Thursday, September 22, 2016

Radical Republicanism, 2016

All the speculation lately about whether the Trump nomination represents a radical new turn for the Republican party, as opposed to a continuation of its long-term radicalization, gives me a good excuse to haul out my favorite Hegel quote: "The Owl of Minerva takes its flight only when the shades of night are gathering." He meant that we can't tell what a historical period really was about until it's ending. And then it's kind of too late to do anything about it.

So who knows if Trump is the beginning of something new and awful or just another step in the White Power-ization of the Republican Party? I'm not surprised that the Republican base is generally coalescing around Trump. The Republican Party has been on a real track of radicalization for a long time. It was Old Man Bush in 1992 who accused Bill Clinton of being a KGB agent, with zero evidence, of course. (Unlike the real questions about Trump's dubious Russian ties.) It was Newt Gingrich, leader of the Gingrich Revolution, who famously recommended in 1996 that Republicans describe their Democratic opponents with words like radical, bizarre, sick, pathetic, corrupt, cheat, anti-flag and traitors. Even though today's Republican white supremacists get their delicate feelings terribly hurt when Mean Hillary Woman calls them "deplorable."

For a flashback on the Gingrich era, check out William Douglas' Newt Gingrich's mouth is famous as a verbal blowtorch McClatchy Newspapers 12/15/2011:

During his rhetorical bomb-throwing days in the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich once dissected the seemingly innocent movie "Forrest Gump" and turned it into a scathing critique of President Bill Clinton, Democrats and liberals.

"In every scene of the movie in which the counterculture occurs, they're either dirty, nasty, abusive, vindictive, beating a woman or doing something grotesque," Gingrich, then the House minority whip, told a Republican women's group. "It's important to remember that in that period, Bill Clinton was on the side of the counterculture."

That take is vintage Gingrich circa the 1990s: loaded with his favorite vividly demeaning personal-attack adjectives — "grotesque" in particular — and aimed at reducing his opponents to the lowest common denominator.
Then there was that little matter of stealing the Presidential election in 2000. No wonder today's Reps are sure the Dems would try to steal the election, because that's what they actually did when they had the chance.

Joe Conason's book titled It Can Happen Here: Authoritarian Peril in the Age of Bush came out in 2007. So I'm still thinking Trump is in a direct line of continuity from way back. He is new in that he talks the scattered language of talk radio as a Presidential candidate. But the Gingrich Congress made Rush Limbaugh an honorary member of Congress after their 1994 win. And, of course, the Moderate Maverick McCain's Vice Presidential pick in 2008 talked like an Oxycontin-stoned radio talk host, too.

I've given up even hoping that our major media will ever hit bottom. Somebody born on the day the New York Times ran its first front-page story on Whitewater in 1992 would be 24 today. So anyone who has adult memories of the pre-Whitewater era of the press is 42 now. The Pod Pundits were not so rabid as usual against Hillary during the primaries because conventional wisdom assumed that Socialist Bernie Sanders would never be able to mount a serious challenge against her. But now that the general election is on, they have reliably reverted to the Clinton Rules, in which you can say anything you want as long as you say it about the Clintons. I hope the Owl of Minerva shows up soon.

Don't miss the series that Dave Neiwert and Sarah Posner have begun in Mother Jones on today's Republican radicalism. The first installment is Meet the Horde of Neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and Other Extremist Leaders Endorsing Donald Trump 09/21/2016.

Digby Parton contrasts today's Republican Party with the one that nominated Barry Goldwater in 1964 (Divide and conquer Hullabaloo 07/18/2016). The Goldwater movement is a lineal predecessor of today's Trump campaign and today's Republican party more generally. But there actually were moderate and even liberal Republicans back then.

She includes this video from the Clinton campaign that revives a Johnson commercial from 1964, Confessions of a Republican 07/18/2016:

This is certainly an informative bit of history even though it was a campaign advertisement. But it's informative because it recalls a political context that no longer exists, in which liberal and conservative ideological lines typically spanned both parties. Today's Republican Party has factional squabbles. But they are largely over who can be the most warlike, who can cut civilian government spending the most, who can be the most zealous deregulators, who can most effectively deprive black and Latinos of the franchise, and who can be most bitterly hostile to immigrants.

There is a much more substantial ideological divide within the Democratic Party between its corporate wing and the New Deal wing.

But its unlikely in the extreme that Hillary might have the cross-party appeal that LBJ had in 1964. And Trump doesn't have the appeal to regular Democratic voters that Goldwater had among Southern Democrats in 1964 or even that Reagan had in 1980.

That political landscape is gone with the wind. To coin a phrase.

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