Stop The World…But Then What?

Every once in a while, I come across an article or column which doesn’t convey anything particularly new or earth-shattering, but that sets out conventional wisdom in a way that makes a light-bulb come on. I had that “aha” experience when I read an opinion piece in the New York Times titled “Trumpism Has No Heirs.

The author, Jane Coaston, pointed out that–at least for the next two years–the Republican Party is ideally positioned.

As the opposition party, it will not be expected to offer solutions to the country’s myriad problems, much less introduce substantive legislation. It will not be expected to do anything except what it does best — oppose the Democratic administration and the Democratic Party.

Coaston’s observation isn’t new, of course–anyone who can spell “Mitch McConnell” or  has followed national politics even superficially over the past few years will agree that “even when holding power, movement conservatism is fundamentally an opposition movement.”

However, Coaston suggests that this “spirit of opposition” is the GOP’s Achilles’ heel –a weakness that will doom Republican efforts to “move on” from Donald Trump. Over the past few years, “conservatism” has become an empty label; as she notes, although many people  call themselves conservatives, they mostly agree about what conservatism isn’t. There is no consensus on what conservatism in the 21st Century is. And she says that Donald Trump’s candidacy and presidency exploited conservatism’s glaring lack of a central motivating vision.

The conservatism that was seemingly agreed upon by the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute and National Review was not the conservatism that Mr. Trump sold to the American people.

Mitt Romney campaigned in 2012 on being “severely conservative” and lost. Mr. Trump campaigned on a self-serving redefinition of what it even means to be conservative and won. After all, as Mr. Trump told ABC News in early 2016, “this is called the Republican Party, it’s not called the Conservative Party.”

But what Mr. Trump was for, and what his voters supported, was not the populist nationalism generally associated with “Trumpism.” Populist nationalism has a long history in this country. Paleoconservatives like Pat Buchanan, the former Nixon assistant and political commentator, have espoused a blend of America First isolationist foreign policy rhetoric and distrust of perceived culture and political “elites” for decades.

Pundits who see Trumpism as a form of populist nationalism miss the fact that such nationalism doesn’t depend on any one individual. Trumpism does, which is why no one will pick up the “mantle.” There is no mantle, no program or philosophy of governance. Trumpism is simply the “middle finger to perceived enemies and the bulwark against real or imagined progressive assault.”

The central motivating impulse of today’s GOP is grievance and an overwhelming desire to “own the libs.” What Coaston has identified–and what I previously failed to focus on–is the essential weakness of using opposition as an organizing principle over time.

In the short term, of course,  being against something or someone generates energy and turnout. (A significant portion of the 81 million Americans who voted for Joe Biden would have voted for Daffy Duck if Daffy was running against Trump.) But for the longer term, it’s not enough.

At some point, being against everything–having no programs, no coherent political philosophy, no vision–will fail to energize enough voters to keep a party in power. That recognition is behind the formidable assault the GOP is currently mounting against voting rights.

The question is: when does disillusionment kick in? Until 2022, being against everything the Democrats want to accomplish is likely to be seen by the Republican base as a valiant effort to stop the modernity and social change that so deeply threatens them. Only if they are successful in retaking the House or Senate (or both) will citizens recognize that they have nothing positive to offer.

And by then, it might be too late.


  1. The current Trumpism heirs are sitting in the House and the Senate prepared to vote “NO” on anything put before them by Democrats. Much that is in the ACA was proposed by Republicans in George W’s administration and voted down by Democrats; when it reappeared in the ACA under President Obama the Republicans voted it down. The full Republican Senate vote against President Biden’s Covid-19 Stimulus bill is again voting against what reportedly was put forth under the Trump administration. Also consider Trump’s rallying call for “America First” has been lost by his own “heirs” in the House and Senate regarding the new Stimulus Bill which will be putting money to Americans and into American businesses and on into the American economy. You have to spend money to make money; Republicans just do not want to pay their fair share of taxes to provide that investment in putting “America First” under Democratic leadership.

    Will 2022 be too late for many reasons during this straight partisanship Congress with some cabinet positions still vacant; will – CAN – our voting rights be saved and will the insurrectionists carry out their threats to stage more attacks while Democrats try to maintain National Guard protection for both parties and Republicans want to end it as being wasteful? Or will the Republican fight against Covid vaccines and continuing basic protections as the new forms of the coronavirus continues to increase in case numbers? Will it reach a level of genocide “….But Then What?”

  2. Many of us on this blog have been writing bits of this op-ed for years. Many of us have suggested that the media, and most everyone else, stop calling Republicans conservative. Mitt Romney lost because the Republican party had NO AGENDA and he ran against a popular Democrat who got voters off their asses and to the polls.

    Trump won , mostly, because the Democrats fielded the worst possible candidate running the worst campaign in decades and STILL won the majority vote. Tom Perez and Debbie Wasserman Schultz will live in the hall of infamy for that debacle.

    Republicans haven’t been conservative about anything except making sure the 1% pays no taxes and all social programs be eliminated. This anti-socialist “agenda” began with Ronald Reagan/Donald Regan and Milton Friedman.

    So-called conservatives think racism is normal, this is a white, Christian nation, black and brown people are takers and private schools should be funded by the taxpayer – while there are a few left, of course. You know, those middle-class Republicans who dutifully go to the trough and happily find it empty and ask how they can make things worse for everyone not them.

  3. The big challenge & opportunity Pres Biden has right now is to DEMONSTRATE that intelligent, competent people who KNOW how government works can make life BETTER for Americans. The middle finger thing does not really satisfy. If our side can show America how much good a rational adult government can do, then maybe we can break the fever. Our federal government is capable of doing so much good when good people are running it.

  4. If the Republicans take back the House, the Senate or both, it will indeed be too late. Not for them but for the USA and for democracy.

  5. While pundits and columnists are still analyzing Trumpism, Biden’s first major initiative was a failure for the working people thanks to “moderate democrats” and all “republicans.”

    The collective and corrupt two-party political system sent a giant middle finger to the American working class. My understanding is Biden can use a pen to end all student loan debt but said he wouldn’t. Will he change his mind after losing his first round?

    Divide and conquer, religion, and fearmongering are tools the ruling class uses to keep us proles in line. It still works even in the tech-filled days of social media. I get fewer people in my FB feeds than I do liberal media stories slamming republicans.

    Meanwhile, the best line I’ve heard is a young man ice fishing on a Minnesota lake when asked about politics, “Dropping all those bombs in Syria was kind of expensive for a guy who owes me $2,000!”

    Now that’s perception!

  6. Peggy,

    Pray hard – the Senate seats in play in 2022 favor the GOP, the state election rules are being tightened (repressed) by hundreds of new bills across the US, the “new” US House districts will be tightly gerrymandered by mostly GOP legislatures and the inept DEM party (which lost 9 seats in 2020) is still with us. The DEMs in 2020 were plagued by weak messaging and a slew of “leftie” candidates who (when competing in GOP-leaning or weakly-DEM leaning districts) were uniformly clobbered.

  7. Disagree that H Clinton was the the worst candidate, & ran the worst campaign. What really happened, Trump ran the best smear & lie campaign. And many Dems bought the lie.

  8. we would like to think republiqans like to read too. the ones who mismanage their thoughts,scream reams of hate into,those voters ears,who,vote trumpism. wheres ours? you may believe the thought process is read,and then discussed. look at the rightwing supporters, alot of fanatics like nazis and proud,prayer and the rest,they read little and gather hate by ear.. we read alot,but we gather headlines and run long. wheres our voice over,at least,in the same vehicle? the rant crowd doesnt read,it only wants to hear what they want to hear and believe. we may be ranting about trumps dump,but it doesnt get any traction on the other side. listen to the decipels that rush left us with,now go to who pays them. they are mere steps,away from taking it all. no one disusses the whys,this party is in step,only with money,and any static it can muster for its behind the lines take over. am i reading something somewhere else? if we have been in the trenches as part of the working class,taken notes and followed the process,its bare naked that the republiqans are only paid law makers for the rich. they tollerate the mass thugs who vote for thier parties thugs. the demos have moved closed to center again. and we vote again for the status quo we have long believed we have to maintain. the progressive movement is probably the closest thing to a labor party,I hope it becomes real before the nazis and republicans can again,start a new headline news about that..

  9. It seems to me that the GOP is running scared because of the increased diversity in our country. They have failed to diversify their base. This means that their base is shrinking because they have not reached out to people of color nor the LGBTQ community. They also have not defended the rights of women.

    So now they resort to voter supression and continued obstructionist strategies to try and maintain their power of the Christian white males in this country. They have failed to create a conservative vision for this country and have failed to create principles of conservatism that don’t violate the rights of minorities. They violated their fiscal conservatism when they passed their tax reform bill. I wouldn’t call it a reform bill. I would call it a bill that caters to the wealthy.

    Stacey Abrams will have to work even harder in Georgia. No doubt the new state restrictions around mail in voting etc. will eventually make its way to the SCOTUS. Because it is now a conservative court, they may well uphold these restrictive voting laws because of “states rights”. Whatever happened to the rights of citizens to vote?

    In the meantime rural conservative communities continue to shrink and urban communities continue to grow and expand. The day will come when we as liberals will have to ask what we can do to help people in rural communities trapped in poverty.

  10. Trumpism is not a coherent political philosophy. It is a cult of personality. There is no heirs to Trumpism because personality cults are not transferable.

    Lester, most analysts believe the 2022 Senate map favors the Dems. It’s the House, with redistricting, which will be hard to hold onto.

  11. When, as of today, I hear that as of now five Republican senators are not running for reelection I think (other than the usual wanting “to spend more time with their families”) that they are also making the judgment that they do not want to remain in the minority – and I hope they are right. They (and all other Republican senators up for reelection in 2022) are going to have to tell their town halls why they voted against a living wage, help for state and local governments, Covid help, stipends to the unemployed and others impacted by the virus and Trump’s cavalier attention to it, and you can bet that their Democratic opponents will nail their political hides to the wall non-stop on such issues. Result? A more Democratic Senate. The House? Same story irrespective of the new decennial count leading to increased gerrymandering. While no Nostradamus, I do not share the pessimism of some who think otherwise.

    There are other good reasons to think Democrats will do well in 2022. As Sheila and her quotation suggest and as I have long written here and elsewhere, Republicans have no platform, no set of guiding principles and no vision for America and its people. The “just say no” of their legislators to anything proposed by Democrats will take its toll and while Trumpism will not disappear it will wane. I also expect Biden’s pro labor stance to bring many of those in the working class back from their flirtation with Trump as they come to recognize that Trumpism is about tax cutting for the rich and slave wages for the rest of us, including the working class, millions of who though working are living in poverty.

    As for the foregoing, I have been wrong before, but I have been right, too. Let’s hope it’s the latter this trip.

  12. There has been and will be even more talk about the “Nuclear Option” for changing Senate rules to be more democratic. Both parties are afraid of it because of future times when they won’t hold a majority but partisanship has rendered the making of laws nearly impossible currently. Pure partisanship doesn’t seem temporary. Budget resolution has offered Democrats the opportunity to pass the American Rescue Plan but that is a very specialized type of rule relief with very narrow application.

    Do the current Senate rules reinforce partisanship? Is the nuclear option necessary to break that spell? Would a Senate run by democratic rules promote some across the aisle negotiations and allow the Senate to return to doing their jobs?

  13. Paul; whatever name you want to tag Trumpism with, it is still in power in the government and in this country.

  14. Sheila,

    While your and Jan Coaston’s comments are compellingly logical, they seem to me to discount how Republicans despair of ever seeing anything positive come out of their government. Every Republican since Reagan has encouraged such despair and worked to convince its base that “government is the problem” and should not be seen as the answer to national challenges (nor have they suggested any alternative place to look for solutions). And it is intrinsically inconceivable to them that Democrats have anything to suggest by way of improving their lives, so they don’t reflect on what the other side is offering.

    What makes this dystopian point of view even more serious is the inability of many of the true believers to discern their own self-interest and to vote accordingly.

    Conservatism has failed them. Their party has failed them. They see no hope in evaluating Democrats’ approaches. And so some have become nihilists, attempting to overthrow their own government and offering nothing to replace it. Most have given up on politics, but feel they are a little better off when Republicans are in office. They may know that their racism is doomed to fail, but they are so self-satisfied and so defensive about the performances of Bush and Trump that there is no room in their world view for serious consideration of alternatives. In other words, like their leaders, they are lost people without goals or souls, reveling in defiance and convinced they are right about their gut tells them.

    I hope you are right and that seeing their country continue to erode from within will convince them to put a little more thought into their politics, and, if nothing else, into how much return they are getting for the money they send to IRS each April.

    Today’s Republicans seem to be all about power and only about power. If anything else matters to them, they are adept at covering it up.

  15. There is a Trump personality cult that is fanatically loyal to him. He won 25 states in 2020 and garnered 74,216,154 votes vs winning in 2016 30 states in 2016 and 62,984,828 votes.

    Roughly, 12,000,000 plus more voters, voted for The Trumpet in 2020 vs 2016. The GOP actually gained 14 more seats in House in 2020.

    At least IMHO The Trumpet did not radically alter the GOP he took it over by abashedly validating the Reactionary Right Wing of the GOP.

    The GOP has no platform because they have no ideas or political philosophy. If they have anything at all it is a Jim Crow social and cultural bending back to the pre- Civil Right’s days. They try to label it as Conservatism, however it is turning back the clock.

  16. Terry:
    there maybe a another party if the republiqans do succeed again in 2024. the reagan era has only granted 84% of wall street being digested by the richest 10% in America,we have provided. hense it seems
    the rich will be our new goverment if given another victor like trump.

  17. The analysis is correct, but the question is, how much the “aura” of Trump will continue. He is slightly “de-fanged” without Twitter, but there are still public appearances. The question is balance – his laziness versus his love of public adulation. I suspect that he will be “martyred”, convicted of one or many crimes, and I also suspect that his importance will fade – if I only knew how soon.

    It would be nice if everyone quit calling the Trupmsters “Conservative”, but then again, why can’t we call Joe Manchin a “conservative Democrat”, and Liz Cheney a “Conservative Republican”.

    Ossoff is “progressive”, Biden is “moderate”, and Manchin is “conservative”
    Nelson Rockefeller was “progressive”; Mitt Romney’s father, George was “moderate”, Liz Cheney is “conservative”, and Trumpsters are — what was Sheila’s term? “Bat-shit crazy” – I will skip the colorful descriptive and just call them what they are – “anti-democratic seditionists”

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