Republicans have over the last decade been co-opted by a fringe movement and remade themselves into a party of ridiculous piety, insecurity and wealth. They are a danger to the rest of us as long as the rest of us remain silent.
That time has ended. How do we know this? Look no further than Utah.
Like the majority of Americans in November, my reaction to the presidential election was a visceral one. I was in shock. I was horrified. I was sad. I was tired. I was wondering how a handful of folks in states that had been portrayed as the backbone of the nation’s honest and faithful working class felt so betrayed as to put in charge the very foreign-oligarch-supported barbarians who drove them into destitution and desperation. Their vote was the moral imperative equivalent to giving your passwords to hackers or turning your home alarm system over to the robbers waiting at the gate. It was beyond logic, reason, compassion and understanding.
I do not consider myself a liberal. And I am not a Democrat.
To me, the most perplexing thing of all was witnessing the final deconstruction of the once great Republican party. The party of moral certitude, of small government, of fast and terse and qualified decision-making, of a thousand points of light…of strategy, wit, determination and strength of will. The party that abolished slavery, created the National Parks and ushered in the EPA …where, oh where have you gone?
Now reduced to witless soundbites and memes, propped up by a propaganda machine and false witness — today’s intellectually and morally bankrupt GOP had run ashore as it ran the table.
First, a quick review: I have lived through several Republican regimes and admired many. I was born during the Ford administration and while I had not always understood or agreed with trickle down economics or the need for an arms race, financial deregulation or gross profiteering through militarization and endless wars — to mention nothing of the bigger issues with their back-turning treatment and policies against gays, minorities and women — I also grew up a white male with a healthy amount of respect and perhaps unwavering to a fault trust for the (mostly) men who ran the party.
Starting with Reagan, a Californian who went from movie star to popular governor to the portrait of the promise of the new American West wearing a crooked Stetson to match his cocksure grin riding around and working his Santa Barbara ranch. A euphorically follically blessed matinee idol visage of the hyper-capitalist, Bonfire of the Vanities, neon and halcyon ‘80s. To both sides of the aisle there was always something seductive about Reagan. In speech and presence and tone, he both knew how to pour gas on a fire and quell quietly the onslaught of criticism.
Though it wasn’t until more than two decades later, when I read The Reagan Diaries — a book in constant rotation through my top-five favorite all-time reads — that I truly discovered the fullness of the man.
The account was taken from the bellows of his handwritten journal kept over the course of his tenure in the White House. He called South African archbishop Desmond Tutu “naïve”, described he preferred “quiet diplomacy” to sanctions when it came to many issues of import of the day, including apartheid. He, like most presidents, did not always get along with the media and once referred to them as a “lynch mob” but overall his accounts remained light yet specific as he speaks of meeting with high school students with the same import as sit downs with world leaders of the day.
One could tell by his eloquence in observance that he was a man who simply listened.
And there was no better listener or scribe than his successor as leader of the free world and vice president George H.W. Bush. Bush the elder took the cerebral and sympathetic tendencies of Reagan and put them on steroids. Such a prolific letter and note writer, Bush it was said spent up to three hours a day with his pen and personal stationery corresponding with friends, enemies and every American child who decided to reach out to him first.
Recommended reading on Bush is his memoir: All the Best George Bush: My Life in Letters and Other Writings. Bush sometimes had a (not necessarily earned) reputation for terseness and lack of geniality and warmth. Most of that was a knee-jerk to his style being different or perhaps lesser-than in public than Reagan. But Bush’s letters reveal the man who we found in his later years, one of compassion and concern down to the last citizen. A devoted student of his faith, a doting husband and a loving but realistic patriarch. It was Bush senior’s fatherly embrace of his successor Bill Clinton, and the now legendary note he left for Bill at the Oval Office desk, that began to reveal this man of measure who bathed in a wealth of knowledge and letters.
Bush’s eldest son, who was to take the highest office in the land within the decade, grew up with a known learning disability but remained compelled to continue his predecessor’s strength in communication and outreach throughout his time. Though often pilloried for his ability to stumble over words rather than choose the right ones, I recall that in one of my darkest personal moments, the evening of 9/11, the light of his brave, soothing, measured and intelligent words. He did not go on the attack. He did not blame an entire nation or an entire religion. His message galvanized and did not divide, not only the people of this nation, but the world — which made a choice then to rally around us in our time of misfortune and untold need.
Though in persuasion and, for some of the ribald and racist right, Barack Obama was a liberal affront, the rest of us know, he, like Clinton before him, was a Republican in Democrat’s clothes.
And Obama have bested them all with intellect. And it’s possible, just maybe, that the greatest orator and political mind of his generation was also a little too bright, too analytical for his own good. Smart and learned the point of being viewed as crass, a show-off of a know-it-all. Even to his closest friends and advisors, Obama’s seemingly bottomless depth of knowledge and self-awareness seemed to at times cloud his ability to showcase his intellect for the common man or even his contemporaries. Too much of this, it seems, became a turnoff to too many Americans whose growing feelings of being left out and left behind started to manifest in loss of jobs, loss of homes and, most damaging, loss of pride.
The Trump vote was the ultimate voter backlash to automation and casino capitalism which had given rise to hedge funds and private equity firms — entities whose only mission is to tear down and part out once venerable American enterprises, consolidating debt and giving the heads of these firms annual bonuses that climb toward the billion-dollar stratosphere thanks to your taxpaying dollar and for-good disappearing jobs.
For the last decade-plus, nobody this side of Bernie Madoff has been held accountable in big banking for the greed that crippled a nation and in 2008 left several hundred thousand jobless, homeless and — even today — without hope.
But in Trump we have a vague and lost and pernicious cult of personality set adrift in a sea of monosyllabic hate adjectives “lying, bad, nasty, evil” always garnished with a handful of “verys” prior to them for emphasis. A cheat of the highest rank, a street magician from Queens — look over here at the tiny, shiny controversies and immutable offenses of the day pile up like flapjacks, vaguely tasteless and all similar. A certain distraction from something cliff-like just around the bend, bigger, more final and more disastrous than our imaginations can conjure. Economic collapse or war the certain endgame of such ribald and unprepared regime fronted by incompetence and backed by evil.
For his part Trump is unprepared almost as if by design. The antithesis of his GOP lineage. He is not a writer, he is not a reader, he is not a thinker, he is not a student of history nor is he even vaguely aware of it. He does not have much capacity to read the written word unless he has time to sound them out individually. Those stacks of papers he keeps on his desk are merely a backdrop, a set for a play about chaos. There are no books, just legal documents. He doesn’t trust what people say unless he sees it on TV, then it’s real. Or not. It’s lies if it’s against him. He is by far our most tone deaf, outmatched and concerning citizen, our most thin-skinned — the most pallid individual in our nation’s history of pallid individuals…and he happens to be running the country.
His wit is dull. All presidents before him, with perhaps with the notable omission of Richard Nixon, were known foremost to their closest advisors and historians alike for their disarming charms and searing wit. Humor is a sign of intellect and nobody could come into a room and dissect it for its shortcomings better than a Kennedy, a Reagan, a Clinton or an Obama.
Trump, verily, is the anti-funny. His jokes are not jokes at all. As evidenced Wednesday when he threatened to “destroy [the] career” of Texas state senator during a meeting with a Lone Star State sheriff. The surrounding throng laughed nervously at the threat as if it were uttered in a sarcastic tone. It was not. He was dead serious. He is a vengeful idiot. A bully who is so easily scorned because he cannot separate himself from his deep-seeded and constantly abiding need to be liked. Everything is for attention, for approval. And because the majority do not approve, nothing good can come and certainly, nothing will be done in the name of the greater good.
Plus, his intellect, his charisma, perhaps formidable two or even three decades ago in his prime as a grifting real estate hustler on the come up from Queens, squandering his family fortune (and name) in bankruptcy court and making a racket all over town skipping out on nearly every financial commitment he could get his pint-sized fingers around, is beginning to flicker and fade at the onset of his eighth decade. Signs of the genial billionaire tycoon next door on the make from the ‘80s have vanished into this present-day Jabba-faced slithering blob of darkness and anger.
Instead, he is the barely literate black sheep uncle who tweets ALL-CAPS-CRAZY when things don’t go his way.
SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 9, 2017
On the day his travel ban against Muslims is dismantled by the nation’s highest courts, known racist Jeff Sessions gets his Attorney General appointment, wealthy enemy of children Betsy DeVos — the check-writing dismantler of public schools and Trump’s most brazenly ill-equipped pick in a pool of the underqualified and restlessly ignorant — is named Secretary of Education. And security advisor Michael Flynn is revealed to have privately discussed lifting U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States in the month before Trump took office.
For Trump’s part he, during a security briefing, lashed out at a department store for discontinuing his daughter’s line of knock-off fuck me pumps.
These daily doses of small but deafening epithets, asides and crimes are bubbling to the surface in the form of scorn from the public to his enablers. Congressman Jason Chaffetz, a Utah representative and chairman of the House Oversight Committee, held a Republican town hall in his home state this week only to be pilloried by what could be conservatively characterized as an angry-but-controlled mob.
Videos from the event show the throng in attendance breaking into choruses of boos and chants of “do your job,” in response to the need to investigate Trump and his team’s many transgressions and conflicts of interest. Chaffetz ended the meeting an hour early and his only discernible soundbite of the evening was saying “hold on” a whole bunch.
While it is safe to say some progressives and liberals attended the evening, the expected dulcet crowds there to enjoy luke warm thermos coffee and stale cookies has left the building. In their wake a majority, in Utah, Tennessee, Idaho, Michigan, Iowa, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin and, yes, California and New York, who are worried all day, every day that eight years of Tea Party obstruction, Birther lies coupled with the rise of hate groups, science denial, prevalence of neo Nazi speech and domestic crimes of white terror all fueled by an unchecked financial market that buoys only the select few — is the true deconstruction of our democracy.
The vast majority of us living both literally and metaphorically somewhere in the middle were represented by the hundreds of moderate and conservative Utahns standing outside the elementary school auditorium shouting and holding signs and trying to protect the health, safety, education and well-being for the rest of us. It has been a long time since the middle had to coalesce, speak out and call out those in power on their bullshit.
But there is no better time — especially for those of us who remember with clarity the measured work of those who could reach across the aisle for the good of all — to be heard than now.