Boiling The Frog

Charlie Sykes is a former conservative talk-show host. Very conservative. He is also the author of How the Right Lost Its Mind, and has been one of the most articulate voices criticizing Trump and the Republicans who have been willing to trash their conservative convictions in return for deregulation, tax cuts and ideological judges.

Sykes recently had a scathing article in Time, in which he made an important point.

Political parties do not lose their souls or their identities all at once. Usually, it is a gradual process of compromises that make sense in the moment, but which have a cumulative effect — like a frog being gradually boiled.

The analogy to the frog being boiled applies to more than the transformation of a once-serious political party into a cult of crazy.

What worries me–and a whole lot of political scientists–is increasing evidence that the democratic norms we rely upon to make government work are also being slowly “boiled.” Pleas against “normalizing” Trumpism are based upon the very reasonable fear that by the end of this very abnormal Presidency, the American public will have become accustomed to the petty outbursts and childish behaviors that have embarrassed and endangered us internationally and brought our national government to a screeching halt.

As Sykes points out, Congress’ failure to   discharge its constitutional duty as a co-equal branch of government is wholly attributable to the Republican Party. He understands why:

There are obvious reasons why Republicans have been so unwilling to stand up to President Donald Trump: political tribalism, transactionalism, anti-anti-Trumpism and, yes, timidity. While expressing dismay in private, GOP officials know that the Republican base remains solidly behind Trump. In a hyper-partisan environment, standing on principle can be dangerous for your political health

The problem is, in supporting Trump, they’ve betrayed the core principles that previously defined their party.

The price of the GOP’s bargain with Trump, however, has continued to rise. Republicans in Congress now not only have to swallow Trump’s erratic narcissism, but also his assaults on the very core principles that supposedly define their politics: fiscal conservatism, free trade, the global world order, our allies, truth and the rule of law.

They know that his crude xenophobia, his exploitation of racial divisions, his chronic dishonesty, sexism and fascination with authoritarian thugs pose a long-term danger to the GOP’s ethical and electoral future. But most remain paralyzed by fear of a presidential tweet. So even when appalled by the casual and calculated cruelty of a Trump policy like separating families at the border, few speak out. And despite expressions of dismay, it seems unlikely that Congress will take any meaningful action to confront Trump’s appeasement of Russia’s Vladimir Putin or to limit this President’s power to launch destructive trade wars. This reticence to challenge Trump is especially striking, given Trump’s propensity for caving on issues like paying for The Wall, when Congress refuses to budge.

Ultimately, as Sykes demonstrates, we’re back to boiling that frog:

Yet what Republicans in Congress have found is that rubber-stampism can be addictive and all-consuming; every time they allow a line to be crossed, it is harder to hold the next one, even if that next one is more fundamental. Republicans have made it clear that they have no intention of providing a meaningful check on Trump, and the next Congress could be even worse: from Georgia to Wisconsin, GOP candidates are vying with one another in their pledges of fealty to Trump rather than to any set of ideas.

This reality is what makes the upcoming midterm elections so critical. Whatever differences we may have with the various candidates running as Democrats, voting for Republicans who have pledged their fealty to Trump–or failing to vote– should be unthinkable. Whatever their deficits, the Democrats are still a political party. Today’s GOP is a dangerous, irrational White Nationalist cult.

As Sykes puts it:

Unfortunately, it’s hard not to see this as a watershed. Republicans have not only ceded ground to the President, they have done so at profound cost to the norms of liberal constitutional democracy. Power ceded is difficult to get back; moral authority squandered is often lost forever. (See: the acceptance of presidential lies, embrace of incivility and indifference to sexual misconduct.)

The problem here is not merely political, but also constitutional. The failure of Republicans to hold Trump accountable underlines what seems to be the growing irrelevance of Congress as a co-equal branch of government.

I have major policy disagreements with Charlie Sykes–and with Steve Schmidt, George Will, Jennifer Rubin, Peter Wehner, David Frum and the many, many other principled conservatives who have spoken out strongly against Trump and his corrupt and thuggish administration. But I respect their intellectual integrity.

If America is ever to have a responsible conservative party again, they will be the people who build it.


  1. Sheila,

    “If America is ever to have a responsible conservative party again, they will be the people who build it.”

    That’s an awfully big IF. You’re talking about the IMPOSSIBLE. That responsible conservative party is DEAD. It only exists in the PAST.

    A PSSI scan of America’s BODY POLITIC reveals the same DIAGNOSIS: DEATH, thru RACIAL CONFLICT. Last weekend, in Chicago, over 70 people were homicide victims. And Republicans still encourage more and more guns.

  2. The unilateral support for 45 might have been predictable, given the unilateral anitpathy towards Obama. Whatever he supported the Republicans in Congress were ordered to oppose, and they do follow orders.

    Vote blue!

  3. What is fueling the pot, that frog is in, to boiling point? What sport to stage the discussion along partisan differences! I believe there is a deeper dynamic more aptly focused on the growing divide demarcated by urban vs. rural demographics. The antiquated gerrymandering of voter districts incrementally over time has warped our means to a democratic republic. There inlies the frog that has been in the pot. Read this morning’s Washington Post opinion by Ishaan Tharoor It is a phenomenon both at home and abroad.

  4. Norris,

    “What sport to stage the discussion along partisan differences! I believe there is a deeper dynamic more aptly focused on the growing divide demarcated by urban vs. rural demographics.”

    I doubt that the author, Ishaan Tharoor, of the article in the Washington Post would agree with you. Where do we vote for rural or urban? It’s called partisan politics, whether we like it or not.

    I don’t even like it.

  5. To Marv’s point, it would be foolish to discount partisan strategy and to Sheila’s good post to reflect on incremental impact that has led to current reality of dysfunctional governance. My point speaks to just one social economic dynamic … among far too many in the brevity of social media exchange to mention … at play over decades not just here in America, but also abroad, where partisan strategy exploits the urban / rural divide. I am interested in what lies beneath the issues that give substance and a human face to the headlines. Good discussion.

  6. Sheila,

    This is off today’s subject, but are you planning to address Curtis Hill’s recent challenge to expanding early voting access in Marion County? It sure looks like a gross attempt to please extremists who might consider donating to his legal defense fund.

    Are you aware of any insider information about how Indiana plans to get rid of him as our AG?

    Curtis Hill has made it very clear that he is a completely disgusting and self-serving politician who does not belong in an office that enables him to abuse taxpayer money while pandering to his far-right political backers.

  7. Norris writes ” I believe there is a deeper dynamic more aptly focused on the growing divide demarcated by urban vs. rural demographics. ”

    Agreed. It can easily be seen in a map the of the presidential election voting, or in the microcosm of the recent Ohio congressional election. As Tharoor points out it is a world wide phenomenon e.g. Brexit.

  8. Norris,

    “I am interested in what lies beneath the issues that give substance and a human face to the headlines.”

    I agree. You made a very Important point. The urban/rural divide, like you say, is a major factor in the social economic dynamic. You’re right in pointing out the need for “giving [more] substance and a human face to the headlines.”

  9. We’ve seen Republicanism circle the drain of integrity since 1981 when they embraced Ronald Reagan as the savior and “trickle-down” economics as their fealty to corporate/banking America. In fact, Republicanism has been trying to destroy capitalism and the New Deal since the ink dried in 1934. They have NEVER been conservative in the sense of preserving what is good for the people. Republicans have ALWAYS been the whores of the rich, the corporations and anyone else who will bribe them.

    The flame that keeps boiling this frog was turned up to 10 with the Citizens United v. FEC decision by the co-equal collection of right-wing ideologues called SCOTUS. If you read the conflicting opinions of that ruling, you’d see that the divide in that court was a chasm, with Scalia being the most obfuscating voice in the court’s history.

    The frog, after all, is us.

  10. Jim Hightower writes in part: Here’s How Corporate Interests Control What You Hear — and Work to Undermine Democracy.

    Corporate concentration of markets, profits, workplace decision-making, political influence and our nation’s total wealth is surpassing that of the infamous era of robber barons. Apple, which just became the first U.S. corporation to reach a stock value of a trillion dollars, is now larger than Bank of America, Boeing, Disney, Ford, Volkswagon and 20 other brand-name giants combined. Just five tech superpowers — Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Netflix — have raked in half of this year’s stock price gains by the 500 top corporations ranked by the S&P index. A recent gold rush of corporate mergers has created mega-firms and shriveled competition in most industries, including airlines, banks, drug companies, food, hospitals, hotels, law firms, media, oil and more.

    Yet, in the stunningly short period of the last couple of decades, corporate political money and the public officials it bought have enshrined monopoly power as a legitimate form of business in our land, aggressively protected from public “meddling” by lawmakers, regulators and judges. For example, after our grassroots economy was crushed in 2007 by the greed of too-big-to-fail Wall Street banksters, officials bailed out the villainous banks at the taxpayer expense and deliberately made them bigger, more powerful and more dangerous than ever. Today, just five banks control nearly half of all financial assets in the U.S.

    You’d think such a massive power grab by bank monopolists would produce an equally massive, 24/7 barrage of coverage by the nation’s multitude of media outlets, which purport to be our defenders of democracy.

    Look at who owns America’s mass media. Three decades ago, 50 large media conglomerates controlled 90 percent of the media. This year, after yet another merger of giants is completed, just 5 mega-media monopolists will control 90 percent of what we see, hear and read. It is not in their interest to inform the public about the threat that monopolies pose to our democracy.
    It is in the interests of our corporate masters to continue to triangulate and shatter any potentially cohesive movement among the proles. The corporate masters have one over riding end goal and that is profit at all costs and by any means possible.

  11. so,what this means is, they all were bigots,and denied obama a decent presidency,and we the working class became pawns in a game, we already knew,existed.. there we see we wasted 8 years in this countries growth, while big on decency,republicns scraped our future,no this isnt the first conversation of this matter from me to others..again were wasting 4 years of now, a downfall again of working class growth,with the potential of having any democracy left. all because of politics as, unusual. im not holding any thing back, when i speak of this game,one that denies the people,representation in congress. if this all comes about from a plan devised by the right, gerrymandering,vote suppression of any person,and the division devised by right run think tanks to corprate media, to spell the takeover by the power of money,and greed DEMANDED by the right, then where is muller,and when does the law become the law again,as this is a planned conspiracy to thawart the constitution,and the people? if congress is so ugly as to deny us the right to expect the rule of law to enforce what is obviously a blaitant disregard for our nations well being,and the future of the people,as Americans.we all need to stop work,(piss off the wall street suits) fill the streets,(civil disobedience)and occupy the white house,and congress,and demnd we, the people are represented,above the conspiracy game of this congress,and past congress… we the people,,,,vote,and never let go..

  12. Jack,

    “…then where is Muller”

    Good question. We better not bank it all on him.

    Vote Blue! [From now on, I will end all my comments with the preceding. I don’t want anyone to misconstrue my intent]

  13. One problem with the frog metaphor is that it’s easy for humans to assume that it’s about frogs we are watching in the pot. The political reality of the present is that frogs are watching us in the pot.

    One of the things that parliamentary countries talk about all of the time is “confidence in government” which to them means the degree to which their many parties and alliances and compromises are holding up. When the environment changes and the government in power doesn’t adapt to the changes it’s time for new leadership. We however schedule our hiring and firing of those in government by the calendar instead of the need.

    Here’s another complication. All democracies hold not the politicians but we the people accountable for knowing the environment. As the impact of government on our lives is the prime measure of “environment” in both governement systems we the people make the adjustments to maintain the government’s adaptation to the times.

    That unfortunately depends on the mythical informed electorate and in democracies the idea that the majority of the electorate will be sufficiently informed to be wise enough about the world, and objective enough about the reality of the present, to judge prudently.

    That’s what the confluence of oligarchy and pervasive entertainment media has undermined throughout the world.

    Unless we can depower either or both oligarchy and entertainment, democracy will not rule the future.

    The question is, is it too late? Are they already more powerful than we are?

  14. the V.A. has three big money intrests making plans for them, wilbur ross is a con man, menuchin is a criminal,manafort a russian sympathizer, trump a no knowlege of international ways,and and congress full of bigots…thanks for todays blog, i never had much nice yo say here at times, but when this subject,becomes my problem,as well as everyones,and no one pays any mind,im not sitting here talking,my way may be like trumps on a vocal, in your face,but on the progressive pulpit.. many see me as out there,and say all i talk about is politics,no, i speak of your freedoms,in your face,being lost by ignorance. a lack of concern is a point of becoming another banana republic style of take over,and governance. seriously,look at the war in central america back in the 80s, that may have been about communism and reagans big time war, but its all a must read in what happens when,one side decides,control over the people. all i see is the money and greed taking control,and damn us if we resist. job loss,no credit, take the currency and demand we use a card, banks hand over the property to corp money,(try corprate farming,we all up here have been fighting)wall street grows while the working class dies into poverty. and we,the people, have become economic slaves to this goverment,(the new wall street), present in congress. no conspiracy here, its already being done today,in congress,and your asleep…

  15. Pete,

    “Unless we can depower either or both oligarchy and entertainment, democracy will not rule the future.”

    No argument here. I’m for trying the OLIGARCHY, they’re an easier TARGET to find the VITAL NODE.

    Vote Blue!

  16. Vernon:

    It seems to me you’ve got it backwards. What the Republicans intend to destroy is democracy, not capitalism. They worship their version of capitalism. And they have an aggressive time line which includes destroying democracy before democracy destroys capitalism. In their warped lingo, capitalism is under attack in the form of social programs that give the earnings of hard-working and deserving capitalists to the undeserving masses in the form of tax breaks and social programs. For a brief period – around 1945 until 1975 – capitalism worked to advance the interests of most Americans. Before and since then, it has benefited mainly the wealthy and left the bottom 50% in its dust. That’s now referred to as “income inequality,” which is becoming progressively worse.

    What causes pain and suffering to most people is what they like best about the system: driving down the number of laborers and the cost of labor to as close to zero dollars as possible; eliminating labor’s voice by decimating trade unions; always choosing profit when there is a trade-off between profit and the environment; rewarding top executives irrespective of their failures or criminal acts (Enron, Well Fargo, etc.); eliminating benefits like employee retirement programs; cynically treating war as a profit-generator; etc., etc.

    Much of the intellectual heft for this 70 year project has come from university (George Mason in particular) economic departments whose beliefs never faltered but which didn’t catch fire until they discovered that the Kochs were willing to bankroll them. Now their doctrines and aims dominate the party. If democrats remain feckless, Social Security will be their next victim followed closely by Medicaid and Medicare. Predatory capitalism is their weapon of choice, and it is doing its job.

  17. Rural/Urban divide.

    Farms. Farm income has declined 50% in the last 5 years, and 50% of farm households are now losing money from farming.

    Manufacturing. U.S. has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs since 2000, over a third in rural America. The effect is compounded and multiplied because many rural communities are one industry towns, and there are few comparable income opportunities in them.

    While living quiet lives of desperation at home, they are not quiet at the ballot box. They vote their desperation.

  18. Terry,

    “For a brief period – around 1945 until 1975 – capitalism worked to advance the interests of most Americans.”

    I tend to agree with Vernon. Our American version of democracy didn’t work to well for African-Americans or Hispanics from 1945 until 1975. We’ve never had a real SOCIAL DEMOCRACY, the oligarchy [like the Bush family]has always been in control. On the other hand we’ve had CAPITALISM, which, unfortunately under stress, moves toward FASCISM, like the present day U.S.A.

    Sorry to say, from my experience, it might be easier to fix CAPITALISM in the good ole U.S.A. than DEMOCRACY, especially SOCIAL DEMOCRACY.

    We All need a good challenge, once in awhile.

    Vote Blue!

  19. The Reactionary Rabid Right Wing Republican Party has evolved over time. Like any organism it develops characteristics that allow it’s survival. Speed, size, strength, claws, fangs are some of these characteristics. Natural evolution is not a conscious directed choice.

    The Republican Party has made a conscious directed choices on party direction in my lifetime from LBJ’s Civil Rights stands as President. The Jim Crow Democrats rebelled and George Wallace proved there was a sizable force of voters that would resist the idea of Civil Rights not only in the South but elsewhere in the country. The Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War Movements attacked the conforming 1950’s and the status quo. Nixon used “Law and Order” as a code word. Nixon could not reverse Civil Rights, but he could impede it, by encouraging States Rights – the Southern Strategy.

    The Three Piece Suit Republican Party evolved into The Reactionary Rabid Right Wing Republican Party as the base demanded and made a sharp right turn. This base now incorporated the uncompromising evangelicals. The dog whistles were no longer enough.

    Candidate Agent Orange and now President Agent Orange is a logical evolution to the extreme. The dog whistles are gone favor of in your face, lies, deceit, and insults. The Trumpters that follow Agent Orange have a fanatic, and evangelical like belief in him. The Trumpters are not going to be turned. They are a lost cause and no amount of reasonable logic or corruption on Agent Orange’s part will cause them to lose faith.

    As an addendum the Wall Street Three Piece Suits have lost control of the GOP, but this does not mean that have stopped exploiting. They are riding on Agent Orange’s gravy train.

    Even after the Watergate Tapes confirmed Nixon’s attempts to obstruct justice some people still supported Nixon.

  20. So I read this morning – ‘Most Republicans want president to have the power to shut down media outlets..’ – I have to say, I am ready – alone if necessary – to go to Wash. D.C. and drag the wanna-be dictator out in the street and kick his lily ass. Because someone really needs to. And if fact there are a lot of members of both houses that need to be arrested along with the miscreants and misanthropes in the White House, and charged with treason. There is no apologizing for what is taking place, there is no excuse. Call it what it is – crime, and high crimes and misdemeanors on the part of the president and all his cabinet along with the leadership and some members of the House also the Senate. We know that. I do not believe a ‘majority’ support this bastard president. I know that cannot be. Because if it is true – then this country is down the toilet completely.

  21. We have an interesting array of symptoms of our downfall spelled out by my fellow contributors today but few designed to correct the situation. The correction (other than piecemeal and Band-Aid bits of legislation) will not be made until Citizens United is gone (or neutered) and (as my now-deceased wife held for years) we have public financing of elections. Since it is obvious that politicians of all stripes pay attention to those who contribute to their election and reelection to office, let’s have the people provide such resources and outlaw any other contribution in money or kind to political candidates.
    Can’t afford it? We already are, and far more as measured by Republican handouts to the rich and austerity economics for the rest of us. One might better ask how can we afford the present system, one that is strangling democracy with its tax cuts for the rich, wage inequality for workers, and cuts in social services for the 42 million people we (to our shame) have in poverty? Perhaps it’s time not to endlessly repeat the evils emanating from the current system but rather focus on how to end the result through the current system that rewards money over the wants and needs of all Americans. For a start, listen to Marv – and vote Blue come November.

  22. John Neal @ 10:36 am. Thanks for the link. As a baby boomer I remember traveling with my dad through rural Illinois. We lived in the South Chicago area. Back then US 30 was roughly the dividing line between urban and rural. Anything south of US 30 was down state.

    I live now in Indianapolis and travel at times back to the “Homeland” to visit I take some rural roads. At times these small towns seem like a nice place to relocate to. Then, I think it through and realize all the conveniences and choices I have here in Indianapolis would be gone, such shopping, entertainment, medical or dental care. It is hard to imagine growing up in these small towns and finding no opportunities or very limited opportunities.

    The South Chicago area I grew up in has also been hollowed out. The steel mills and all the associated industries are gone along with the jobs. It does not surprise to read about all the violence in Chicago – hopelessness leads to desperation.

  23. I realized something about myself post-Trump. I don’t want to save America. I am “over it.” I will go to the polls and vote straight blue, thinking that just maybe Americans aren’t this awful and right will be done, but I am not counting on it. And the truth is I am not up for any heavy lifting to try to teach Cletus Duncecap, the lovely Mrs. Duncecap, and their numerous feral children, the truth. They know the truth. They don’t care. And they prefer their backward tribalism to modernism.

    The Duncecaps and those like them have been waiting for this all their lives. They never thought any differently. They always criticized the dark, the foreign, and the queer. There is no frog. There is only end stage capitalism where Cletus and his folk, the new peasants, are now politically useful to the vultures who have taken over. At least until this democracy farce can be sufficiently perverted. Welcome to The People’s Democratic Republic of America. Get that crisp salute ready.

    For now Ol’ Cletus and Clan can pretend they have a voice and a hero as economic forces continue to devour them. And all of us. Good luck, everyone.

  24. Terry,

    Well, you have a point, but I meant the destruction of capitalism in the Marxian sense. When capitalism is allowed to follow the path of Republicanism, it is bound to destroy itself. That’s why there is that delicious irony that FDR, the demon of Republicanism, saved capitalism from itself by adding all the regs.

    The free marketeers and Libertarians like the Koch brothers want NO regs. whatsoever, thus dooming capitalism to the fate that Marx predicted.

  25. Vernon, it seems that the indisputable fact that only liberals can save capitalism from itself is a bridge too far for entertainment besotted brains to stretch.

  26. Rural/Urban divide. One last thing:

    “On Election Night last November, Trump lost America’s cities in a landslide. In the suburbs, he narrowly prevailed over Clinton. But in the 2,332 counties that make up small-town and rural America, he swamped his Democratic rival, winning 60 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 34 percent. Trump’s 26-point advantage over Clinton in rural America far exceeded the margins by which Republican nominees had won those voters in the four previous elections.”

    Dan Balz Washington Post 6/17/17

    Where is the Dem plan to help rural folk get jobs and reconstruct their communities? Where is today’s Robert Kennedy?

  27. Pete,

    You’re probably right. BTW, Gerald, the solutions offered by yours truly are in concert with your late wife’s and expand them. They are found in my two books, “Killing the Dream: America’s Flirtation With Third World Status” and “Racing to the Brink: The End Game for Race and Capitalism”. It’s not that hard to figure. Hell, even a retired science educator can figure it out.

  28. Pete,

    “Vernon, it seems that the indisputable fact that only liberals can save capitalism from itself is a bridge too far for entertainment besotted brains to stretch.”

    Where are the facts supporting the above statement? Where or when did the LIBERALS ever stand-up against the OLIGARCHY?

  29. No political entity, individual or institutional, that supports trickle-down economics can lay claim to being responsible, philosophic, reasonable or principled. Not then, not now, nor in the future.

  30. Larry,

    You’re absolutely right. It’s pretty difficult to “lay claim to being responsible, philosophic, reasonable or principled” with pure BULLSHIT.

  31. Marv
    “The urban/rural divide, like you say, is a major factor in the social economic dynamic.”

    The cultural difference between John/Sue growing up in Indianapolis/Carmel/Fishers and John/Sue growing up thirty miles away in, say, Whiteriver Township in Hamilton County is greater than the cultural difference between the prototypical American and the average Ethiopian.

    Another way of saying it is that Indianapolis has more in common with Mumbai, India than with Mitchell, Indiana.

    And socio-economic confusion is only part of the outcome. It makes me nostalgic for the draft, which in its immersive impact on diverse attitudes, it tended to do to cultural differences for millions of individuals what the college experience is now left alone to do for millions of others.

  32. Larry,

    “It makes me nostalgic for the draft, which in its immersive impact on diverse attitudes, it tended to do to cultural differences for millions of individuals what the college experience is now left alone to do for millions of others.”

    Now looking back, as you have, the first time I observed anything resembling racial diversity was when I was on active duty in the Army at the end of the 50’s. One of my friends back then, had also been in the R.O.T.C. , but at a Black college.

  33. The term, “Boiling The Frog”, reminded me of an old Jack Lemmon movie where he and his wife were ordering dinner in a fine restaurant. He told the waiter to tell the cook not to drop his lobster into a pot of boiling water, that causes them to clench and makes the meat tough. We have all been tossed into a pot of boiling water, no gradual heating up to the boiling point we are at today with Trump and the Republicans. As clenched as I have been, actually since early morning of November 9, 2016, I was unprepared for Giuliani’s denial to Robert Mueller to “ask the president any question which would CAUSE him to lie”. I have been unable to ungrit my dentures since that one hit the airwaves.

    “Whatever their deficits, the Democrats are still a political party. Today’s GOP is a dangerous, irrational White Nationalist cult.”

    And the GOP White Nationalist cult is keeping the pot boiling. VOTE BLUE

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