You Break It, You Own It (Or, What The Hell Did You Think Would Happen?)

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You Break It, You Own It (Or, What The Hell Did You Think Would Happen?)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump looks toward Jeb Bush, right, as Scott Walker watches during the first Republican presidential debate at the Quicken Loans Arena Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland. (Photo: AP/Andrew Harnik)

Doesn’t your heart just break for the grandees of the Republican Party?

They’ve had the shit kicked out of them in presidential election after presidential election, and the forecast trends in national demographics suggest that, looking forward, these last decades will be seen as the GOP’s grand old days. So, knowing this, the big-wigs got together after the last debacle in 2012 and decided, “Hey, we’ve got to stop alienating the damn Mexicans. There’s too many of them!”

Any moron could have predicted what a fool’s errand that would be. Politicians – most especially the Republican kind – are nothing if not heat-seeking missiles when it comes to opportunistically pouncing on an issue they can ride to electoral victory. Particularly given the number of third and fourth-tier weenies vying for the Republican nomination this time around (George Pataki? Bobby Jindal? Ben Carson? Carly Fiorina? Seriously?), it didn’t exactly require quantum physics calculations to figure out that one or more of them would pounce on the party’s old tried-and-true racist, sexist, homophobic and/or xenophobic tropes in order to get a leg up.

After all, they are all George Wallace’s Babies, even half a century later. Wallace ran for governor of Alabama in 1958 as something of a progressive, believe it or not, endorsed by the NAACP no less. He lost to a guy who was supported by another organization also known for its initials, heavy on the K’s. Wallace then decided that winning in politics was everything that mattered in the world and promptly tossed black Alabamians under the (segregated) bus in order to achieve those ends (admittedly, not a gigantic leap for a Southern white politician to make in 1958). He wasn’t even particularly shy about it, stating, “You know, I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened. And then I began talking about niggers, and they stomped the floor.” Asked by his aide why he had lost the election and what he would do about it, he replied, “Seymore, you know why I lost that governor's race? ... I was outniggered by John Patterson. And I'll tell you here and now, I will never be outniggered again.” And, you know what? He never was.

Except, of course, by the contemporary Republican Party (pardon the oxymoron there please), which has spent the last half-century out-niggering, out-sand-niggering, out-fagging, and out-bitching everybody in sight. And, as with Wallace, it turned out it worked for them as well. Voters stomped the floor. Republicans got elected. The rights of blacks, gays, women and foreigners be damned. Who cared? They were winning. Yep, it worked. Until it didn’t.

Regressives hate change, and you can see why. Change is destroying their little Wallace trick in at least three ways. First, moral values have evolved. In the same way that slavery was largely a repugnant practice in the twentieth century but not the nineteenth, racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia are out, out, out these days – except in red states, and even there not so much in the cities. Unless you’re a good ol’ boy of the rural South, that is, the country has largely moved on and away from these ugly attitudes.

Second, many voters who might otherwise be amenable to a blame-the-outgroup style of politics have learned the hard way that in the end it don’t satisfy too much. They keep voting for these same fools, and some of them even win. But it turns out that the political class couldn’t really give a damn about these issues after the election is over, and instead they just keep on serving their true bosses, the financial Masters of the Universe. So ol’ Uncle Buford may have got hisself a little twinge of satisfaction voting for the Republican bigot in the last election, but four years later he’s not only not better off than we was before, he’s worse off. Not so much, however, the Wall Street tycoons whose bank accounts now host more of Buford’s earnings than ever.

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Finally, there’s the tectonic change of demographics. If you just count heads, you see that it ain’t the good ol’ white boy’s country anymore, and everyday it becomes even less so. So if your politics is built on a model that flies in the face of those massive and inevitable changes, you might as well go out there and try to fight a tsunami with a toilet plunger. The only thing that’s going to happen is that you’re going to drown.

Speaking of which, welcome to the GOP in the 2015th year of their lord. They are drowning in their own waste product, and finally figured out they should stop flushing the toilet after losing the popular vote in five out of the last six presidential elections. The problem is, it’s not so easy to do.

That’s because long ago the GOP made a deal with the Devil. And that sonuvabitch intends to be paid.

It’s well worth recalling the history here. We could spend lifetimes doing so, and fill entire libraries with the documentary evidence, but really a few highlights will do the trick. Recall that this is the party of the 1960s Southern Strategy, a term that sounds one heck of a lot more benign than it was. Its essence was to use more genteel and politically correct versions of racist appeals to strip away white Southern (and many northern) voters from their historic place in the Democratic Party, which had courageously dared to fly the flag of racial equality during that era. And this most cynical strategy indeed succeeded. The once Solid South of the Democratic Party is today – in an astonishing turnaround of incredible rapidity – essentially the Solid South of the Republican Party. That happened almost entirely because of the politics of race.

Following these early successes, other Republican politicians then gratefully followed in the footsteps of Goldwater and Nixon (and Wallace). Saint Ron of Reagan launched his 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, talking about states’ rights. Gee, whatever could he have meant using those classic code words for legalized racism, in the very place where heroic civil rights workers were murdered by the Klan? Then there was the kinder, gentler H.W. Bush eight years later, coming from seventeen points behind in order to win the presidency in 1992. Golly, do you think the Willie Horton ads might have had anything to do with that? Could that be why Bush’s campaign chief Lee Atwater apologized for those on his deathbed, scared shitless about going to Hell as he was about to meet has maker? After all, presidential terms go for four years. Eternity lasts quite a bit longer...

The Lil’ Bush continued the same pattern, only he preferred to beat up on gays rather than blacks. So in 2004 he made sure that anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment initiatives were put on ballots in about a dozen key swing states in order to bring out the ugly vote, and it worked. While they were there in the booth stomping on gays, Neanderthal voters also cast their ballots for Bush, who bought himself a second term, only to promptly dump the issue immediately after the election to go after what he really came to Washington for, the privatizing of Social Security.

There are lots more examples to choose from, but you get the idea. If you don’t mind taking your cynicism strong and thick, you have to admit it was a great deal for the party. Emphasis on the past tense, though. For reasons discussed above, that dog don’t hunt anymore. Which is why the party tried to discreetly walk away from their little arrangement after the most recent shellacking. But they can’t, for at least two reasons: namely, the voters, and the votees. The latter, as mentioned before, do what they want and don’t take directions from anything as minuscule as Reince Priebus, current party ‘boss’. If they think they can win the old-fashioned way – and especially if they think that’s the only way they can win – well, they will. This problem is especially acute because, like Wallace before them, they also have the prerogative of going third-party rogue, in which case every vote given to such a candidate would be a vote taken directly out of the GOP nominee’s pocket.

The other problem the GOP has is its base of voters, who have become increasingly insane over the decades, to the point where Tea Partiers are now considered way too moderate. I don’t use the word ‘insane’ here lightly or colloquially. These folks are literally quite detached from reality, and nothing proves that more than their worship of that big lump of Trump currently in the headlines. If you think about, Trump is, on paper, almost the complete antithesis of what these supposedly conservative voters stand for. He’s from New York, he’s been married and divorced countless times, he’s the owner of a gambling empire, he’s not religious, he’s taken quite liberal positions on a number of issues over the years, including abortion, and so on.

If it doesn’t make sense, it is only because people are extending the assumption of rationality to these voters where little exists. Big mistake. Probably the most significant fact about American politics in our time – and here I mean really the last forty years or so – is the existence of this incoherent rage on the part of a large cohort of disaffected Americans, which almost always manifests itself in stupid right-wing politics.

These voters are folks who, a generation or two ago, ruled their little roosts. They didn’t have to share power or prestige or even dignity with blacks or women or gays or foreigners or Muslims or atheists. Not only did that mean that they had a modicum of greater authority than they do today because of that power structure, most importantly it meant that they had the prideful illusion of enhanced social status. Yeah, maybe they were white trash as far as the bosses and the rich folk and the Northeasterners were concerned, okay, but they were still ‘better’ than all those other lower ranking losers, and when all else failed their fragile self-esteem, well, heck, that fact felt pretty good.

But it’s all gone now. I mean, Christ, there’s a black guy in the White House! And probably a woman next! How can these disaffected voters feel good about themselves if blacks and Hispanics and women and gays and Muslims and all the rest have the same rights and privileges and status that they do? The answer is Trump. Or Palin, or Cheney, or – for that matter, McCarthy – it’s all the same appeal. Find somebody who can express (and exploit – but “Shhh!”, never mind about that) their rage about being left behind, their inability to share, and their dependence on the squashing of others in order to feel good about themselves and they’re all in, Brother.

Trump just happens to be this year’s model, but the phenomenon is ever the same. He’s all the rage (pardon the pun) with these voters more or less entirely because of two positions he’s taken: his insane and obscene birther rap on Obama, and his thuggish rant about illegal immigrants. These non-issues address no current problem facing the country, and – as noted above – Trump is otherwise almost the antithesis of what a regressive voter is supposed to embrace. No matter, it’s the rage and it’s the target that matters. These people aren’t voting on the basis of some rational policy-oriented analysis of who is the best candidate with the most carefully crafted solutions. They’re voting on the basis of who makes them feel good about themselves (which is no small task).

But, as noted above, this phenomenon has now become a Godzilla-like nuclear chicken which has come home to roost for the Republican Party. Decades ago, it went to the crossroads and made a deal with the Devil. You’d think they would have been smart enough to trade eternity in Hell for something good – like, for instance, great blues guitar chops maybe. But no, they asked for a few electoral victories in American politics, and that’s what they got. But the show is over now. They broke it, and now they own it. Assuming it could even be done after all the damage of the last few decades (and the last few weeks), imagine what it would take for the GOP to reinvent itself as a party that can attract votes from the groups it has been beating up on all these years. Good luck with that, pal.

There is lots of good news here for those of us in this country who haven’t yet checked into the asylum. First, the Party of Evil is killing itself ever more every day, as loathsome candidate after despicable candidate tries to ape Trump and attract the anger vote. This is exactly why the GOP attempted to limit the number of debates this cycle, and tried to steer the party away from, especially, Hispanic-bashing. They wanted to avoid a repeat of 2012, when there were fifteen or twenty debates between the circus clowns then seeking the Republican nomination (many of whom are back again), each spectacle more comical and scary than the last. The whole country was watching. And they are now, as well, as the party repeats the process, only this time on steroids.

Which means, second, they are also dramatically diminishing their chances of winning the White House in 2016, and with it the important power to save the Supreme Court’s regressive majority from timing out. Somebody recently commented that history may judge retrospectively that this was the month in which the election was decided, despite the fact that it is well more than a year away, and not a single vote has been case, and we’re not even remotely close to having selected nominees yet. I think there’s some real wisdom in that analysis. How many non-insane voters are watching the GOP Show and thinking “Christ, I could never vote for that crap”? It will only get worse from here.

Finally, I trust the reader will pardon my vindictiveness here, but I am frankly unapologetic about it. I absolutely despise the thugs of the Republican Party who have exchanged, for their personal gain, the misery of those millions of weaker individuals they constantly exploit. So I confess that the idea that some of these bastards – and there’s a whole lot of them, but I’m taking to you, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Rick Santorum, Jeb Bush and more – could wind up exiled to political oblivion by the likes of Donald Trump gives me the greatest joy.

May they all rot in Hell, and count themselves lucky that they got off so easy for their crimes.

David Michael Green

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.

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