Well, it’s day 8, and we’re already in constitutional crisis. The Republicans are already trying to ban Muslim immigration, and deporting legal American residents from their home, which is illegal and unconstitutional. There are already reports that they are defying court orders.
But right now I’d like to talk about what model we use for confronting the GOP. Is it Hitler? Is it Nixon? Is it Thatcher? Is it Putin? Is it George W. Bush?
This question probably doesn’t affect what you do, which I hope is: resist. The heartening thing about the last month has been that the left has been putting aside its habitual post-election sulk to do things: call Congresscreatures, join organizations, march, donate to the ACLU, punch Nazis, start organizing for the next elections. And people are doing these things who ordinarily do almost nothing about politics. This hasn’t happened on this scale since the sixties, probably.
The model does affect what we expect to happen next, and how successful we can expect to be.
The Nazi model is compelling in many ways. The Republicans have the nihilism, the boiling rage, the contempt for democracy, the urge to stamp out dissent, the bigotry. Actual Nazis are thrilled to pieces, and a white supremacist is senior counselor to the president. And there is a chilling regalvanization of anti-Semitism.
One problem is… what stopped Hitler? Marches, elections, counter-revolution? Nothing domestic did; once he was in power, Germans had no power to stop him. He was only stopped by a world war led by foreign powers. If you really think that’s what’s going on, who’s your Roosevelt?
I get the impression that some people would kind of like a return to Thatcherite Britain. You had left and right skinheads fighting in the streets, which is fun for some; you had some really good music and comics. But what ended Thatcher? Rather disappointingly, it was being thrown out by her own party. Which maintained power for another 7 years.
Let’s look at it the other way. Take current Republican initiatives, and see what they look back to.
- Anti-refugee sentiment: as many have pointed out, this is like a country in the 1930s: the United States, which refused Jewish refugees and sent them back to Germany to be killed.
- Anti-Muslim sentiment: this has been stoked on the right since 9/11… that is, the administration of Dubya Bush. Remember Ann Coulter saying we should invade all the Arab countries, murder their leaders, and convert them to Jesus? Remember Huntington and his “clash of civilizations”? Opposition to mosques being built?
- Anti-immigration sentiment: country-based quotas are what we had in the US until 1965. Republicans have been anti-immigration since at least Reagan; Ted Cruz during the primaries criticized Trump for being too soft on immigration.
- White nationalists in power: you mean, like the entire US until the sixties? If you think this is new, or wasn’t a problem in 2016, you haven’t been paying attention.
- Really bad white nationalists supporting the GOP? Like, say, David Duke or Strom Thurmond or the militia movement in the 1990s?
- Removing millions of people’s health care? This issue concerns me personally and intensely, and yet what the GOP wants is a return to the status quo of… 2013.
- Lowering taxes for the rich? GOP policy under Reagan and Bush II.
- Reducing services for the poor? Also eternal GOP policy. And to be honest, Bill Clinton’s welfare reform in the 1990s.
- Possible war with Iraq? Torturing combatants? Filling up Guantanamo? A return to Dubya’s wars of the 2000s.
- Gag orders for scientists? The closest parallel is Canada in the 2010s.
- Demonization of the press? Also standard GOP procedure, and the stock in trade of Nixon and Agnew. Recall that Nixon was actually thrown out of office for crimes committed against journalists and the Democratic Party.
- Lessening freedoms for LGBTQ folks? I’m anticipating a bit here, because we don’t know what the GOP will actually do. Trump himself doesn’t seem to care. A fair guess is: remove protections added under Obama. That is, the aim is to go back to 2008. (And again, top Democrats waffled on this issue well past that date.) (Edit: it only took a day. Apparently a new executive order is being prepared to roll back LGBTQ rights. Nothing to stop gay marriage though.)
- No action on climate change? I’m not sure if the GOP can actually reverse the new practicality of renewable energy. Other than that, we already weren’t doing enough; so we merely continue on our merry way toward destroying the temperate zone.
- Consorting with Russia? The particular dictator is new, of course. But Republicans were courting “authoritarians” well into the 1980s, and before that they were installing them, using them to fight proxy wars, and teaching them torture techniques.
- An evil new Supreme Court justice? Really, it’ll be tough to find someone worse than Scalia. So, back to 2015.
- Leaving the TPP: It was dead already.
- Possible voter suppression schemes: Already GOP practice. Elections are run locally, anyway; the likely effect is to make red states more red.
- Voucher shenanigans at Education: again, this is just perpetual GOP policy.
- Hating on NAFTA: if they simply get rid of it, we’re back to 1993.
- Total support for Israel: pretty much Dubya’s policy.
- Worries about nuclear war? Dude, welcome to life since 1945. Believe me, this isn’t the first period when the prospect was terrifying.
- Building a wall: We are now in the comedy portion of this post. There is already a partial wall, of course. This amounts to throwing money at contractors and pissing off a bunch of people whose land will be appropriated.
I’m sure I’ve missed something, and if it’s your favorite issue, I’m sorry. But there’s a pretty clear pattern here: the GOP platform, including its nastiest bits, is most like earlier policies of… the United States.
This is not to say that any of this is OK! It really is bad, it will do real damage to people. People will die because of the Republican Party: people losing health insurance, minorities attacked by hate-mongers, refugees trying to flee terrorism, Iraqis who collaborated with the US, anyone unlucky enough to face the GOP’s next war. Keep fighting!
But the fact that the bad things the GOP wants are things from our own past is, paradoxically, good news. It means we’ve been there, and we can use and improve on the things that defeated those evils the first time.
Things were much worse in almost every way in Nixon’s time. Everybody remembers the protests and the hippies and the civil rights movement, but forgets that most people disapproved of them. Nixon was able to win in a landslide (61%!) by opposing the whole youth movement. The Republicans lost the popular vote this time.
The best model, I still think, is George W. Bush. 2002 was a very depressing time to be a liberal. The GOP controlled all three branches of government, and at the time it seemed like they might keep winning indefinitely. They were intent on increasing inequality, starting wars, increasing surveillance, oppressing gays, deregulating banks, and dismantling Social Security. And you know what happened? They governed so badly, so catastrophically, that they lost the midterms in 2006 and everything else in 2008. Bush presided over two recessions, destroyed two major US industries, trashed our reputation abroad, completely bungled those two wars, and is one of the only presidents who left office with a net job loss record.
Now, it’s not heartening that it took six years. But Dubya started with far more approval: 57% in January 2001, compared with 45% today for Trump. And Dubya, bad as he was, governed with far more tact and respect for norms. He also didn’t subscribe to the current Republican nonsense about austerity: he inherited a budget surplus, and by God he spent it until it was a hole in the ground. If only Paul Ryan could pivot like that.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t things that are unprecedented. Here’s three.
- Trump’s unbelievable corruption. We don’t even know the half of it, but it’s already clear that he will run the Presidency for personal gain, and compromise US security based on his business operations.
- Trump’s open, amazing hostility to NATO. If Putin chose, this could easily be the first huge global crisis: Putin takes the Baltics and Trump does nothing.
- Trump’s astonishing ignorance. There are partial precedents– Reagan was no genius, Dubya too. But those two at least hired competent people.
Again, these will lead to bad things… but they are also likely to lead to a failed presidency. The GOP is in a state of bliss right now because they get to do all the things they’ve wanted to do for eight years. Their base will be thrilled. The voters… not so much. Because what the GOP wants to do is highly unpopular. People don’t want shitty healthcare; they don’t want richer plutocrats; they don’t want to go back to the ’50s on race; they don’t want more wars. If the GOP causes a recession, as is likely, they won’t like that. The lesson of Dubya is that incompetence is not rewarded, though it may take years to play out.
The Nazi model is motivating, but it’s also an invitation to give up the fight before we start. We still have a whole Party in Congress, we still have courts, we still have newspapers and universities and activist organizations, we still have the blue states, and we still have the majority of voters who rejected the GOP. It’s going to take energy and time and money, but we can win this fight.
Very purposely, I’ve talked almost entirely in this post about the Republican Party, not Trump. It’s fine to attack Trump personally, but people shouldn’t be misled that he is the problem, or that getting rid of him solves anything. The Republican Party voted for him, knowing exactly what he’d said and what kind of a person he was. Some of it expressed reservations in 2016; this turned out to mean nothing on election day, and less than nothing today. The Republican Party supports him in Congress and most statehouses, and soon Republicans will support him in the Supreme Court. Trump is not even the worst of 2016’s primary candidates: we would be facing almost the same problems, and probably some new ones, with a President Cruz. The GOP owns Trump and all his sins now. And I still haven’t heard a good story on anything that Trump is likely to do that will make the GOP actually act against him.