Alan Zendell, May 19, 2023
Historians and observers of political science often tell us that the political landscape hasn’t always been as it is today, unless the subject is volatility and change. As the culture war that began with the Tea Party and Freedom Caucus movements heated up in recent years, we were frequently reminded that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, and that his incarnation of the party stood for equal rights and the abolition of slavery. We’re also reminded that our Civil War was actually a conflict of economic philosophies. In the mid-19th century, slavery was as much an economic issue concerning the right of major corporate interests to conduct business as they saw fit, as a social and moral one.
Back then, it was the Democrats who championed the rights of southern agricultural business owners to own and use slaves to assure that their plantations thrived. Nearly a hundred years later, southern Democrats were still fighting to preserve segregation and limit the rights of people descended from slaves to vote and take advantage of the “American Dream” of opportunity. Frustrated by the segregationists in his own party, President Harry Truman began appealing for African American votes while hard core southern Democrats continued to draw support from white voters, beginning the shift to Republican control of the southern states.
The progressive legislation passed by the Kennedy and Johnson administrations further redefined American politics. Republicans now championed the pro-segregationist policies of the south while Democrats supported labor and social change. But as corporations grew in wealth and power, they crossed international boundaries, causing many observers to fear that they were more powerful than national governments, including our own. “International cartels” were seen to be the enemy by many, led by the oil industry, with pharmaceutical companies not far behind on the list of hated entities.
In the 1980s, Republican ideology changed completely to support large corporations and wealthy conservatives, focusing on the needs of white male voters at the expense of women and non-white minorities, incidentally strengthening those fearsome cartels. But as the culture wars, whose serious beginnings can be traced to Newt Gingrich heated up, corporate leaders recognized that their interests no longer completely aligned with the burgeoning right-wing branch of the Republican party. Many of our corporate giants which had originally been run by right-wing extremists of an earlier generation – Ford, McDonalds, and Disney to list a few – had shifted their business philosophies to the needs of their customers while new corporate giants, notably tech companies, were rooted in progressive social change.
All of which brings us to the startling events of today. The two leading Republican candidates for the 2024 presidential nomination are battling for the votes of right-wing extremists who support white supremacy and consider women second-class citizens, and pandering to religious groups who believe abortion is murder but refuse to take a stand against assault weapons. Unless Tim Scott, Asa Hutchinson, or Nikki Haley gain traction, the Republican nomination will be won either by someone who has shown he has no respect for laws, rules, or our Constitution, or by someone who doesn’t believe his opponent goes far enough in restricting the rights of people he doesn’t like.
Neither Donald Trump nor Ron DeSantis polls well nationally in an electorate that spans the entire political spectrum, and neither has shown a tendency to moderate his views once he’s in power. Trump’s previous actions are likely to lead to multiple serious felony indictments, and DeSantis seems to lack the filters he needs to avoid offending millions of diverse voters. His latest debacle is an all-out war with the Disney Corporation, for which most of the country has warm, fuzzy feelings. And the basis for this war? Disney had the audacity to speak out against DeSantis’s autocratic, bigoted attempts to restrict the rights of the LBGTQ world and anyone whom he can label a supporter of the BLM or Woke movements. (Can anyone actually define Woke for me?)
Taking on a major corporation that is loved by Americans over an ideological issue that is as close to Fascist as we ever get in public seems at best to be a serious miscalculation that rivals some of Trump’s views of how the world works. We have the spectacle of the two leading candidates of the party that until recently stood for business, law and order, and the Constitution fighting it out over who gets the votes of racists, misogynists, and people who support violent insurrection.
As the fight between these two gets nastier and more over the top – and you can bet that it will – how do they expect us, the voters, to react? If a candidate who focuses all of his resources on winning the votes of the worst of us were to actually become president, I would seriously fear for our future.
The Republicans have gotten trapped into trying to appease the lunatic fringe, it won’t work, as you cannot reason with the unreasonable.