And this authoritarian ethnic nationalist, with no respect for courts, institutions, or the diversity that is an incontrovertible fact of life in our country, will facilitate the unholy mission of the Republican Party. Far from “hijacking” the Grand Old Party, he has breathed new life into its search and destroy mission in our democracy.