Don’t buy the hype from TV pundits and other commentators that the Trump catastrophe is destined to cause lasting damage to the Republican Party. The same mouthpieces warning of a Republican wipeout nationally in the next few election cycles are either engaging in wishful thinking or trying to pretend there still exists accountability in our political discourse.
Daily we’re witnessing Trump and Company burning down governing institutions and shattering long-established political norms. The Trumpers, along with their Republican ass-kissers in the Senate, the House, and the Republican National Committee, are carrying out with all deliberate speed what the fascist theorist Stephen K. Bannon calls the “deconstruction of the administrative state.”
They’ve installed coal industry lobbyists and other tools of the fossil fuel industry to top environmental posts and to the United Nations, political hacks and incompetents (like Matthew Whitaker) to key law enforcement positions, and people who can barely contain their racism (like Stephen Miller and Kirstjen Nielsen) to implement United States border security.
Dozens of mainstream highly-paid pundits like Brett Stephens at the New York Times and Joe Scarborough at MSNBC are calling for the Democrats to appeal to some weird sociological construct called a “moderate voter” (maybe in rural Missouri somewhere); this fabricated persona is clearly some kind of white, male, middle-aged, cisgender “working-class” entity that controls the fate of the nation from an abstract and unchanging marker in American politics called “The Center.”
This abstract entity has no desire for a living wage, health care, affordable housing, lower priced prescription drugs, access to education, or clean air and water, but wants no change to the status quo whatsoever. If this idea were true Trump would’ve never been elected. Like Brexit in the U.K., American voters sent the message in 2016 that they wanted to blow up the whole system, and contented “moderates” don’t do that kind of thing.
Memo to Pundits: The “center” is not a static category and Trump has yanked what was left of it far, far to the right.
Any Democrat who manages to win the White House in 2020 must not follow the Obama blueprint of naively trying to play nice with the Republicans expecting them to “reach across the aisle.” Those days are over. If a Democrat wins the presidency in 2020 the Republicans are sure to follow the Mitch McConnell model, but on steroids.
Between 2009 and 2011, Obama tried to placate the Republicans by not doing anything to upset the Too-Big-Fail-To-Banks and sidelining the advocates for universal health care within his own party in favor of a watered down version of RomneyCare. While Obama was reaching “across the aisle” the Republicans were using their deep-pocketed billionaire donors to create and weaponize a fake far-right faction called the “Tea Party” that viciously smeared him and questioned his legitimacy based on the racist lie that he wasn’t born in the United States.
In the Senate, then-minority leader Mitch McConnell abused the filibuster at a level never before seen in American history blocking every single Obama judicial appointment he could get away with. The Republican smears and obstructionism worked. And even after the terrible misrule under a Republican administration from 2001-2009, in the 2010 midterms the party won 63 House seats effectively ending the Obama presidency.
The result of Obama’s strategy of “bipartisanship” was a prolonging of the crisis for those who are suffering economically in this country and most Americans’ lives did not improve in the slightest after electing Democrats in 2008. The Republicans’ 2010 gains in state elections meant they had the power to gerrymander districts using sophisticated computer modeling to give their party a lock on the House of Representatives and many state legislatures. They’ll do it again in 2021 if given the chance.
In 2008, we missed our opportunity to realign American politics in a more progressive direction amidst the chaos of the Great Recession because the Democratic Party chose to be “moderate” or “bipartisan” instead of ramming through as quickly as possible as much legislation they could get away with that would make working people’s lives better.
Back in 1964, Lyndon Johnson had won by nearly 16 million votes and had huge Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate, yet he still understood that he probably only had two years to pass his social welfare agenda. The 89th Congress succeeded in passing Medicare and Medicaid over the vociferous yelps from the Republicans (including Saint Ronald Reagan) screaming that these programs were “Socialism” and would lead America down the road to serfdom.
LBJ let them yelp. The passage of Medicare in 1965 moved more people out of poverty than any other single social program. Voters had something they could hold in their hand that clearly made their lives better. Medicare remains to this day, along with Social Security, the most popular federal government program ever. In the decades since 1965 there has not been one program passed at the federal level that comes close to benefiting working Americans as Medicare did. This fact makes it imperative that Democrats run on “Medicare for All” in 2020 and don’t squander their opportunity to make people’s lives better.
In 2017, Mitch McConnell and the Republicans brazenly deployed a parliamentary trick called “reconciliation” to rewrite the nation’s tax code in favor of billionaires and corporations, affecting $7 trillion of our economy, and they rammed it through quickly in the dead of night without even a single congressional hearing! If Good Ol’ Mitch can pull off that kind of shit for his corporate overlords, why can’t the Democrats use similar tricks to actually do something for working people?
We’re still hearing calls for the Democratic Party to “move to the center” and return to its familiar pusillanimity and defensive crouch where nothing bold or exciting can ever happen out of fear of becoming the target of right-wing scolds.
No matter how much damage the #MAGA boys do to the nation’s governing institutions and American society generally there will never be any “lasting damage” done to the Republican Party because we live in a society where Republicans are never held accountable for their horrific failures at governance.
In the year 2000, one of the worst presidents in U.S. history (a Republican) won an Electoral College victory amidst widespread reports of voting “irregularities” in Florida, where his brother was the governor, and the Secretary of State, whose office oversees the voting, served as the head of his statewide campaign. This Electoral College victory, the first since 1888, was itself norm-shattering given the toxic political environment created when Roger Stone sent in young white, male Republican goons in polo shirts and khakis to intimidate vote counters (the “Brooks Brothers Riot”); and then the five Republican “justices” on the U.S. Supreme Court threw the presidency to the Republican candidate by interceding and stopping the Florida recount.
So sketchy was this legal move that the Republican majority on the high court made clear that it only applied to this one case and was not setting a precedent. Ashamed of the court’s partisan ruling, Justice David Souter nearly resigned afterward, and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor later recanted her vote in the majority. It was all too little too late.
Hence, the Republican shattering of political norms and “deconstructing” governing institutions long predates Trump.
Like Trump, this Republican president was lucky to have Republican enablers in power in the House and Senate. Together they twice cut taxes for the rich, launched two large-scale wars, passed a bill forking over $400 billion to Big Pharma, appointed tools of corporations and banks to key positions inside the administration, doubled the national debt, and “deregulated” every industry they could get away with.
A “pay-to-play” culture of corruption dominated Washington under one-party Republican rule that was shocking even to jaded politicos that eventually sent a top Republican fundraiser, Jack Abramoff, to federal prison. This Republican administration was also incompetent as graphically demonstrated in its catastrophic failure to respond to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
By the time this Republican president got done the nation was bogged down in two wars (which included torturing prisoners and other war crimes as well as war profiteering), the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted to 6,000, the nation’s banking system collapsed requiring a $750 billion taxpayer bailout, and the country entered the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of 1929-39.
Yet this American carnage the Republicans brought on did not stop them from taking the House two years later.
And at that time much of the mainstream political commentary mirrored what we’re hearing today about Trump. Pundits were saying that the failure in Republican governance from 2001 to 2009, that cost millions of Americans their homes, their jobs, their life’s savings, their 401(k)s, retirement pensions, and their children’s futures was sure to cause “lasting damage” to the Republican Party. (Some were even expressing concerns that the end of the Republican Party would wreck the two-party system and be detrimental to future governance.)
In 2008, there was a brief moment of false euphoria and the feeling that a day of reckoning had come when the nation elected a Democratic president. But just two years later, despite the lingering and devastating social effects of “the Great Recession,” amidst massive teacher layoffs and the decimation of the public sector workforce — the Republican Party (which had been predicted to suffer dearly for the pain and suffering its misrule had caused) came roaring back in 2010 “shellacking” the Democrats by winning 63 seats in the House of Representatives.
How could the Republicans, who failed so enormously at governance and spread so much human suffering by the time they left office recoup their losses and refurbish their “brand” to retake the House so quickly?
It’s because of the structural advantages the Republican Party had in 2010, and these structural advantages have only expanded and metastasized in the years since. Even after Trump and his wrecking crew are forced to leave office one way or another the structural advantages the Republican Party enjoys will remain intact. The 5-4 Supreme Court decisions Citizens United (2010), Shelby (2013), and Janus (2018), have given billionaires and corporations more control over our politics, allowed for new forms of voter suppression, and have weakened the ability of public sector labor unions to act as a political force.
We’ve seen the Republicans gerrymander districts, engage in voter suppression in key electoral states, and even straight-up voter fraud in North Carolina. The stacking of the federal courts (including the Supreme Court) with judges who are nothing more than right-wing ideologues will help Republicans in the long term. The new citizenship question on the 2020 U.S. Census, which the Republicans on the Supreme Court are likely to uphold, guarantees to undercount likely Democratic voters to the point where the party will lose House seats. They’ve got access to infinite corporate and banking money via “SuperPACs” and other vehicles. They’ve got Fox News, Sinclair, AM talk radio, and an elaborate Republican propaganda apparatus all over the corporate media. They’ve institutionalized ratfucking Democrats on social media (keep an eye on Trump’s pasty, bearded digital apparatchik, Brad Parscale’s actions as campaign chair in 2020).
In 2020 and 2022, the Democrats must force an FDR-style political realignment or else the Republicans are sure to come roaring back. With all the changes to our political system the Republicans have wrought in recent years that have made the country less a “democracy” and more a corporate sponsored dictatorship, they have one more structural advantage the Democrats can never emulate: They lie and gaslight with impunity, and they’re somehow immune to the charge of hypocrisy.
And more recently, and perhaps most importantly, the #MAGA Republicans have succeeded in enveloping about 60 million Americans into a giant “filter bubble” where they are shielded from the fact-based world. In this Republican world, science is a hoax, journalists are “enemies of the people,” and universities are nothing more than “indoctrination” centers.
All of these structural and financial, even cultural, advantages against the Democrats the Republicans enjoy means (as the case of George W. Bush proves) that they’ll come roaring back into power not long after the credits roll on the current season of the Trump Shit Show.
Unless the Democrats break free from their knee-jerk “centrism” and offer people a bold vision of a progressive future in 2020 and aggressively pass legislation that makes people’s lives tangibly better going into the 2022 midterms, after a few elections cycles, we might be looking at a President Eric Trump.