A "Radical, Revolutionary" Candidate And Party
Last night historian Michael Beschloss called Donald Trump’s outright refusal to say he will accept the results of the election as a “radical, revolutionary” act. But it is actually the culmination of the morphing of the Republican party into a reactionary, radical, and revolutionary party. In my lifetime, the strains for this kind of anti-democratic action go back to the Communist witch-hunts and the John Birch Society of the 1950s and culminated in the nomination of Barry Goldwater who claimed “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Of course, it all depended on whose liberty you were talking about and what kind of justice was being served. It certainly wasn’t concerned about African Americans. Historians with more knowledge than I can trace this anti-democratic strain back to the origin of the country and a lot of it is driven by slavery and the concept, in various forms, of white nationalism, the most extreme example being the secession of the South and the Civil War.
Goldwater was routed by LBJ in the 1964 election but the Voting Rights Act of 1964 had accelerated the movement of the segregationists, racists, and white nationalists from the Democratic party to the Republican. In an act of enormous political courage, LBJ essentially threw that element out of the Democratic party. And he was under no illusion how that might hurt the Democratic party down the road. Nixon played to those converted and converting Republicans with his “Silent Majority” to win election in 1968 and it solidified itself inside the GOP with the election of Ronald Reagan and Lee Atwater’s “Southern Strategy”. But, ever since the good old days of the moderate Eisenhower administration, Republicans had never controlled the House of Representatives. That all changed when Newt Gingrich led the “Republican Revolution” which gave Republicans control of the House for the first time in 40 years and control of both branches of Congress. The party then created its own information bubble with Fox, Drudge, and Breitbart. These events signified the takeover of the Republican party by the anti-democratic forces that have always existed and the abandonment of the norms of governance that the country had known for over 200 years.
These forces led us to government shutdowns, the impeachment of a President, the illegal and indefinite detentions at Guantanamo, the use of torture in contravention of the international treaties and the rules of war, and eventually the refusal to even consider a Democratic nominee to the Supreme Court. With the nomination of Donald Trump, the Republican party openly became a racist, xenophobic, white nationalist party. Trump has floated the idea of reneging on our national debt, massive deportations, imprisoning his political enemies, and finally, last night, the refusal to abide by the democratic process.
After Ronald Reagan, Republicans always complained that the party had never really nominated a “true conservative”, even when their candidate won. George H. W. Bush abandoned his “no new taxes” pledge and proved he wasn’t a conservative. Bob Dole had made way too many deals with Democrats in order to get legislation passed – he was not a true conservative. George W. Bush looked to be a true conservative but he destroyed the economy, led us into two failed wars, and exploded the national debt – he was not a true conservative. John McCain had been in the Senate too long and made too many deals and, despite, his attempt to woo the base with Sarah Palin, he was not a true conservative. Mitt Romney was a moderate Mormon who was never a true conservative but they were sure he was going to win.
For years, conservatives within the Republican thought they knew what kind of conservative the party wanted – a tax-cutting, budget-cutting, strong on defense, law and order candidate. But they were wrong. What the base of the party really wanted was a white nationalist of the first order who would thrown the immigrants out of the country and promise to return America back to the days before LBJ, democracy be damned. This is what the base of the party meant by a “true conservative”. And that is how the party has become a “radical, revolutionary” party.
This will be the last election where whites represent a majority in the country. By the next election, whites will be less than 50% of the population. The Trump campaign is a primal scream, the last gasp from a segment of the country that is seeing its place of privilege disappear once and for all. Like Trump’s refusal to accept the outcome of the election, his followers will also be dangerous and their anger will be heard. I fear for the days ahead.