A Wake-Up Call Too Late?

Finally, the alarms are going off in what is left of the rational GOP. The question is: is it too late? Has the party slept through earlier signals and bells, hitting the “snooze” button too often?

Okay, enough with the strained analogy.

Bill Brock recently wrote a “must read” column for the Washington Post. For young people and those with bad memories, Brock, from Tennessee, served as both a Representative and a Senator from that state, and for four years, was Chair of the Republican National Committee.

I am just as concerned about the destructive tone of the Trump campaign as I am about its demagogic content. How can you hear what someone else is saying, no matter how important, when you’re shouting? How can you bring people into a constructive search for solutions to our national problems when you do nothing but belittle them, and even suggest they are stupid, weak or corrupt?

A truly free society, one that gives its citizens the responsibility of participation, can function only to the extent there is civil discourse. We can engage in a mutual search for solutions only to the extent that we agree a problem exists. That can never happen unless we talk to each other, listen to each other and respect the fact that honorable people can reach different conclusions. When that sense of comity is missing, we are at risk.

Before readers dismiss Brock’s column as just one more heart-felt but ultimately feckless appeal for civility, I would call attention to an important paragraph in which he identifies the structural elements—what he calls “root causes”— that have brought us to this (very unpleasant) place in our national life:

Shouting is only part of it. There are also root causes. They include, but are not limited to, the ever-widening gap between our two parties caused by redistricting abuses and the undeniable sense that the election process itself is being swamped by unlimited and too often undisclosed funds from a select few. There is one more I fear — the too-often cable-TV-driven sense that only the dramatic, only the negative, only the ad hominem attack can garner sufficient attention to assure electoral success. The public disgust is palpable, and rightly so, but in a more fundamental sense, the results are disastrous.

Redistricting. Unlimited and unreported money. The rise of sensationalist, propaganda radio and TV.

We can and should do something about these causes of our political pain. It won’t be easy, but we need to move from today’s pervasive gerrymandering to nonpartisan redistricting. We need a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United, and far more transparency about political funding.

And–most difficult of all, but also perhaps most important–we need to reclaim what has been called the journalism of verification. We need a journalism that fulfills its constitutionally-protected function of acting as government’s watchdog, a journalism that is trusted because it has demonstrated that it is trustworthy.

Let’s take Brock’s wake-up call seriously—and hope that it isn’t too late to restore both civility and a government that functions.


  1. I fear we have gone beyond that already. The degree to which any purveyor of information is trusted has been lost in the constant mantra of the extremists (on both sides) that the messenger is not to be believed because the message does not support the ideology of the audience.

  2. I agree with everything that you suggest needs to be changed. However, I personally believe things will not start changing for the better until those that have taken complete control of our country finally drive the masses to such a low point in their daily struggle that sheer frustration causes them to start a revolution against the powerful.

  3. I haven’t seen the Democratic debate yet and will watch it later but if we have an election, shouldn’t all of the candidates get the same amount of time of press, tv air time, etc? All we hear about is the media’s love affair with Trump and he gets the most air time of all of the candidates. And to make matters worse and amazes me as well, is that the DNC arranged for last night’s debate on a Saturday and the one Saturday before the biggest holiday of the year besides New Years or the 4th of July. WTH? It’s almost as if the left doesn’t understand that there are supreme court justices about to retire (or should retire) and the next President will be the one to suggest their replacement. As a new comer (yet baby boomer) to politics, this is one of the most important reasons why elections matter. Watching the previous administration’s gun ho attitude toward financing a war on the back of citizens and making corporations rich is enough to show exactly why I was not engaged for 30 yrs. It’s disgusting and the fact that the left is getting so little air time is just amazing to witness. Liberal media, my hinny!

  4. I have no law degree nor am I a politician but I spent years working with and for local government and attorneys so have some awareness of the mind-set of both. Regarding gerrymandering – when, where, how and why is a DISTRICT NOT A DISTRICT? Uni-Gov was put in place to resolve the problems involving the ever-widening city limits to be inclusive to county lines. This was to stop the “that’s not my responsibility” or “I can take care of that myself” bickering over tax dollars. It ended at the county lines; township lines do not change – why do voting district boundaries change at the whims of politicians, the Republicans in this city and county?

    One of the regular commenters has stated that her gerrymandered district in another county also includes a portion of northern Marion County. Where will this stop – when it includes all of Marion County hoping to gather the Republican voters to the Representative’s bosom? The combined number in two counties would bury the Democratic party and voters in Marion County who just fought to elect Joe Hogsett to the Mayor’s Office.

    I watched most of the Democratic Debate last night; realized the full force of Hillary’s corporate financial support – Hillary IS a Corporation in and unto herself…and Bill. If elected; she will NOT support repealing Citizens United and cut off her own support and control. The part of the debate regarding jobs and wages and health care seemed weak to me; lacking full support or explanations of how any support would be accomplished. ISIS is an octopus; many tentacled throughout most of the world at this time – including this country. The candidates opposing solutions to primarily agreed upon problems, were dealt with respectfully – if at full volume at times. These candidates are aware, awake and ready to serve and more importantly to save the United States of America.

  5. Bill Moyers says it rather well- “Each pronouncement from the Sultan of Slur is treated as epic, no matter how deeply insulting, bigoted or just plain ridiculous.

    You may have seen by now that recent Tyndall Report analysis of the nightly news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC. It found that from January 1 through November, the big three had devoted 234 minutes of reporting to Donald Trump but only ten to Bernie Sanders. At ABC, World News Tonight had given the Trump campaign 81 minutes of coverage while Bernie Sanders has received less than a minute. A minute!”

    Then this – Here’s CBS chief executive Les Moonves at an investor presentation last week, cheering on Trump and the other Republican candidates: “The more they spend, the better it is for us… Go Donald! Keep getting out there. And you know, this is fun, watching this, let them spend money on us… We’re looking forward to a very exciting political year in ’16.”

    I always knew since the Networks shifted from real journalism to marketing the emphasis was on ratings and hence profit. Les Moonves statement above of CBS proves why Bernie Sanders is such an enemy of Wall Street and the McMega-Media. Bernie wants to over throw Citizens-United and this would damage profits.

  6. JD mentions extremists on both sides. Who on the left is vaguely as radical as any on the right? The Democratic Socialist has not come close to the nativism and jingoism of the the least vocal of the right. Lies of the proportion of the GOP scream are absent on the left. Bernie’s mantra is so similar to progressive movements of the past, including statements of Jefferson, he might be accused of plagiarism. No extremist of the left is a candidate for president.

  7. Clearly someone with insight and understanding needs to step up and create the base for the changes proposed above. Then it becomes all about work and grabbing media time and making the changes happen.

  8. JoAnn Green – I wish you would explain what you meant by:
    “(Hillary), If elected; she will NOT support repealing Citizens United and cut off her own support and control.”
    I laughed out loud. Hillary might serve if the electorate wakes up for four years and then maybe four more. If there were a credible movement to repeal Citizens United, how many years would it take? Has the process begun?
    This issue shows how important it is that we start a grassroots movement and elect a Democrat administration and Democrat majority to Congress if we oppose the nefarious Citizens United decision.
    The Republican National Committee, meeting in Cleveland July 18 to July 28, 2016 will vote on the GOP agenda. What further threats to erode of our freedoms will it contain? Doubtless Mike Pence and some of his cronies will be delegates. It will be where the elite meet. The Platform Committee meetings are usually televised. You’ll be surprised to see and hear some of the proposals by the delegates. It should be at least entertaining as it was last time.

  9. Several of us here in Austin have complained to the AUSTIN AMERICAN STATESMAN about Ted Cruz getting so much space in the paper. The reporter said “Get used to it. You’ll hear more.” Talk to your paper. I Love this column.

  10. In much the same way that John McCain was the media darling throughout 2007-mid 2008, Trump is being promoted because that nutball can never win the general election and they get great ratings in the meantime. The media will return to the liberal mantra as soon as they succeed in getting Trump the nomination. I do not appreciate the vile language and fear tactics on the right but the folks whining the loudest have forgotten the fear monger inc and misrepresentations of the right by the left including throwing granny off a cliff. Any attempt to reconsider any social program for inefficiency is equated with starving children. It goes back to the LBJ commercial with the atomic explosion. As for radicalism, even Hillary recognizes that Bernie’s plan will add $18 trillion in spending. I assume even the most irresponsible liberals figure ANOTHER doubling of the national debt is not very prudent.

  11. OMG; my comment is self explanatory regarding a corporate funded candidate…including Hillary.

  12. How do we have the journalism of verification in central Indiana when the newspaper of record, The Indianapolis Star, devotes more column inch space to full page ads for hearing aids and mattresses, among other things, than to actual news? How does it actually inform its readers about things that they really need to know when only roughly 4-5 pages out of the first section’s middle of the week 12 pages is actually devoted to news? Its USA Today section is shallow on national and international news to the point of being useless.

    Not everyone surfs the web for news and those people that still want to turn to their daily newspaper for credible information are being greatly under-served by “The Pravda of the Plains”. This is a sore spot for me since several of my relatives were editors, columnists and reporters for The Star back when it was a viable newspaper. Truly sad stuff.

  13. Businesses are in business only to make money. Political parties exist only to gather votes. The gun industry exists only to sell as many guns and as much ammunition as possible. The fossil fuels industries one mission is to move the maximum fossil content from below the ground to the atmosphere. Grover Norquist -“I’m not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

    These are all extremist thoughts. None are wrong, none are right. They exist in minds struggling to simplify the complex world so that their opinions stand out in a crowd.

    There is no better example of the disease than Donald Trump. It was inevitable that our path down this slippery slope would lead to him or someone else very much like him.

    Perhaps the complexity of the world has just exceeded the cognitive capacity of the average mind. Perhaps it is only evidence of a society temporarily besotted by media and celebrity. But clearly if the average mind is incapable of handling the subtleties of 7B highly connected people all using advanced technology we have created a house of cards doomed to collapse.

    The fate of extremism in America will be the world’s canary in the mine. We will recover or we won’t and the world will learn if civilization is sustainable or not.

  14. JoAnn, I wonder if our campaign funding dysfunction is less from whom it is sourced and more the massive funding required as an arms race. Nobody knows how to end the competition. What engineers call an unstable system.

    The only solution that I can see are campaigns funded by the level of government involved. All qualified candidates get the same funding.

  15. Tom; did you find any reference to last night’s Democratic debate in the “Indy Star, a Gannett company” or the sample US A Today insert?

    It isn’t exactly news that “Trump charms some Hoosiers” as stated on the front page of the Star. I was a tad surprised to see “Spotlight on Dem Data Breach” on the front page of the USA Today sample due to the fact that it had been resolved before either publication went to press.

    Oh well; maybe tomorrow they will let us know about the debate.

  16. When did the right-wing train run off the tracks? Martin Longman of The Washington Monthly says today’s Republican rhetoric pre-dates Eisenhower, whose election masked the party’s true impulses: http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal-a/2015_12/conservatives_same_as_they_eve058985.php. Personally, though, I think the most relevant factor is Newt Gingrich’s Gopac memo of 1990 to local Republicans, which The Times described as “a list of 133 words that Gopac urges candidates to use to put down their opponents and to praise themselves.” Article here: http://www.nytimes.com/1990/09/09/us/political-memo-for-gop-arsenal-133-words-to-fire.html. That’s precisely the point when conservative rhetoric turned nasty and irrational. It hasn’t recovered since.

  17. Unfortunately, I believe Mr. Brock may have missed the root cause of why cable “news” is generative, at least FOX. Like Mr. Trump, it understands the frustration and distrust of the uber conservatives. I believe we are witnessing the death of the GOP, and the birth of the Conservative Party in the US.

  18. Extremism appeals because of its inherent simplicity. It is easy to deliver and compelling to those needing the world to be simpler, more black and white.

    Democracy assumes that those who embrace extremism will generally be outvoted by those who accept reality.

    Let’s make it so.

  19. I just heard a guy interview a group of Trump supporters. Their assessment of the candidate, the realities of politics and society are pretty evidence-free, entrenched and clearly lined up with motivated social cognitions. These people aren’t going anywhere and about half of them stated that they would vote for Donald Trump if he were a third party candidate. They actually believe that they can convince the majority to join them. That means there exists a number of people who are not subject to reason and careful analysis, and it just may be realistic to let them form a political third party, where dysfunctional and evidence-free perceptions are encouraged. As with all dysfunctional groups, they will fragment and end up eating one another trying to outdo each other in how radical and “thought pure” they can be.

    There is another group, characterized by Bill Brock, who are coming around to the idea that the current state of affairs is leading downward and it’s well past time to re-think, not just strategy but what Republicans are about and what they stand for, before the last guy to leave has to shut out the lights. I suspect that there may be a lot of them who will be fact-based and will engage in hard-headed analysis which this country needs. If that group becomes the new Republican party, we need them to participate in the great debate. Some here might even vote for them.

    It’s time to pull the plug on those who have captured and undermined our politics and our churches, making political parties like religious cults and religion conform to authoritarian, hate-filled thinking. It’s time for the delusional thinkers to form a third party and become a formal echo chamber, which in hearing each others’ voices reverberate will believe that the whole world agrees with them, while the rational folks are free to govern with good sense. Let the third party call them “liberal” or whatever epithet they choose.

  20. Last night’s SNL cold opening featured their version of the GOP debates. Near the end (6:30), the Jeb Bush character exclaimed, “You’re never going to be president, Donald!” Trump responded, “No kidding. None of us are, genius.” That was an interesting truly prophetic bit from SNL comedians.

    I don’t think you have to be a political scientist to understand that these people, in their extended appeal to their base–maybe 15% to 20% of the population–are saying stuff that makes the general public wretch or tremble at the thought that any one of them would be president. No wonder the rational Republicans are scared. They envision a political disaster in November that will leave their party in ruin. But that’s only karma when one is dysfunctional.

    You can see the SNL presentation at http://recode.net/2015/12/20/saturday-night-live-skewers-gop-debate/

  21. Pete,
    That NC article is excellent, especially the recommendations he offered to avoid PR problem. The electric company could very easily offer some sort of community “skin in the game”.

  22. Is it too late for the GOP, asks Sheila? Not yet, but without reform within its ranks, the GOP might well be headed back to the ashes of the Whig Party, from whose ashes the Republican Party arose in 1854 to elect a president only six years later, Abraham Lincoln, a former Whig. If, like its predecessor party, the Whigs, the Republican Party fails, it will not be the first. We have had a major party (the Whigs) fail as well as several third parties that have organized and failed (Dixiecrats, Know Nothings et al.). Party failure and re-formation happens more frequently in parliamentary democracies such as Israel and France, for instance. Here we are for the most part captive to the two-party system.

    As I have often blogged, both parties advertise that they have “Big Tents,” i.e., lots of room for differing points of view, but there is no tent big enough to encompass those who have gathered under the Republican big top, which now includes libertarians, nihilists and others who don’t believe in government but want to get inside it in order to destroy or weaken it. This explains the inner brawls of the Republican Party today, and unless someone comes up with a magic wand and restores some semblance of party unity, that party could indeed descend into what I have denominated Whigdom.

    The purpose in even having a political party is to bring like-minded people together who share a common theme in governing. The Republican Party of today contains many who are not like-minded and who definitely do not share a common theme in governing, notably that of Senator Cruz, who will shut the government down at the drop of an ideological hat and who called his own majority leader a liar on the Senate floor.

    Such conduct, mostly found in libertarian and tea party ideologues and other political juvenile delinquents, suggests a collective ego and elitism that will be difficult for the Republican Party to corral, not to mention the obvious difficulty in appointment of such ideologues into party leadership roles. Perhaps, like corporations who run through Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings and re-emerge cleansed of debt, labor contracts, pension debt etc., they can take a run through a hypothetical Whigdom and emerge as an energized New Republican Party and, like their predecessor party, elect a president soon afterwards.

    Perhaps, perhaps not. The hour is late; they are on track in 2016 to lose the presidency, control of the Senate, and several seats in the gerrymandered House with their internal bickering. Perhaps a managed failure is the way to go for our opponents to survive. It’s their call, not mine. I am not now and have never been a member of the Republican Party, but I still believe in the two-party system Madison favored and don’t want them to go away for that reason. That party has a cancer on its political future but one that can still be excised with vigorous leadership willing to expel some from their tent. Again, their call.

  23. Did anyone else notice that I asked JoAnn Green two direct questions about the process of repealing Citizens United neither of which she answered? She did comment on the post but not on the questions. What’s up? She’s never at a loss for words.

  24. OMG; Hillary is primarily supported by corporate donations, unregulated – unbridled – corporate and individual political donations to candidates and parties are now the “law of the land” thanks to Citizens United. Hillary is not going to put much effort into repealing Citizens United and cutting off her own financial support from corporations…Hillary IS a corporation…thus, a part of Citizens United.

    My comment was self-explanatory.

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