Commentary: In 1946, after 14 years of Democratic control of both the Executive and Legislative branches of the federal government, Republicans campaigned on the two-word slogan “had enough?” Over seventy years later, the slogan seems odd because it came after Democratic government led the recovery from the Republican-induced Great Depression and achieved victory on two fronts, Europe and Asia, in the Second World War. But the Greatest Generation got tired of sacrifices for the good of the country. Republicans succeeded in winning control of Congress for the next two years, 1947-1949.
Yet, when it comes to Republicans, nothing fails like their success. One term later, they lost control of Congress for five years until another two-year period, 1953-1955, after the Korean War ended. Another term later, they lost control of Congress for 26 straight years. Yet the Democrats secured their dominance fairly and squarely at the voting polls. They did not purge voter rolls, restrict access to the polls, require voter ID, or in other ways restrict the franchise. (White Democrats controlling the South were the exceptions; they used poll taxes and literacy tests to deny the vote to blacks, who then favored Republicans.) Today, increasingly, Republicans are a minority trying to lock in control of the government by using franchise-restricting means and gerrymandering to ensure non-democratic rule. Some among them, chest-thumping, flag-waving American patriots, have become demagogue-cheering, Russia-loving traitors to democracy.
Today, in the reign of Donald Trump, the Republicans are already failing the country and, in their unprincipled quest for power, themselves. After fewer than two years of Trump’s presidency, this year’s midterms see a Democratic take-over of the House as probable, of the Senate as possible. One, the other, or both will reflect an electorate which has had enough.
The electorate probably has had enough, not of policies perhaps—who knows?—, but of perpetual chaos in the Executive Branch. Agree or disagree on immigration, tax cuts, deregulation, trade wars, withdrawal from treaties or agreements (climate change, Trans-Pacific Partnership, NAFTA, Iran nuclear deal), people are unsettled—uncertain, uneasy, fearful, angry, or a combination of the above—about the conduct of Trump, White House staff, department leadership, and other high-level political advisers (including his family members). The electorate is increasingly dismayed by this administration’s rhetoric of deceit, abuse, and violence quite apart from political content: contradictory statements from Trump himself, or between Trump and other officials; distortions, falsifications, and lies, defiantly restated, not corrected or regretted; character assassination; insulting, racist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, and anti-Islamic language; contempt for argument, facts, and truth; threats or approbation, if not encouragement, of violence against political opponents and the free media; attacks on national security and defense intelligence agencies; and attacks on the law, courts, and law enforcement agencies.
In addition, general distress results because these events occur not only daily, but also almost hourly—a constant level of political noise distracting everyone from other serious issues. Trump’s is a tabloid presidency reliant on the constant stimulation of titillation, sensationalism, and emotionalism. His appeal is to those who want to shoot first, and (maybe) ask questions later—the new formulation: shake things up without worrying about what might shake down: feckless domestic and self-defeating foreign policies. The irony is that the devices which formerly more or less moderate Republicans used to jigger—“fix”—elections in their favor have turned against them because of the base which they have inadvertently empowered. The result is that, in Democratic-voter-suppressed or gerrymandered Republican majority districts, their primary-controlling base drives moderates out or drives them right, in betrayal of the party’s professed principles and values. Worse, moderates who have stayed in by straying right have clearly displayed a lack of political convictions or moral character rendering them fit, not for public service, but only for private profit.
Given such a dynamic of their own doing and to their undoing, the Republican Party has no way to reform itself, and the chances of finding a way to reform diminish with each election as the base temporarily wins more offices at local and state levels, and possibly expands in numbers. The demographics which the base fears will eventually overwhelm it unless America reorganizes itself as an apartheid state, for younger whites are unlikely to replace older whites as they die off. Meanwhile, the one chance of reform comes from without, from Democrats, of course, and from moderate (and any remaining liberal) Republicans who, in desperation, urge the rejection of Republicans across the country and down the ticket in the 2018 and 2020 elections. Their hope is that a resounding defeat will punish the base and restore reason and decency to the GOP.
I think that this hope is a vain one; the base will become more intensely resentful of moderates—aka, RINOs and elitists (aka, moderates)—and work harder to win control of the Republican Party. One possible course would be for moderate Republicans to create a third party which appeals to their own, to conservative Independents, and to a few conservative Democrats. If this course is quixotic, then the other possible course for them is to become Independents or Democrats, and let the base fume and fuss as it withers into a rump party vociferous but inconsequential.
Until that day, most Democrats, many Independents, and not a few Republicans are going to vote for Democrats from the top to bottom of the ticket—they should—as a way of saying loud and clear: had enough.
[NOTE: I began this blog a month ago. Since then, the country has over-dosed on the sex-and-drinking distractions of the hearings on Trump’s nominee. Lost in the politically contentious proceedings was the question before the Senate in its advise-and-consent role about court nominees: is this nominee qualified by legal competence, judicial ethics, and personal temperament, to a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court. These misdirected hearings have prompted a highly emotional, culturally charged response which makes a rational political decision impossible. Kavanaugh’s confirmation will be the start of a “red wave,” not “blue wave,” rout in the midterms. It will deal the demographics of tomorrow an enormous political setback and challenge protesting movements on the Left to re-examine their principles and approaches. (One question: why have many women rallied to support the nominee?) Obviously, vociferous indignation on the assumption of (self-)righteousness has worked. What next?]