Friday, June 3, 2016

Donald Trump and the Long and Winding Road of Republican Stupidity

by Nomad

Republican Party's stupidity didn't begin with Donald Trump. The only question is: how did the GOP become the party of the half-wits?

In a  recent column, Bob Burnett, writing for The Berkeley Daily Planet, tackles the question a lot of people have been asking.

How exactly did the Republican Party get to be so darned stupid?

Even though the word "stupid" is both a highly-charged and subjective word, Burnett presumably isn't merely trying to insult anybody. However, if a political party can find a way to rationalize nominating a person like Donald Trump, somebody should be asking a lot of difficult questions like that.

Burnett notes that according to a Public Policy Polling survey, a majority of Trump supporters (66%) think that Obama is a Muslim. More than half believe the president wasn't born in the US. Never mind the birth certificates and the birth announcements, Damn the evidence, say the birthers.

One could write that off easily enough as some kind of particular mental deficiency of a particular group. However, there was more astounding news. 
It wasn't just Trump supporters. More than half of all Republicans (54%) also think Obama- despite all of the evidence to the contrary- is a Muslim.

Principles and the Reagan Torch

Two years ago, Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, Burnett points out, issued a perfectly sensible warning to the masters of the GOP. "Stop being the stupid party."
In a rare moment of lucidity, Jindal told Republican candidates that they must "stop insulting the intelligence of voters… with offensive and bizarre statements.”
No wonder he dropped out of the race so early. His party could never handle that much truth.

He said in 2013.
"We must reject the notion that demography is destiny, the pathetic and simplistic notion that skin pigmentation dictates voter behavior."
"We must not be the party that simply protects the well-off so they can keep their toys."
Jindal also warned that the GOP was in deep trouble beause  the brand was "too associated with "big business, big banks, big Wall Street bailouts, big corporate loopholes."

Not only did the Republican Party ignore this sage wisdom, in May. Jindal himself cast aside his own advice and jumped on the Trump bandwagon. Trump, the man Jindal had once called an "egomaniac," was less dangerous to the Constitution, he said, than Hillary Clinton. (Who knows what he will be saying two years into the Trump presidency.)

For Jindal, insulting the intelligence of Republican voters now doesn't seem all that bad. The well-off can keep their toys. Even if that well-off guy is Donald Trump and the toy is the White House.

Just the other day, former Republican candidate Marco Rubio floundered - a pretty common thing with Rubio- when CNN asked him about his new-found support for Donald Trump. 
It was a painful thing to watch. After months of warning the Republican voters about the threat Trump posed and the multitude of reasons why there's no way Trump should be president, Rubio has seen the light. He is now ready to give thumbs up to Trump, that man he once called “vulgar” and a “con man.”

Like Jindal, the Rubio endorsement consisted entirely of "Anybody but Clinton." Rubio said in an interview:
“I want to be helpful. I don’t want to be harmful, because I don’t want Hillary Clinton to be president.”
Asking voters to cast a negative vote for an untried and untested candidate simply because he represents an alternative to the opposition is very stupid thing to do.  He could have easily told Republican voters not to bother voting for either of the two candidates. In that way, he might have retained that atomic-scale speck of dignity that survived his candidacy. 

Yesterday, House Speaker Paul Ryan, after a great of hesitation, threw out his misgivings about the wisdom of nominating a reality-TV star with absolutely no conservative credentials. He told reporters:
"I feel confident he would help us turn the ideas in this agenda into laws to help improve people's lives. That's why I'll be voting for him this fall,"
Trump's agenda? Building a wall to keep raping Mexicans out? Or defeating ISIS by "carpet bombing" the towns and cities in Syria and Iraq? Reducing the corporate tax rate to 15%? 

When it comes to trade, Trump's policy would trash long established Republican free trade doctrine. That's upset staunch conservative groups like Institute of Economic Affairs, American Enterprise Institute, Peterson Institute for International Economics, Adam Smith Institute, Cato Institute, and Club for Growth. Nevertheless, Ryan, Jindal, Rubio and most of the Republican party now stand behind Trump.

Worst still, they are now demanding conservative voters to betray their own principles. Principles, schminciples.

These are the very people for their entire careerswho have pandered to the Reagan-worshiping crowd. They've spent a great deal of time and money impersonating Reagan and promoting his half-baked ideas. These candidates did all they could to make voters think they were carrying the torch. Today the Reagan torch has been snuffed out in the dumpster.  

But as Bennet points out, the Republican Party didn't use to be this stupid. Wrongheaded, yes. Painfully unaware of the shift of public attitudes on issues like civil rights, yes. 
There was, at least, a policy to present to the voters that made sense. In a way.

So what happened?  Bennett asks how did the GOP get itself into such a sorry state? If Rome wasn't built in a day, the stupidity of the Republican party too was a long time in coming. Trump isn't to blame for it. He has only emphasized what has existed for a long time.

What you see now is actually the work of decades of poor policy and the inability to comprehend the long term damage such a policy would cause.
1. Republicans adopted an anti-intellectual strategy.
The late Issac Asimov nailed it when he once said:
"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."
The rules of the game are basic: Keep the message simple enough for a child to understand and then keep repeating it until it takes on the appearance of truth. Pure Madison Avenue stuff.

All evidence might point to the contrary. So what? Facts and opinions are all one and the same in this dumbed-down world.
Common sense might tell you otherwise, but that's just a measure of how crafty those liberals are. Common sense is part of the Left wing conspiracy.

If you listen to a Republican today rant for a while, you'll notice that nearly all the themes of their rant sound very anti-intellectual... You'll hear them say that academia is biased, that those sneaky liberal elites are trying to teach evolution in our schools and force their multicultural ideas down our throat. That lots of areas like climate science, womens studies, gender studies, cultural studies, anthropology, sociology, and postmodern studies are either completely bogus or at best a waste of time and money.
That modern economic theory, based largely on the ideas of Keynes, is misguided and biased and proof of intellectual arrogance. That states rights and property rights are more important than the universal individual rights (like a woman's right to choose an abortion, or a poor person's right to health care) that the federal government is trying to ensure.
That individual rights should not apply to gays because the Bible tells us so. (In Lincoln's time, the same people argued that individual rights do not apply to slaves, because the Bible tells us so.) It goes on and on.
This appeal to American anti-intellectualism could never have been as successful without the assistance of the Christian Right and the peculiarly-American brand of evangelical hucksterism upon which so much of it is based. 

Religious con artistry is nothing new, of course. Sinclair Lewis best-selling satire on the subject, Elmer Gantry, was written back in 1926. 
That book exposed the true nature of many in the evangelist movement. It was all about conning people, poor ignorant people who believe that all the answers to their problems can be found in faith and faith alone..

And, in true anti-intellectual fashion, the book was condemned, banned and denounced by the evangelists all over the US.
One preacher thought Lewis ought to be imprisoned for five years and another called him "Satan's cohort."
For writer of satire, negative publicity is like manna from heaven.

But it was more than religious charlatanism. When times got hard, it was right wing religious fanaticism that became a serious threat to the authority of the government back in the 1930s. 
In the past, I have traced the story of the evangelist Gerald Burton Winrod and his attacks on FDR.

All but the richest Americans were desperate for some kind of solution to the woes of the economic collapse and one didn't have to be an intellectual to understand the Bible (or one interpretation of carefully-selected passages, at least.)

Until the 1950s, few in the Republican Party dared to associate themselves too closely with the Christian Far Right. And for one good reason, the fringes do not represent the majority and a policy of embracing the fringe would risk alienating voters who did not share the same religious convictions.
Bennett notes that the dumbing-down of the Republican Party hit full throttle when the neo-conservatives (once considered extremists) took over the GOP in the 1980s. And today, look at how things turned out.
Here's how journalist Charles Pierce, author of Idiot America, looks at the situation:
“The rise of idiot America today represents--for profit mainly, but also and more cynically, for political advantage in the pursuit of power--the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people whom we should trust the least are the people who best know what they are talking about. In the new media age, everybody is an expert.”
Bennett quotes Ana Marie Cox of the Daily Beast  
“Trump and [Ben] Carson are winning a huge slice of the GOP base because of [their] prideful ignorance, which to voters signifies not just a rejection of the establishment or elites but a release from the hard work of having to think.”
The loud but vacuous Donald Trump has become the chief anti-intellectual of the political party that has built its successful on appealing intellectually to the lowest common denominator. Trump may have no coherent policies on any subject and that's exactly why his supporters love him.
He doesn't ask them to think too much.

2. Republicans accepted racism.
In a fundamental way, racism - the idea that one race or ethnic group is innately superior to all other races- is a visceral product of anti-intellectualism. To be a racist is to deny all evidence contrary one's personal prejudices. To be a racist means rejecting the idea that, while there may be vast differences between individuals, overall there is no appreciable difference between races.  

Yet, the process of seducing the Southern Democrats into the Republican Party meant accepting -at least, tacitly- all of the long-standing racism that existed in the South. The fatal step came, however, not in merely accepting the existence of racial discrimination, but in feeding on it and encouraging it.

The out of work actor, Ronald Reagan would never have become governor of California had it not been for the white backlash following the Watts riots in Los Angeles in the summer of 1965. Many conservative white voters saw their society unraveling with a race war looming. 

When the rioting came to Los Angeles, it was not a race riot in the usual sense. What happened was an explosion -- a formless, quite senseless, all but hopeless violent protest - engaged in by a few but bringing great distress to all.
Nor was the rioting exclusively a projection of the Negro problem. It is part of an American problem which involves Negroes but which equally concerns other disadvantaged groups.
Meaning, it had much more to do with class warfare and income inequality. It was not a race war but a battle between the "haves" against the "have-nots." (And keep in mind, this was at a time when the disparity between rich and poor was less than it is today.)
Naturally Reagan saw it differently. He blamed the orignal Watts riots on the "philosophy that in any situation the public should turn to goverment for the answer." 
In other words, Big Government was to blame for social unrest.

As presidential candidate, he did not hesitate to pick up where Nixon's Southern strategy left off. Suddenly. Reagan made it okay to hate the "selfishness" of the poor. 
It was a sink-or-swim world and giving the poor minorities handouts didn't help them. In fact, government charity like that just killed their motivation to pick themselves up by the bootstraps and make something of themselves. We were doing them (and taxpayers) a favor by denying them government assistance.
Suck it up, little children. No more free lunches. 

Every white conservative knew exactly which color Reagan meant when he talked about the "welfare queen driving her Cadillac" and "the young buck" using food stamps to buy T-bone steaks at the grocery store.   

That's what white middle class America wanted to hear and by 1980, they were ready to elect Ronald Reagan president.

When Republicans watched the sit-com "All in the Family" in the 1970s, they realized that all of the Archie Bunkers across the nation were an untapped market.
By the 1980s, they were ready to base the entire party on the opinions of a bigoted comedy character. And it worked.

Today they have a billionaire doing an exagerrated version of Archie Bunker and the angry voters are wild about him.

3. Republicans enabled hate.
One thing Archie Bunker hated was Pinko commies that wanted to tear down America. He couldn't stand anybody to insult President Nixon. That anti-American behavior was for wild-eyed radicals. If anti-war hippies hated Nixon, the majority of patriotic Americans- many of whom detested the Vietnam War- felt the president deserved some degree of respect. 
At least until Watergate broke.
Nixon was never well-liked but he was president. Conservative Americans, in particular, felt that it was anti-American to treat the executive office with such disrespect. 
The right-wing response to the hippie  anti-war protests was "Love it or Leave it!!"
Today the motto from the government-hating Far Right has become "Hate it and Destroy it."

For the last eight years, we have witnessed the president (and his wife) was called a Marxist, a Kenyan, an atheist, a traitor, the Anti-Christ, a monkey, a homosexual and quite a host of other things. Every decision has lead to unwarranted calls for his impeachment. 
For a list of the top six examples of disrespect shown to Obama, click here

There was a shockingly large number of Americans who were not afraid to show the world that the US really wasn't mature enough to have an African-American president. 
(The same people may soon be able to show the globe they were not ready for a female president.) 

Today, hating the president, the federal government, and all authority, in general, has become something like a social disease afflicting millions of Americans.  A mental disorder that has unhinged about 50% of the population. When the newly-elected Reagan said that "government was not the solution, it was the problem," he could not have foreseen that this is where that slogan would lead.

But it is more than just hating Obama or the government. 
This hatred has spilled over into hundreds of other areas too. Hate is now casually directed at anybody with an opposing view, If they disagree with my world view, they must be evil and a threat. The nominee of the GOP thinks politically-correctness is a form of censorship, rather than a call for tolerance. 
Tolerance stinks. Diversity sucks.

In this bully new world, it's okay to use the cover of sincerely-held beliefs and religious liberty to discriminate whomever you wish.
It's okay to bully anybody you wish, wherever and whenever.   
Under the new age of  politically-expedient hatred, it's okay to scapegoat a minority religious group, like Muslims. Just as it was once the norm to persecute Jews.
Today, If you feel strongly about something, then it's okay to use violence against, for example, homeless Latinos.
After two Bostonians allegedly beat up a homeless Hispanic man in August, one told police he was inspired by Donald Trump’s message that “all these illegals need to be deported.”
In response candidate Trump made this pithy explanation:
"People who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate.”
He later had to clarify that he did not condone violence. However, many questioned his sincerity. Only a few weeks ago,  at a rally, this is how Trump told security guards to remove a heckler.  
"Don't hurt him. I say that for the television cameras. Do not hurt him, even though he's a bad person, folks. Bad person."
Bad people are, for some reason, every place Trump turns. Not much of a revelation actually. Anybody can qualify as a bad person if they say things Trump doesn't want to hear.  

There were other reasons why Trump's half-hearted condemnation of violence sounded out of tune. The New York Times back in March of this year collected a medley of remarks the candidate has made in his campaign

  • “I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you.” 
  • “In the good old days, this doesn’t happen because they used to treat them very, very rough.” 
  • “I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.” 
  • “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would ya? Seriously. Just knock the hell out of them.”
It's the kind of talk that would put a third-grader in detention.

In this election year, hate has now become the norm. Violence and intolerance can be justified solely by the level of conviction or passion.

4. The Republican rank-and-file separated from the Washington elite and embraced anarchy.
In his article, Bennet pointed out that the final step in the devolution of the GOP came when it was unable to deal with the insurgency of the Tea Party movement. 

For the Republican Party, being monolithic was fine and dandy and for years, not tolerating any dissent was a successful strategy. However, like a poorly-constructed dam, one minor crack led to a weakening of the entire structure. That crack was provided courtesy of the Koch brothers and the astroturf Tea Party. 

The mid-terms of 2010 saw Tea Party radicals sprout up all over the country to run for Congress. Most of these remarkably unqualified candidates were big on unrealistic promises. 
People like Rand Paul and Michele Bachmann ran on promising to slash taxes to nothing, throttling the monstrously overgrown federal government, demolishing Obamacare, making Obama a one-term president, overturning Roe v. Wade, and even amendment to define marriage without any loopholes. 
(They never bothered to explain to voters how very difficult passing an admentment through a divided Congress was.)

Still, it stirred a lot of hopes and dreams when Rand Paul said:
I have a message from the Tea Party, a message that is loud and clear and does not mince words. We've come to take our government back.
In the end, when none of those promises were fulfilled, the Tea party anger did not turn to powder and blow away. If Tea Party voters felt betrayed by the lying politicians they had sent to Washington, they were either not astute enough to put two and two together. Or perhaps they were too proud to admit they had been properly suckered. 

That's when a not-too-surprising thing happened. The ignorant victims came back for a second helping. This time around it was to be served by a billionaire clown who professes, against all credibility, to care about the middle class. 
The anger of the Tea Party proved fertile soil for the Trump campaign.

Large swathes of the GOP rank-and-file have embraced Trump mainly because he is  an outsider – someone with no government experience. Just as the former Tea Party Congress came to Washington as outsiders.  Ironically, last election's outsider has currently become this election's depised establishment.

Top-dog Trump has become the candidate the anti-intellectuals, the bigots and the religious zealots can all look up to in admiration. 
He has become their voice. The voice of American arrogance, the voice of prejudice and undeserved privilege, and the voice of stupidity.
However, make no mistake, Trump is beloved only because he has given them the permission to express their worst qualities and not to be ashamed for doing it.

Fifty years of stupid choices by the Republican party has guarranteed the humiliation of party leaders having to go before their loyal members with pleas to vote for a man who presents nothing but greed and hate and stupidity. 

In a party without any remaining conscience, that's what the end of the road actually looks like.