Restoring political stability in the US depends on defeating individual Republicans at the ballot box in states. As long as Trump remains at large and the Republican Party remains his instrument, the rest of us who care about the survival of self-government must join together to defeat candidates still loyal to the so-called Republican brand. Continue reading
A moral and cultural collapse is fueling the long political crisis Americans are living through. Well-meaning, tolerant, and patriotic people are still in the majority, but the behavior of the January 6th insurrectionists and everyone friendly to them establishes that civil society and federalism are gravely imperiled. The American way of government is based on compromise and negotiation; it is based on civility and comity; and it aspires to realize a humane and virtuous vision of itself. It is founded on a hope of betterment, on a set of ideal principles regarding individual rights and privileges. Throughout time, American leaders have paid lip service to these ideals and sometimes chanced their lives, careers, and reputations to make them real. The nation’s political identity is intrinsically moral and idealistic. This remains true, no matter how far short, in actual performance, it falls.
The underpinnings of republican government are rotting away. Over the past few years, we’ve discovered how many Americans hate the federal government. They resent their fellow citizens. They’ve had it with learning and discussion. They are sick of “bullshit,” meaning the ideas and values of anyone (especially anyone in power) who doesn’t speak or look or act their way. Their favored recourse is intimidation: speak loudly and crudely, ignore decorum. Belittle, smear, and threaten opponents. Gang up on the rule of law, which works best garbed in the regalia of intolerance, preferably while bearing a stick or a gun. Sneer at moderation, at tradition and respectability. Even polite-looking figures such as Ted Cruz and Lauren Boebert are actually completely corrupt thugs inside.
These people are looking for their next chance to attack police officers, desecrate the flag, and destroy government norms.
The question is whether good Americans can stem the tide. Can we stop the pendulum from swinging toward violence and extremism, and get it to move back to the other side? Can we neutralize the influence inflammatory figures enjoy? Can we restore contentment and consensus, notably by ministering to legitimate grievances and needs? Can the political establishment refrain from abusing its power, and get back to the retreating goal of figuring out how best to promote widespread prosperity, how to restore dignity and safety to ordinary households and communities? A world of trouble lies ahead if the answer is no.
Do you know someone who voted for Trump in 2016 or is planning to vote for him in 2020? How would you characterize that person? Do you know or have an idea about why he or she voted for Trump?
Dissuading Trump voters continues to be important in securing a win for Biden. A strange sort of asymmetry is at work in this election, wherein a cluster of personality values and social fears tends to hold voters to an overtly authoritarian leader (Trump) at the expense of other considerations and ideals. Trump voters may be highly educated or affluent, but they’ve lost faith in the federal government. They are pessimistic about citizenship and politicians. They think federal action is harmful to their own interests. They don’t want the government aiding or protecting “undeserving” groups at their expense.
Trump voters seem to think that if other groups gain, they themselves will suffer, as if there aren’t enough American “goodies,” like wealth or respect, to go around. They want to keep black America down, newcomers out, and like the idea of forestalling true equality even if that isn’t a realistic possibility.
Your thoughts? Help me round out what I have gathered from personal observation by writing a detailed comment. Many thanks.
Image: from this source.
Over the weekend, I went to hear Senator Jeff Flake at the Union League Club. Every February, the club hosts a big dinner to celebrate George Washington’s birthday and invites a guest speaker. This year, Jeff Flake of Arizona spoke. This was the 131st first year the dinner was held.
I believe that whenever one has a chance to see a major public figure, one should take the opportunity. Flake has just left the Senate after one term but he is definitely presidential material, and I will be surprised if he fails to run for president one day. He faces one major impediment to his ambition, however: at the moment he is very nearly a man without a party.
Flake comes across as a very poised, articulate, and thoughtful conservative. He describes himself as having fallen in love with politics at an early age. He served twelve years in the House of Representatives prior to his elevation to the Senate. Then along came Trump, the game changer who has cast Flake into a sea of difficulty. Flake is one of the few Republicans in Congress to have broken openly with the president instead of going along with him in a sheepish and cowardly way.
Most Republican senators have tried to “find common ground” with the president as though doing so does not compromise their dignity. They have chosen to collaborate with him, even though it cheapens them by association. Trump treats the Senate in a high-handed and condescending manner. The Republican-led Senate has permitted itself to be humiliated. Republican senators endure Trump for the sake of party domination.
In the rare cases when the Republican majority finds that it cannot comply with Trump, its opposition to the president is tacit, as was true last week when Trump was shut out of the budget negotiations and told afterward that he must accept the negotiated deal. By and large, Republican senators have watched silently, however, as Trump has destroyed the soul of the “Grand Old Party.” It’s a peculiar situation, because it’s not clear whether most leading Republicans genuinely endorse Trump’s ideas. What they see is that Trump is charismatic and that his charisma is pumping up Republican power. Perhaps they believe they can outlast Trump, then return to what they were before.
Jeff Flake has no such illusions. He cannot stand with a president whose followers chant, “Lock her up.” During Flake’s tenure in Congress, he witnessed the gradual erosion of comity on Capitol Hill. When he began, it was still the custom of senators and representatives to move their families to Washington. Political differences tended to evaporate when members on either side of the aisle knew one another’s children by name. On weekends, representatives worshipped together and watched their kids play sports, developing friendships that softened the edges of partisan conflict.
That changed, Flake recalled, with Newt Gingrich’s speakership. Gingrich told House Republicans to leave their families at home, because, on the weekends, he expected them to be back in their districts campaigning. As a result, the US now has “a commuter Congress,” with members flying in to work a few days a week.
Reluctant to treat Democrats as “the enemy” and unwilling to stand with the president, Flake has learned that Republicans in his state increasingly demand this very thing. Whereas “the economy” or “jobs” used to top the list of Republican voters’ concerns, “Where do you stand on Trump?” has displaced them, according to recent polls. Out of sync with both his base and GOP leadership, Flake saw re-election was futile. He left the Senate last month. In retirement, he seems to have embraced the philosophy of the first president we had gathered to honor. For, as that great man once observed,
If, to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterwards defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair. The rest is in the hands of God.
In Paradise Lost, Satan (a.k.a. Lucifer) is the leader of the forces Milton describes as ‘rebel angels.’ Satan is the most glorious of angels, but he can’t stand the idea of serving God. He chafes at the idea of obedience. He actually persuades many other angels, who look up to him, to wage war against God, famously declaring ‘Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.’ God puts up with Satan as long as he can but, finally angered, he quells the rebel angels by turning every last one of them into snakes. Unfortunately, Satan, a sibilant snake, still has the gift of speech. And, though much reduced in his status, cosmically speaking, he still has the capacity to make trouble for earthlings, which he does when he successfully tempts Eve to eat of the apple, destroying the good thing Adam and she have had going in the Garden of Eden.
Milton’s fable of the fall of Lucifer aptly encapsulates the dynamic playing out in the Senate. The Senators, though immensely powerful, resent the President’s authority—in fact, they resent the President personally. They simply loathe the President, and this loathing has eventually driven them to forget their duties, and their proper place in the scheme of things. Discontent, they disdain the glories of their rightful position and their great capacity, as Senators, to effect what contributes to the betterment of our country.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, in particular, has warred against the Senate’s limited role in the selection of Supreme Court nominees. He has militantly declared he will not do his duty, nor does he want other Republican Senators to do theirs. He seeks to prevent the President from placing Merrick Garland on the high court, claiming that the next President will better represent ‘the people’s will.’ More recently, McConnell has disgraced himself by subjugating his own judgment on the matter to the judgment of two lobbying groups. He falsely claims that history gives his acts legitimacy. These are the marks of a man no longer content with dimensions of his own authority.
In truth, both the President and the Senate, as constituted, represent the people’s will. The Senators are each delegated to express the will of their states, just as much as the President represents the people’s will nationally. In straining to control all that happens in our political cosmology, the Senate’s ‘rebel angels’ are undermining their own prestige and the Senate’s once-illustrious reputation and authority.
Collectively, the Senate’s exercise of ‘advise and consent’ might confirm Judge Garland as a fit selection for the Supreme Court. But wouldn’t that be a triumphant outcome, given that we live in a fallen world? We are, as much as in Milton’s time or in Lucifer’s, ‘sufficient to stand and free to fall.’
1992 photograph of Senator Mitch McConnell by Laura Patterson,
from this source.