Party of Disaster: Explaining the Republican Train Wreck

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Party of Disaster: Explaining the Republican Train Wreck

(Photo: IMLS Digital Collections/CC BY 2.0)

OK, let’s not be fair and balanced.  Let’s be honest. And let’s not allow ourselves to start thinking of these last six months as anything like “normal.”

Let’s face it, the Republican Congress and the Trump Administration have been an unmitigated disaster.  From healthcare to immigration to foreign policy to national security, Republicans have lurched across the national horizon like drunken sailors on shore leave with bonus checks. And Trump? The steady stream of self-indulgent, self-destructive, and self-incriminating tweets issuing forth with all the self-restraint of a caffeinated six-year old says it all.

The thing is, none of this should come as a surprise.  Since Reagan, Republicans have been more about ungoverning than governing.

And thanks to Democratic complicity, the ungovernment juggernaut has just about triumphed.

Remember, as Thomas Frank notes, it was Bill Clinton and the DLC Democrats who accomplished some of the conservatives’ most important objectives.  As Frank said in an interview with Mark Carlin published in Truthout:

Clinton had five major achievements as president: NAFTA, the Crime Bill of 1994, welfare reform, the deregulation of banks and telecoms, and the balanced budget. All of them—every single one—were longstanding Republican objectives.

But while Clinton may have been a closet conservative, he did understand the importance of governing. You know, little things like taxing enough to actually have sufficient revenue to implement the programs you’ve kept; or cutting back on Defense spending when the threats went from existential (as in the Soviet Union) to merely tactical (as in terrorism). Or actually cutting the size of the federal work force instead of merely complaining about it.

Not so Republicans. They ran up record setting deficits as they willfully destroyed every program they could. Starving government was their mantra. 

But now that the business of discrediting and dismantling the New Deal has just about been accomplished and Republicans find themselves in charge, they are faced with the task of actually governing, as opposed to merely criticizing those who would govern.

And they haven’t got a clue about how to do it. Their polestar seems to be, gut government programs and privatize, privatize, privatize.  The most recent corollary is, If Obama favored it, we’re agin’ it.

The thing is, government takes a set of skills and a base of knowledge.  It requires more than simply being against stuff. And failing to govern—or simply being the world champion ungovernors comes at an enormous cost.

Take climate change.  Despite their public posturing, most Republicans probably buy the science—after all, it wasn’t too long ago that there were serious bipartisan climate bills floating around the Congress that were only stymied by a relatively small group in the Senate.  No, their problem is that they hate the solutions, which require a strong government presence.

Yes, a few evangelicals believe that God will take care of everything, but they aren’t in the majority. Nope, Republicans deny climate change because it threatens their ungoverning agenda, which threatens their campaign coffers.

Or consider the latest adventures in foreign policy.  We have Trump snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, isolating Iran at a time when they just received a mandate from voters to pursue more moderate policies.  But hey, if your main motive is to undue anything Obama did, then cozying up to the Saudi’s—where most of the terrorists have come from—fits the bill, regardless of the consequences.  Then there’s the botched G7 meeting, complete with Trump alone on a golf cart following the rest of the world’s leaders as they stroll through a park—what an apt metaphor for his entire foreign policy framework—if you can call random ad hoc tweets a framework.  Apparently, Trump spent a good deal of his time ranting at the rest of the leaders of the free world about how difficult it is to site a golf course in their countries.

This same self-obsession marks his approach to national security.  Incredibly, in all his meetings with FBI Director Comey, he focused exclusively on how the investigation on the Russian’s direct assault on our elections affected him and his administration.  Consider this a moment.  Not one question about how and whether our national security had been compromised by the most dangerous threat we’ve experienced in decades.  Remember, “Only I can make you safe”? Well, are you feeling any safer now?  Then there’s the discussion with Russian diplomats in the oval office in which he gave away classified information. Or the fact that his entire ban on immigrants “from Muslim countries” acts as a giant recruitment poster for ISIS or al Qaeda. 

The Republicans in Congress are no better.  The House pushed out their “healthcare” bill without CBO scoring—which means they had no clue about how it would affect coverage or costs.  But if your main interest is in ungoverning those kinds of considerations are irrelevant, as long as your rolling back government programs.

Then there’s Mitch McConnell and his band of adolescent psychos developing their healthcare bill in closed hearings—you’d think it was a matter of national security.  Oh, wait, if it were, the whole place would be leaking like a sieve.  And come to think of it, healthcare is about national security... The most remarkable thing about the Senate’s secretiveness is that Republicans are calling for bipartisan support.  As Senator Claire McCaskill said, “For what? We don’t even know.”

And when they released the bones of the program on Thursday this week, it proved as heinous as the House Bill—a giant tax cut for the rich, a giant screw-you for the rest of us.

None of this is normal.  But here’s the thing.  We the people allowed it.  We hold Congress in complete contempt, with three-quarters or more of us disapproving of their performance for more than seven years now. The last time more than half of us approved Congress’s performance was in 2003.  Yet in 2016, 97% of incumbents  running were re-elected, and it’s been decades since challengers made a dent in the incumbents’ lock on their seats. Same with the Senate.

It’s high time we took government seriously.  And that means electing people who know how to govern. For too long, conservatives have been sending people to Washington who simply want to destroy government.  It’s now coming back to haunt them—and us—as Trump and the Republicans roll back the social safety net, give the rich yet more tax breaks, de-regulate Wall Street and the big banks, and roll back environmental protection programs.

So when your son or daughter is gasping for air from a pollutant induced asthma attack, and your health care won’t cover treatment for it, and you can’t afford it, give McConnell, or Ryan or Trump a call.  See if they know what to do. More to the point, see if they give a damn.

John Atcheson

John Atcheson

John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, and he has just completed a book on the 2016 elections titled, WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back on Track. It is available in hardcover now, and the ebook will be available shortly. Follow him on Twitter:@john_atcheson

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