We, as in Democrats, Liberals, Democracy, this Country, we need you as a functional political party again.
It was said by Jared Kushner himself that Trump had executed a “hostile takeover” of the Republican Party. Of course, Kushner meant this as praise, voiced from the depths of his 39-year-old wisdom. He clearly has a dark view of political parties, and of course Trump did run his 2016 campaign upon, among other things, draining the swamp.
Okay, I have a confession to make. As I watched the Republican Presidential Primaries leading up to the 2016 election, I quietly, discretely, and of course not breathing a word of this to friends or family, smiled, chuckled and even, yes, once in a while, applauded Trump as he called out the assorted venal hypocrisies of the other Republican candidates. Trump executed particularly masterful biting slap downs of Cruz and Rubio and others, people who exemplify the very worst we think of when we utter the word “politician,” the sort of people who helped turn “politician” into an epithet. People like Cruz, Rubio, Lindsay Graham certainly now the most sterling examples of why many people, myself included, sometimes would spit the word “politician,” and why back in 2016 some people, like myself, secretly in our closets, chuckled, chortled and smiled every time Trump called them out for being slimy manipulative liars. (At the time, I and many others were too amused by Trump to bother taking note it was the pot calling the kettle black, and there of course was no chance Trump could win anyway….)
But yes, “politician”….we saw them as people as malleable as clay, as gutless as gutless can be, with no grounding in any principles of any kind, other than the principle of job security — theirs, not yours or mine. Cruz, Rubio, Graham, and I could continue on here with a very long list of names of those who will say and do whatever expediency demands they say or do in order to achieve the one and only thing they actually care about: get power/keep power.
When Trump announced his candidacy for President in 2015, he had no real backing from any Republican in the power structure of the Party. Then Trump won the nomination, won the Presidency, and all of a sudden many Republicans were falling over one another to sing his praises. Some in the Party did bail out, dropping the label Republican and taking the label Independent or joining organizations like the Lincoln Project. But many who stayed in the Party willingly sold their soul to the devil, because the devil with the orange-tinted skin promised that loyalty to him meant he wouldn’t call upon his minions to “primary” them.
Of course we spit the word “politician.” What sane person with any integrity or morals wouldn’t spit that word?
Well, hold on just a second.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Because it didn’t used to be this way. Politics and being a “politician” once worked very differently. It in fact once worked, albeit clumsily, awkwardly, stupidly, but it did work, some of the time at least.
Here are some fun facts, which if you are under the age of oh, 50 or so, or if you (understandably) took a nap now and then in American History class, you might not even know. Pop quiz: Who created the Environmental Protection Agency? Answer: Richard Nixon. And no, not in the form that Trump and present day Republicans mutated it into, as an arm of deregulation and making the world safer for business, coal mining, etc. No, Nixon created it to actually protect the environment. He pushed for, and got passed, things like the Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act Extension. Did he do all this out of the goodness of his saintly heart? Of course not. He did it as a politician, looking to garner support and votes and to be “popular” with the people, that is to be a “populist.”
Next pop quiz question, who created OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration)? Answer: Richard Nixon. Why? Ditto above. It was popular with the working class, and that was who Nixon was targeting to further grow “populism” on behalf of the Republican Party.
Next question, which Party made possible the Consumer Product Safety Act of 1972 which established the Consumer Product Safety Commission? If you said Democrat, wrong. It actually was both parties. It passed in the Senate with 69 votes, 37 Democrats and 31 Republicans.
Once upon a time, politicians, yes those craven, just-want-to-get-votes-to-get-reelected people, cranked out a few good things for good purposes that did good for some Americans in general. Once upon a time.
What happened? Donald Trump? No. Newt Gingrich is what happened. Donald Trump was just the inevitable extrapolation of what Gingrich set in motion.
Prior to Gingrich, it is true politics was sometimes a bit ugly, always had been. Politics was back room deals struck by a collection of white men smoking cigars. One of the ugliest of ugly back room deals was the informal agreement struck between Northern politicians and Southern politicians after the Civil War that amounted to the North quietly looking the other way, while the South moved to suppress the Black Vote and put in place Jim Crow. In exchange for this look-the-other-way, Southern politicians proceeded to work with Northern politicians on all sorts of initiatives. They negotiated, they compromised, etc. Black Americans were thrown under the bus, and thereby did (white) politicians set aside the Civil War divisions and manage a government that functioned (for white people). I am not making a very good case here to stop spitting the word “politician,” am I? Well, remember that subsequently, politicians did push for the Civil Rights Act. Black Americans fought and clawed their way to seats at the political table. Women fought and clawed their way to seats at the political table. With a lot of political fighting and a lot of political clawing by different sorts of “politicians,” slow and painful progress was being made.
And then came Gingrich. Trump is getting far too much credit for blowing up norms, for blowing up civility, for blowing up democracy in this country. Credit should be given where credit is due, and that is to Newt Gingrich. Gingrich pioneered the government shutdown and other blow-everything-up tactics. He pioneered the notion of treating the other party as the enemy. He pioneered the idea of no compromise and the idea of demanding nothing less than total victory and by any means necessary. He was the one who pioneered the concept that “compromise” is a dirty word. Gingrich in a 1978 speech to college Republicans said:
“I think that one of the great problems we have in the Republican Party is that we don’t encourage you to be nasty. We encourage you to be neat, obedient, and loyal and faithful and all those Boy Scout words, which would be great around the camp fire, but are lousy in politics.”
Sounds like something Donald Trump would say, doesn’t it? Gingrich wanted politics to be war. He wanted all out war. He wanted Republicans to be nasty. He certainly got what he wanted in Donald Trump.
Republican Party, it is time, long past time, to wake up from this fever dream born in the late 1970s and culminating in toxic Trumpism.
It is long past time to remember that people who do not label themselves as “Republican” are good, honest, hard working people. Of course, while I am at it, Democrats, please do remember that people not labeled “Democrat” are also good, honest, hard working people. Isn’t it so sad that even as I type these words, I know people will blanch and grimace. Some Republicans reading this will think “but Democrats are socialist anarchist terrorists who want to defund the police!” Some Democrats reading this will think “but Republicans are nothing but a collection of heartless white supremacists and misogynists led by a corrupt plutocracy!” So? Then what? Does that mean each Party huddles in their own corner, pats one another on the back in self-congratulatory support for being “in the right” while commiserating over how everyone else is “evil” and meanwhile, the country crumbles to pieces at our collective feet?
Or we can bring back into acceptability a form of “politician” who, while far from being saintly, far from being someone who passes any purity test, maybe even far from being someone you like very much at all, is a negotiator who can work to get a few good things accomplished here and there? In other words, can we bring back the Republican Party of old? Led by people like Mitt Romney and Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski? People whom reasonable Democrats (a politician like Joe Biden, for example) can fight with and disagree with and debate with… and then go out to dinner with and strike a deal?
We do need the art of the deal. Joe Biden’s art of the deal. We, Democrats, liberals, and anyone else who believes in democracy as being not the Gingrich blood sport of a fight to the death, but rather a game in which you respect your opponent and shake their hand after each contest, all people who feel this way, we need the Republican Party back.