It is difficult for many Europeans to understand the attraction of the Republican party for the American people. Trump is considered a laughing stock and someone not suitable for any public office. However, even before Trump, the Republican party seemed very extreme to people on the other side of the Atlantic. They are against providing universal healthcare to people and called Obama a socialist for attempting to ensure poor people would have some cover with the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Obama’s policies would be considered center or even slightly right of center in Europe, yet he is labeled as an extreme leftist by the Republicans. The Grand Old Party (GOP) would denounce the British Conservatives (often dubbed the “nasty party” for their harsh right-wing policies) as leftists for maintaining the National Health Service. Apart from healthcare, the Republicans appeal to their base by promising tax cuts (generally for the rich), promising to protect and uphold the right to bear arms granted by the 2nd Amendment, talking about God and building up the military. None of these things, apart from taxes, are part of the European political dialogue.
The Republican Party attracts at least 40% of the vote in any election held in the United States. Most of those voters are not the assault-rifle waving, white nationalist, and MAGA hat-wearing people found at a Trump rally. Rather, they are Ordinary Decent Republicans (ODR). When I think of an ODR, I’m inclined to think of Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush, Senators John McCain, and Mitt Romney, or even former Speaker Paul Ryan. The Lincoln Project is an example of Ordinary Decent Republicans coming together to remove Trump from office. They are creating some hard-hitting anti-Trump advertisements and are spending money in some of the key swing states to ensure that Trump losses in 2020.
These ODR’s are disgusted by Trump and see him as a danger to the conservative movement and conservative ideas. Some prominent former Republicans who are extremely critical of Trump are Tom Nichols, Rich Wilson, Max Boot, and Kellyanne Conway’s husband, George Conway. They often profess to be Reagan Republicans; however, the conservatism they espouse can be traced back to the 1960s and the ideas of Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.
Goldwater rejected the “New Deal” policies as repudiating the principle of limited government, as he saw the large government programs of the “New Deal” era as damaging to man’s freedom. He rejected the idea of conservatism “with a heart” that some Republicans such as Eisenhower and Nixon were promoting. Goldwater argued that government policy should be concerned with the maximum amount of freedom for individuals that is consistent with the maintenance of social order. He explained that “every man is responsible for his own development and that the choices that govern his life are the choices that he must make and that these choices cannot be made by any other human or any connectivity of humans.” However, he pointed out that it was “impossible for one man to be free if another is able to deny him the exercise of his freedom.” The government should ensure order but only “to preserve and extend freedom.” Goldwater saw the freedom for man to make his own choices as vitally important to his spiritual well-being. He dismissed the idea of the “common man,” insisting that everyone was an individual and “to regard man as part of an undifferentiated mass is to consign him to slavery.” In his view, if people have to rely on government programs, then they become less free. The more the government is relied upon to solve problems then the more totalitarian a society becomes. He felt it was up to private individuals and organizations such as churches to help those in need of a dig out.
Goldwater was also a strong advocate for States’ rights believing that decisions should be made at the local level. He was against the Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. the Board of Education, which overturned an earlier decision (Pleasy vs. Ferguson) that had allowed segregation in education. The conviction in small government was somewhat contradicted by his belief that it was necessary to build up the military to engage in offensive tactics against the Soviet Union’s threat. These ideas, small government(low taxes, low spending, and low deficit), trickle-down economics, states rights, a strong military, and a social policy based around family values, personal responsibility, and public decency are still the main planks of the conservative outlook. Maximum individual freedom, personal responsibility, low taxes, and law and order are attractive propositions for many people.
However, a more harsh view of Republican policy is that they are the party of “big business,” and they want everyone to conform to their moral code, especially regarding family values, gay marriage, and abortion.
Goldwater’s ideas of individual freedom and limited government end up with a system where Jeff Bezos is well on the way to becoming a Trillionaire (earning $35,000,000 a day during the pandemic) while his workers have no health care coverage. Republicans argue that each person should pull themselves up by their bootstraps. However, poor housing, poor education, inadequate health care, and a lack of connections make it almost impossible for someone born into extreme poverty to do so. These people have the freedom to sleep on the street and go hungry as far too many have to do.
The truth is that the GOP under Trump has evolved into the greatest threat to the American Ideals that one could imagine. They don’t care about ordinary people (their jobs, wages, or healthcare), nor do they care about the deficit unless they use it as an excuse to cut social security. They ignore the Constitution (Impeachment trial), and they don’t respect the rule of law (Muller Report). Trump still hasn’t released his tax returns. Their sole mission is to secure and keep power. Although this is more evident and has accelerated over the last four years, the Republican philosophy has not been good for the United States. Even the “ordinary decent republicans” that I have mentioned have stains on their records.
From the McCarthyism of the 1950s, through Nixon’s corruption in the 1970s and the George W. Bush administration’s disastrous decision to invade Iraq and their economic policies that collapsed the financial system in 2008, the GOP has eroded the ideals of the United States. The rot began with the mudslinger Joe McCarthy who, in the most Un-American way imaginable, led a witch-hunt against opponents and innocent people in the 1950s. His unique brand of Republicanism involved a tactic of “throwing some mud to see what sticks.” Styling himself as an American patriot- who was standing up to the threat of communism – while he knowingly spread fear, suspicion, and division, McCarthy posed a far greater threat to American freedom than any red scare.
Our next Republican “hero,” the disgraced Richard Nixon, resigned over the corruption and coverup associated with the Watergate Scandal. The corrupt nature of Nixon’s Administration is evidenced by the fact that less than a year earlier, Nixon’s Vice President, Spiro Agnew, also had to resign in disgrace over tax evasion and corruption.
Even if we ignore the scandal’s of the Reagan years- Iran/ Contra affair, the response to HIV/Aids, the failure of the war on drugs, union-busting economic policies- and acknowledge the respectability of George H. W. Bush- the decline of the Ordinary Decent Republican was accelerated when the Neo-Conservatives (Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Karl Rove) secured critical positions in George W. Bush administration.
The Bush Administration invaded Iraq, ignored the plight of the people of New Orleans after hurricane Katrina, and collapsed the world economy. This Administration was disastrous for the USA and the whole world.
When the United States was attacked on 9/11, all right-thinking people were horrified and deeply saddened. I was living in Budapest, Hungary, and I saw the planes crashing into the twin tower on a small portable television set in a little cafe bar on Vacci Uct. The commentary was in Hungarian, so it was not immediately apparent that it was a terrorist attack. That only became clear to me when I called home later that day. My mother was distraught. She was literally sobbing down the phone line to me, saying how dreadful it was and wondering what was happening in the world. She had never been to New York, and she didn’t know anyone except her brother-in-laws’ brother. But the attack on NYC was an attack on the Western way of life, on our freedoms and on our peace. These realities hit me hard as I reassured my mammy that we were fine and that the world would be okay.
George W Bush had his finest moments in the days after 9/11, ably supported by “America’s Mayor” Rudy Giuliani. The weeks after 9/11 were very uncertain. There were concerns that there could be another attack. The news networks were full of stories of possible anthrax attacks and how chemical weapons could be used on the subway system. There was an atmosphere of fear and then of defiance before calls for revenge and making somebody pay. A group called the Taliban was suddenly a household name. The news networks interviewed the Taliban in their caves in Afghanistan. These men, with their long beards, white dresses, and funny way of sitting, were the terrorists, or were aligned with the terrorists and had been helping the terrorists behind the attack. At this stage, it seemed that the whole world, indeed, the whole of Western civilization, was united with America. Everyone wanted to go for a beer with George W. Bush.
Bush wasn’t known for his intellect, he never gave the impression that he was a policy wonk, but he seemed relatable to the average guy. He liked his sports, and he was down to earth. He seemed like good company—a decent skin. However, behind Bush, there were several NeoCons (Neo-Conservatives), particularly Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, who had their agenda. It wasn’t long before Bush was warning about an “axis of evil,” name-checking Iran, Iraq and North Korea, and threatening the world that “you are either with us or against us” as the focus shifted to Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction.” The Bush administration started making a case for regime change to oust Saddam Hussain from power in Iraq. Despite the sympathy for the people of the US, the anger at the terrorists, and George W’s likeability, most people around the world knew that it was wrong to invade Iraq. Millions marched against the war in capital cities around the world.
None of North Korea, Iran, or Iraq were responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and yet the Administration seemed determined to attack Iraq. Millions of people all across the world marched in protest against the impending war. However, a ‘coalition of the willing’ was assembled to launch an invasion when the most trusted member of the Bush Administration Colin Powell persuaded the world at the United Nations that the US had evidence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. The result was a disastrous war that cost thousands of lives and trillions of dollars. The war also led to the rise of the Islamic State terrorist organization.
The Republicans caused the collapse of the financial system with reckless economic policies that crashed the US and World economies. Their idea of small government and “light-touch regulation” allowed the banks and Wall Street to run wild with no supervision. The result was a financial crash that destroyed wealth, jobs, and almost the whole economic system. The people living on main street suffered the pains of austerity while the banks and major corporations were bailed out. The world breathed a huge sigh of relief when Obama brought his “Hope and Change” message to the White House.
The damage done to America and American ideals over the last three years cannot be overstated. It’s not just Donald Trump- he is merely a symptom of the disease. However, with the success of Donald Trump, the Republican Party has become even more extreme, moving further to the right, embracing white nationalism, seeing moderate members retire or resign, and embracing the cult of Trump.
The most extreme members, who do the most shouting and are most loyal to Trump, are now the voice of the Republican Party. Despite wrapping themselves in the American flag, they are now shamefully calling for Americans to die to save the economy. Elected GOP politicians have called for older people to “take one for the team’ and have unbelievably stated that “there are more important things than living.” This from the party that claims to be pro-life. These politicians’ dangerous and divisive messages are encouraged and cheered on by Fox News. Although Trump’s personality is essential to the movement, the cunning and devious Mitch McConnell is the one that is responsible for weakening the separation of powers and the checks and balances established by the Constitution. He is ably assisted by McCarthyite thugs Jim Jordan, Lyndsey Graham, Doug Collins, Kevin McCarthy, Devin Nunes, and others. Many moderate Republicans have retired, and those that remain seemed bewitched by the cult of Trump.
The GOP has little to be proud of in the past 60 years, since Dwight D Eisenhower was President, with the honorable exception of John McCain- although even Senator McCain was guilty of picking Sarah Palin as his running mate. However, the current crop of Representatives and Senators are among the vilest and most reprehensible people ever to hold office in this country. Until Trump won the nomination, there were plenty of people in the GOP who called him out for what he is; even his current press secretary Kayleigh McEnany called him a racist. Once he became the nominee, they rowed in behind him. They embraced his misogyny, racism, blatant dog-whistle to white nationalism, and his America First agenda. They ignored his sexual assaults, his payments to porn stars, and his failure to provide his tax returns. They celebrated his boorishness, his coarsening of political discourse, his bullying, and his lies. Grabbing women by the pussy is now acceptable for a party that supposedly used to stand for “family values.” The silence of the Republicans is deafening. Their failure to stand up to Trump or even hear witnesses at his impeachment trial was evidence enough of their disregard of the Constitution. The Ordinary Decent Republicans have abandoned the GOP- for groups like the Lincoln Project. The Republicans that remain have abandoned traditional conservative beliefs that many of their supporters still hold dear. Trump and his minions despise the very people who vote for them.
The US needs the Ordinary Decent Republican to join Independents, Democrats to ensure that Trump looses in a landslide, that the Democrats take control of the Senate and House. Then these Ordinary Decent Republicans need to start a new moderate right of center party to be an effective and productive opposition to the Democrats.