The Republican Party is the Entity to be Feared, Not Trump himself
Last Saturday was a great day. Democracy, decency and hope prevailed, and much of the world erupted into spontaneous dance and celebration, so reviled is Donald Trump. As great as it feels to celebrate, my utter relief and joy is mixed with anger and sadness.
Relief and joy, because we voted out Trump and elected a historic presidential ticket; but anger and sadness, because Trumpism remains — a festering presence rotting our democratic institutions. Don’t get me wrong. Biden and Harris’s win was hugely important and, of course, historic. I’m optimistic about what a competent and steady administration can do to confront the multiple crises we face, but I am not naive to the deep divisions that plague our country and the challenges they pose to effecting real change.
For now, a bit of the nagging sense of unease I’ve carried around the last four years remains.
Yes, Joe Biden won by a historic margin in the popular vote, but in the electoral college — that anti-democratic, slavery-era relic that unfortunately determines the outcome of our presidential elections — it was relatively close. That is deeply unsettling. After four years of cruelty and incompetence — the muslim ban, the child separation policy and caging of children, the casting aside of constitutional norms, the healthcare plan we’re still waiting on after four years, the 240,000 dead Americans and no federal COVID plan, the bullying and Twitter trolling, the denigration of our troops and global allies — over 70 million Americans thought they wanted more of that. Why? This question confounds me. It seems reality has little bearing on voting for half the country, or that they are occupying a different reality entirely.
Of course, this is by design. The GOP is a party with a dwindling base and policies that don’t appeal to a majority of Americans. Rather than confront that reality and shift focus to serve the interests of more Americans — you know, what public servants are supposed to do — much of the Republican Party has gone down a dark and sinister path to maintain minority rule.
The strategy is a distortion of reality, fueled by misinformation, white grievance and anti-democratic policies, to obscure their true plutocratic agenda of tax cuts for the wealthy and accommodation of billionaire-funded special interests. This strategy has been the work of years, if not decades. The result is a party that welcomes eroding confidence in science, expertise and fact itself; that gives a megaphone to those “ism-s” that before were a mere whisper within the party — racism, nationalism, populism; that dangles cultural wedge issue carrots out there in front of the base to stir up the hatred and fear (Late-term abortions! Religious freedom! Build that wall!).
A base completely unmoored from reality and fueled by grievance and hatred is exactly the point — it wins elections where Republicans otherwise couldn’t.
At least in the Presidential election, that strategy failed this year. Trump is out. But down ballot, the Republicans benefitted handsomely from the turnout of Trump’s base, picking up seats in the House and easily fending off challenges to vulnerable Republican Senators. In the past week it has become abundantly clear that the Republican Party is the entity to be feared, not Trump. Trump, in his bumbling ineptitude, will retreat, likely to one of his failing golf courses where he will await the slow but inexorable advance of the SDNY (I can’t wait!).
However, the Republican Party remains, and the forces that allowed a demagogic con-man with authoritarian impulses and an utter disdain for democracy to occupy the most sacred office of our government are still very much alive. Turns out, when the opportunity presented itself to ditch Trump and “return to normal” — as many promised they would — they wouldn’t take it.
The vast majority of Republicans in Congress (at current count, all but four) are going along with Trump’s insane claim that the election was plagued by massive voter fraud rigged in Biden’s favor. Why? Because Trumpism is the Republican strategy now, and they have those pesky Georgia runoffs to contend with in January. They need that fired-up base of Trump voters, enraged by a presidential election they see as rigged despite all evidence, logic and math to the contrary, to turn out in droves.
Many of us wondered how far Congressional Republicans would go in their complicity to Trump’s abuses over the last four years, awed at the number of red lines they were simply fine with Trump crossing. Now we know they would willingly subvert democracy itself to worship at the altar of Trumpism. Because democracy is a threat to the Republican Party, and Republicans know it. The GOP has won the popular vote in only one of the last eight presidential elections. We lived under minority rule in the Trump era — Trump lost the popular vote by over 3 million votes in 2016, and Senate Republicans, though in the majority, represent 15 million fewer Americans than the Democrats. Legislation that the majority of Americans support — universal health care, raising the minimum wage, gun control, paid family leave, climate change legislation, among others — are given nary a thought, left to die at the hand of Mitch McConnell.
McConnell, if he retains control of the Senate, intends to keep it that way, continuing his obstructionism until GOP power is enshrined — an electorate gerrymandered to oblivion, unchecked by a judiciary stacked with sycophants.
After Clinton’s loss in 2016, liberals were reprimanded for failing to understand Trump voters. This year, after a resounding Biden win, liberals are again reprimanded for failing to understand Trump voters. And of course we should try to understand why over 70 million Americans voted a certain way (i.e. for a madman). But that understanding must go both ways, and must be encouraged by both parties. Biden won, after all. Instead, the Republican party chooses to capitalize on demonizing liberals, rather than reckoning with the reasonable and popular policies liberals promote.
I know I am supposed to remember the pain and grief I felt 4 years ago after Hillary’s loss, and channel that into empathy for Trump voters who feel that loss today with Biden’s victory. But that’s a tall order when faced with a party that ran on a “Fuck your feelings” and “Own the libs” platform, a party that ran on no policy platform to speak of, a party that peddled in outright lies and a party that gave a bullhorn to voices of misogyny, xenophobia, racism and downright wild conspiracies. Yes, I know not all Trump voters believe Democrats operate a satanic child-trafficking cult that drinks the blood of children, but they voted for a party that refuses to disassociate from people who do (a truly shocking number!). So how does one bring “empathy and understanding” to…that?
The way to deal with this morass is not for liberals to descend upon diners in the upper Midwest to have a coffee with the White Working Class Male — that Trump voter archetype. The rise of Trumpism is not the result of liberals failing to understand Trump voters. It is the result of the Republican Party taking advantage of those voters for electoral gain and willfully funneling lies, conspiracies and hate into the media those voters consume. And, yes, a Democratic Party that failed to participate in those conversations. We need to confront this massive right-wing disinformation propaganda machine that, in the end, hurts all Americans. Trump didn’t create the disinformation problem we have in this country, but he and the GOP certainly elevated it and took advantage. The Right-Wing media and a nihilistic, grifting GOP now live in symbiosis. That is the real problem.
The prospect of confronting the media machine is overwhelming, but there are great minds within the Democratic Party already at work like Stacey Abrams, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Beto O’Rourke. The way forward is a combination of in-person and online organizing that forges connections with voters on a regular basis, and not just in an election year. It will take a large investment in local grassroots infrastructure over the course of many years. In the meantime, winning those Georgia runoffs would help. It’s a tall order, but not impossible. Biden won Georgia, so the voters are there.
It is easy to make sweeping statements about Trump base voters as “bad” or “hateful” or “racist,” but of course it’s far more complicated than that. Beneath all of the lies and misinformation the GOP has peddled there is a sense that government is broken, and for many people it has been. If Democrats control the Senate, they can demonstrate how government can actually work to solve the problems everyday Americans face through actions the majority of Americans support. Perhaps through action they can restore faith in our institutions, our bedrock democratic ideals and the ability of government to heal and unify. We all benefit when our fellow Americans are doing well, yet this has been lost in our individualistic and obstructionist partisan politics.
So, let’s celebrate this Biden-Harris win — we deserve a celebration after the past four years — but let’s also continue the activism and investment in politics and do everything we can to win those Georgia runoffs. Sure, extend some empathy and understanding to Trump’s base — not to the abhorrent policies their party promotes but because they are being taken advantage of by that party.
And let’s all relish in the fact that we can say that Trump’s disastrous presidency ended with a press conference by Rudy Giuliani at the Four Seasons…Four Seasons Total Landscaping, that is, a dingy storefront between a a crematorium and a porn shop. How fitting!