Alan Zendell, May 9, 2021
Sometimes, it’s necessary to get out of the weeds and adjust our perspective. Context is everything. That’s truer for the current struggle for control of the Republican Party than anything else happening in America. Suppressing the pandemic and repairing our economy suck up most media time these days, but while most Americans find that preferable to beginning each day with a fresh batch of hateful tweets and Facebook postings by Donald Trump, there’s a downside to his being banned from the two major social media platforms.
The eighteen-month long Trump Blitzkrieg of the 2016 election cycle caught the Republican Party by surprise. The country hadn’t seen a populist movement like Trump’s in almost a century when organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and the German-American Bund (the American annex of Hitler’s Nazi Party) were allowed to spread their toxic propaganda for decades, until the government perceived them as a major threat to national security.
Trumpism is different from those earlier movements and far more dangerous to our democracy. Trumpism is based on a philosophy (if, in fact, it has one) that’s only subtly different from the hateful rhetoric of the past, its similarities much more striking than its differences. Like predecessor movements, it is based on an appeal to our basest instincts, our centuries of xenophobic conditioning that we can only trust people “like us.” Everyone else is simply out to take what’s ours, whether it’s our land, our wealth, or our women.
Trumpism is a bigoted, elitist, misogynistic view of America that we thought we had largely outgrown, but Trump proved that it had simply gone underground, awaiting the arrival of a spiritual leader to set it free. In a very real but horribly distorted way, they see him as the Second Coming, although a more fitting description might be the Antichrist. If Trump’s hateful, divisive brand of governing is allowed to dominate the Republican Party, it can only damage our future.
We’ve always had political differences. Our system of government, like our judicial system, was designed to be adversarial. The idea of free speech and democratically elected leaders was an attempt to assure that competing views and philosophies would be debated before major decisions were made. Our founders knew about monarchies and the evils of autocratic rule, but they had no concept of the kind of modern-day fascism after which Trumpism modeled itself.
Thus, the fifteen other Republican candidates for President in 2016 were unprepared for Trump’s Storm Trooper tactics. Either they didn’t realize that allowing their individual ambitions to guide their decisions would allow Trump to divide and conquer them, picking them off one at a time like a lion going after a herd of elands in the savannah, or they were too self-absorbed to put aside their egos and organize to stop him.
As a result, we had four years in which America took steps backward in every aspect of American life. We saw the result of a president and a bunch of sycophant politicians who valued their individual power more than human life, and we found ourselves isolated from our allies as a bumbling administration did everything possible to help our enemies flourish. We saw centrists marginalized and forced out of government, replaced by people like Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Josh Hawley, Mo Brooks, and Ted Cruz.
Consider a future in which these people, in the name of Donald Trump, are allowed to take over the Republican Party, and they are successful in implementing the voter suppression laws we have already seen passed in four states. If those laws are allowed to dominate future elections, we will have replaced a two-party system designed to address differences with debate and negotiation with a fascist style of leadership that brooks no opposition.
We’re all exhausted from the pandemic and the fifteen-month disruption in our lives. We’re adjusting to lost love ones, unemployment levels not seen since the Great Depression, and the sheer madness of anti-vaxxer propaganda. Trump is taking full advantage of this national ennui, operating under the radar as he undermines what’s left of the traditional Republican Party one state at a time. He’s counting on the fact that like his 2016 opponents, Americans won’t wake to the danger until it’s too late.
Today, this very minute, Americans who care about the future of our country are faced with two questions. Are we willing to trade the admittedly imperfect, inefficient system designed by our founders for one in which those in power have no respect for the Constitution, the rule of law, or basic human rights? And if not, what are we willing to do to prevent them from taking over? If you’re not terrified yet, you should be.