Innumerable people have made the (obvious) point that any effort to cure a disease or solve a problem requires an accurate diagnosis of the ailment or problem first. In a recent essay in The Week, titled “The Republican Problem No One Knows How to Solve,” Damon Linker offers a diagnosis of America’s current woes that confirms my own, painful conclusion.
Most non-Trumpian Americans would agree with his opening paragraphs:
In the raging debate among Trump-critical conservatives over whether the goal in November should be merely to defeat the president or to pursue the more radical strategy of burning the Republican Party to the ground, I’m firmly on the side of scorched earth.
The case for maximalism is strong. The head of the party is a corrupt and malicious imbecile. Republicans in Congress are a mix of Trump enablers, obstructionist-demagogues out to maximize the wealth of their donors, know-nothing conspiracist loons, and a few reformers experimenting with the most politically palatable way to blend nationalism with socialism. All of them are primarily motivated by the drive toward self-promotion within the right-wing media complex. And when we move further down the Republican hierarchy to the state and local level, things only get worse.
Most of us would also agree that America needs at least two political parties that are reasonable, responsible and principled. Some of the “Never Trump” Republicans who have defected from the GOP’s current iteration hope that a sufficiently brutal defeat in November–up and down the ticket–will restore the party to what they remember as its former respectability. Others have looked back at the party that was –notably Stuart Stevens, whose recent book “It Was All A Lie”–and concluded that it never really stood for the principles it espoused.
Linker’s diagnosis suggests that Stevens’ analysis comes closer to the truth. It also presents us with a much more difficult problem than reconstituting an adult, center-Right political party, because he locates the root of the problem as the Republican voter.
As Linker reminds us, every one of the Republican sycophants, fundamentalists and ignoramuses we regularly criticize was elected by those voters–and often re-elected over and over. Even assuming a Democratic win–or even a Democratic sweep–in November, that result will come despite Trump’s continued strong support from an overwhelming majority of Republicans.
The voters who swooned for Sarah Palin in 2008; who seriously considered giving the nod to Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Ben Carson, and Rick Santorum in 2012; who four years later elevated a reality-show conman to the head of their party, cast ballots for him to win the presidency, and have rallied around him ever since — most of these voters remain undaunted in their conviction that politics is primarily about the venting of grievances and the trolling of opponents. The dumber and angrier and more shameless, the better…..Unless and until it changes, the Republican Party will continue to spew raw sewage into the country’s political system and public life.
The threat to American democracy isn’t the current Republican party; it is the Republican voter–the substantial number of people who are motivated by, and enthusiastically support, the racism, misogyny and xenophobia that the current party embodies.
If that’s true–and I’m very much afraid that it is–what can be done about it? As Linker argues, burning the party down won’t deliver an epiphany to voters whose support is founded on animus and nastiness; these are people who have proved impervious to facts and evidence.
It is also hard to dispute Linker’s observation that the Rush Limbaughs, Sean Hannitys, Tucker Carlsons, Laura Ingrahams, and others wouldn’t be “hocking their pestilential opinions for profit if there wasn’t a large and appreciative audience for them.”
So once again, we’re back to the bedrock truth that what has turned the GOP into a political cesspool is the preferences, tastes, and convictions of Republican voters.
Could anything change these voters — turning them, not into liberals or progressives obviously, but into thoughtful citizens capable of engaging with reality, thinking about actual problems, and rewarding public servants who make a good-faith effort to respond to them? The honest truth is that I don’t have the slightest clue how to make it happen. Which also means that I have no idea how the United States might work its way back to having two civically responsible parties instead of just one.
He’s right, and this is what. keeps me up at nights.