The problem with the GOP isn’t Trump, it’s the base.

It’s been a pretty long time since I posted, because of both personal issues, being busy at work and because I’ve been working hard on a book about the Trump/Russia scandal.   But what really put me off was the Charlottesville fiasco, a blatant case of white nationalist domestic terrorism that the president largely defended, in every way that truly matters.  The sheer disgust I felt at that point made me feel that blogging about the train wreck that is the Trump administration was almost superfluous.  What could I write that could be more damning than the words and actions of the president himself?

But in the weeks which have followed, as I’ve seen conservative media bend over backwards to turn a bunch of Nazis chanting “Jews will not replace us” into patriots who care about preserving our historical heritage and culture, I’ve come to wonder: What the hell happened to the GOP?   Sure, the politicians themselves have long been corporatists who suckle at the teat of rich donors and represent only their narrow interests while hypocritically claiming to stand for freedom and opportunity.  But now?  They’re inextricably identified with Donald Trump, a know-nothing  scam artist, with seemingly unholy ties to Russian money laundering, who has become universally beloved by the xenophobes who eagerly crawled from under their rocks to vote for the policies he espoused on the campaign trail.  And he’s not an anomaly.  He is, rather, a Frankenstein monster that the American right has spent decades trying to create, whether consciously or not.

The creation of the Trump creature has reaped something of a whirlwind. In the supposedly “happy days” of post-WWII America, there was a strain of centrism that largely governed the public discourse, a realization that both those on the left and the right could have valid ideas and that working together, the parties could emerge with a set of balanced, rational policies. The notion of “bipartisanship” wasn’t viewed as a threat to tribal identities, and there was never a concerted effort to ram through wildly unpopular policies like Trumpcare.

What we’re left with now is a party in the grip of dysfunction which has control of all three branches of government. While one would think this would set the stage for conservative ideology and policy to more or less run the table, that’s not what’s happened.  Instead, the hyperpolarized rhetoric of the right has doomed the party to infighting and a lack of consensus as to what constitutes good governance.   Senators and Congressmen vote for bills they don’t understand which would do real harm to those who elected them.  Meanwhile, fewer voters identify with the party, and people who were formerly deemed conservative opinion leaders despair for the direction of the party.  Infighting among the radical right “Freedom Caucus” and the traditional business wing of the party has become common, with nobody at the helm to lead them and build a governing coalition, because the man at the top has no core, no ideology, no commitments to policy.   He is an empty suit, preoccupied with the optics of getting a win, no matter how that may be defined.

But Trump speaks for a party that is his, and no longer theirs. Its ideology can’t even be called such anymore;  it’s really just an angry beehive of racial grievance and scapegoating, led by a fake, intellectually lazy populist whose presidency is nothing more than a publicity stunt that took on a life of its own.  And yet Trump’s base clings to him in cult-like fashion, believing every lie against mountains of contrary evidence and ready to re-cast every blunder and misstep into a narrative of triumph over those innumerable enemies who would thwart him.  They are angry, they are entitled, and they have no sense of anything beyond their grievances.

Some degree of thoughtfulness has typified American presidents in the past, to a greater or lesser degree. Presidents think before they act. Their oratory is typically prepared and deliberate, because their words matter and because they care about how they’ll come across and how an unforgiving media organization will scrutinize their highly public actions. Not Trump. A man with little to no self-control, he recklessly tweets and speaks words that seemed designed to do nothing but play to a boorish base of aggressively anti-intellectual angry people.  While most of his sentences come out as utter brainfarts, his base will portray every utterance as some brilliant grand master plan to stick it to the libtards, because that’s about the height of their grasp of policy.  That’s what they call #winning.

The Trump base will believe literally anything that they deem convenient to their unhinged world view. They will think that Obama left office with unemployment at 20%, but Trump turned it around to only 4.5% overnight, without any legislative or policy action whatsoever, creating 48 million jobs out of pure ether, despite the fact that this simply could not and did not happen.

And no contradiction is too great to gloss over. Whereas the right criticized Obama for insufficient fealty to NATO, Trump’s contempt for it can’t be praised enough. Mitt Romney presciently asserted that Russia was our top adversary in 2012, and now it’s our friend despite years of declining relations, sanctions and very public feuding in the media.

The traditional canard of American exceptionalism, which has long been a litmus test on the right, has fallen by the wayside as well. When Obama was called a traitor for saying that all nations believe they’re exceptional, Trump’s base didn’t blink when the president of the United States appeared on Bill O’Reilly to call America a nation of killers with a shameful history.

Trying to follow the “reasoning” of the Trumpian mind is a trip down a bottomless pit, since there is no coherent ideology or principle that it draws on other than petty grievances and sense of wounded pride, stoked by perpetually outraged right-wing talking heads lying to them about liberals coming for their guns, money, and property. And Trumpists take joy in the fact that trying to grasp the insanity and incoherence of it all frustrates liberals.  They’d shit their beds if they knew a liberal would have to smell it.  Having lost the capacity to see anyone to their left as people with different opinions, they instead deem the other to be traitors and sub-human monsters to be silenced if not utterly subjugated.  Conservative principals pale before the opportunity to inflict misery on someone they don’t like, whether it be due to their ideology, skin color, or national origin. Eschewing principals of limited government that had formerly defined the conservative view, they yearn for the ability to turn the state into a tool to punish and disenfranchise their “enemies” while calling this the rule of law.

This is not the fringe. Whereas the John Birch Society and conspiracy theorists used to be relegated to the sidelines of the right, they are now the mainstream.  Their devotion to the cult of Trump’s personality is unquestioning and seemingly without any rational limit.  Some 60% of those who identify as Trump supporters have said that no matter what he does, they will never, ever stop approving of him, and almost all of them remained satisfied with their vote, despite Trump’s betrayals of his own campaign rhetoric, from appointing the swamp instead of draining it to rolling over on his promise to deport Dreamers and making a deal with Dems to protect them.  No second thoughts for these people – they double down and dig in their heels even as the rest of the world bristles with horror and dismay at America’s swift and shocking descent.

The party of freedom and personal responsibility has become the party of people who will gladly vote for the chaos candidate and who don’t care about the consequences of their decisions. They are little more than excuse makers. There is always a scapegoat ready to blame.  They can’t get jobs because of immigrants and globalists.  They can’t make enough profit because of regulations.  They can’t put on a sheet and burn crosses in public because of liberal political correctness.  They can’t get laid because of feminism…or maybe it’s just the white sheet they’re marching around in.  Whatever.  They believe that white Christians are the victims of discrimination by an evil society, and justify their bigotry, xenophobia, and support for the shattering of basic civil norms within this context.

To them, the economy and civil rights are zero sum games. These are not things that can expand and grow to support more people, but rather they are fixed quantities, where anyone’s gain must come at the expense of someone else’s loss.  Expanding the rights of minorities subjected to systemic discrimination must necessarily come at the expense of their own rights.  And when they voice their hateful and appalling racist and bigoted sentiments, they seem unable to grasp that the First Amendment doesn’t protect them from others’ criticism.

They fear and loathe “takers” looking for “free stuff” that their social media and cable news tells them are everywhere, scooping up the benefits they feel they themselves are entitled to. Those “takers” are defined by their “otherness”, usually cast in subtly racist tones.  These poverty-level, underemployed angry white men feel that somehow others are taking advantage of the public trough on their dime, with absolutely zero recognition that their own contributions to that trough are negligible or nonexistent.  There’s nothing like a white family in Appalachia receiving welfare and foodstamps bitching about people of color doing the same in the urban hellholes that their president decries with frequent alacrity.  Fed on a steady diet of right-wing fantasies about minorities and immigrants living it up at the public’s expense, they’re angry and demanding their share, because they’re entitled to it by virtue of being born in America. If a single dollar out of the public pocket can benefit anyone but them, they turn rabid with rage and demand the nation’s leaders’ heads on a pike.

They gnash their teeth about Soros, Agenda 21, the UN, and conspiracy theories that detail how everybody’s out to get them, fueled in no small part by the doomsday rhetoric the talking heads at Fox News and Breitbart have cranked out for years on end.   And to be fair, this is not Trump’s creation – it was in the pipeline for years before he came onto the scene.  Armed with these fears as their justification, the GOP has broken American democracy through a nonstop program of gerrymandering and voter suppression. Two of the last three presidents were elected to their first terms with a minority of the popular vote thanks to the Electoral College. The Senate is on track to see almost two-thirds of its members represent less than a third of the population. The House is gerrymandered to within an inch of its life and voting restrictions in more than a dozen states allow politicians, usually Republicans, to pick their voters and discard thousands of voices on the flimsiest of pretenses. This is how they get 1.4 million fewer Congressional votes, yet get a majority in the House.

Across Red America, they raise hurdle after hurdle for voters who are unlikely to vote for them, demanding specific IDs then make getting them harder, looking for any way to purge the rolls, incensed when more people might get to register to vote in elections, and if all that fails, limit early voting and close polling stations in urban hubs to ensure absurdly long lines, and refuse to even think about making November elections a national holiday. And even then, without an assist from the Electoral College, they wouldn’t have had their last two presidencies.

Combining with the cult of militant ignorance is the fact that the GOP has gamed the system to keep them in power even if they lose the popular vote by complaining that it’s unfair that people who wouldn’t vote for them are also allowed to vote. To say that they’re winning solely on the strength of their ideas rather than white identity politics, ginned up outrage, and picking their voters would be a lie. When a 54% majority still leaves Democrats with a minority presence in government, logic would dictate that there’s something rotten afoot.  It would also seem to dictate that a minority that pathologically hates the majority controlling all the levers of power can’t and won’t end well.  Trump’s legacy will be the complete takeover of the GOP by white supremacists, racists, and spineless partisan hacks, and destroying the public’s belief that their vote actually makes a difference.

The only way out of this is to fight, with all we can, for non-partisan district maps created by algorithms built to be as neutral as possible, to extend early voting and voting by mail, to end random vote purges, and either revise asinine voter ID laws, or vastly improve access to the services of the offices that issue them and ensure reasonable requirements for voting. Letting people who want to vote and meet the basic legal requirements actually vote will go a long way toward ensuring that democracy prevails.