What on Earth Happened to the Republican Party?
I was away from home – at a science fiction convention in North Carolina, no less – when the President of the United States demanded four members of Congress leave America for “the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” (CNN) – never mind that three of the members were born in the United States. It should surprise no one that all four of them are not white.
What did come as a surprise was the near complete silence of Republican elected officials on the matter. As far as I know, as of 4:30 PM on Monday (as I write this), one Congressman from Texas and a state legislative leader in Wisconsin make up the entire group of Republican “electeds” who have raised their voices in criticism. The rest are fully engaged in Operation Ostrich.
How on earth did it come to this?
Greg Weiner discusses cause and effect in The Bulwark. His thoughts are quite close to mine, especially here:
There should be lines that this or any president cannot cross without incurring criticism from his own side. That’s because the boundary between neutrality and tacit consent—between their failure to condemn and the suggestion that they condone—may be faint, but it exists. Enabling, like pornography, is difficult to define, but sensible observers generally know it when they see it. Among of its markers is the refusal to use one’s influence to improve a situation one purports, at least privately, to deplore.
How this can’t be a line for so many Republicans just utterly baffles me. These were people who spent no time at all howling rage at primary challengers, bloggers, and anyone else who critiqued their views on taxes … or spending … or even nomination methods. Yet the leader of the party engages in, as Weiner calls it, “bigotry—call it ‘racism,’ call it ‘xenophobia,’ or call it ‘the kind of behavior that forces conservatives into such distinctions,’ ” without nary a peep.
The closest thing we get – even here on Bearing Drift itself – is a pox on all houses post from my Bearing Drift colleague. Don’t get me wrong; he was at least willing to rule out voting for Trump in 2020 – a solid step above the deafening silence from Republicans as a group.
Still, the idea that “identity politics” was exclusively a Democratic invention simply does not stand up to historical review. No Democrat was behind the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. Democrats opposed the WASPish nativism of the Whigs and Know Nothings of the antebellum era. The fellow who ran for President in 1884 opposing “rum, Romanism, and rebellion” was Republican James G. Blaine. Identity politics has been part of America – and a tool used by both Democrats and by their opponents – since the First Party System itself.
More to the point, there is a serious difference between members of an ethnic group using their political power at the polls to address majoritarian-imposed inequality and the outright racism in which the president indulged on Sunday. Again, back to Weiner:
…there is nothing inherently unwise in choosing to stay on the sidelines rather than be sucked into the unrelenting conflict between Trump and his critics. If anything, one of the president’s uglier influences has been to draw everyone into perpetual combat, and the Reluctant Trumpers’ refusal to rush the field for every play is often prudent.
But there are moments when their voices are needed and when their silence is consequently indistinguishable from acquiescence. If this is not one, it is difficult to conjure what might be. Xenophobia of the kind Trump expressed is a particular offense against American values. Moreover, its normalization is especially dangerous amid the creeping spread of ethno-nationalism.
Republicans need to ask themselves if they would be rationalizing their silence if they were not in the same party as Donald Trump.
If not, they need to get to the real question here: Should they really stay in that party?