No, it doesn’t start with “once upon a time” or “in the beginning.” The opening words are, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. —- They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Yes, it starts with a candidate for president of the United States declaring that his campaign will be based on bigotry and prejudice. It starts –of course — with Donald J. Trump. And in him the right-wing has found a leader who they believe will turn their intolerance into policy and their desire for political supremacy into reality.
But there’s a long prologue to this this saga. And I believe it began with the presidency of Ronald Reagan in 1981 and the concurrent budding careers of former Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). I disagree with many things Reagan did as president but I think he actually cared about America, the “shining city upon a hill” as he called it. Gingrich, McConnell and many of their colleagues are totally obsessed with power and Republican Party dominance.
Reagan is responsible for a tax cutting fervor in the GOP that has morphed into a pledge by most members to never raise taxes on anything, ever. This is a pernicious policy, particularly when Republicans are driven to continually cut taxes, mainly for the wealthy. Although they claim that lower taxes will grow the economy, I believe their objective is to cause ever-increasing federal deficits and use the red ink as an excuse to severely slash funding for the social safety net.
Reagan’s policies didn’t create an economic miracle as his devotees claim. But they dramatically increased the share of the nation’s wealth held by the richest Americans. Union membership began to shrink during Reagan’s tenure — declining from 20 percent of the workforce in 1983 to less than 11 percent today – and along with it the middleclass. This shift of economic power gave wealthy Republican supporters tremendous political clout and significantly weakened the voice of “we the people” in elections.
Gingrich was responsible for guiding the GOP on a nasty turn to the right when he became Speaker of the House in 1995. He eschewed compromise with Democrats, portrayed liberals as traitors — or worse — and supported his ultra-conservative clones in elections. He has been credited with falsely tying the media to liberals and elitists in a conspiracy against the American public. Gingrich created a toxic atmosphere in the House that I believe continues to cripple bipartisanship in that chamber to this day.
Gingrich resigned from the House “under a cloud” in 1999. He was succeeded as Speaker by like-minded Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) who initiated the existing GOP policy to never bring any legislation to the floor for a vote unless it is supported by a majority of the Republican caucus. Thus, many bills that have significant bipartisan support and legislation that is mainly supported by Democrats is stymied. That’s not democracy.
McConnell deserves every anti-democratic charge that can be leveled against him. He was mainly responsible for obstructing President Barack Obama for eight years, aided by a Tea Party sweep of the House in 2010. He didn’t care that the nation was in the throws of the worst recession since the Great Depression; he weaponized the filibuster in the Senate to impede everything the president tried to do.
McConnell was not deterred by the hundreds of cases that were clogging the federal courts as he blocked Obama’s appointments to the federal bench. Nor was he concerned when he prevented Obama from filling important executive branch positions. And he infamously refused to even hold hearings on Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland for a position on the Supreme Court. This and other actions by McConnell virtually destroyed comity in the Senate.
But what I find significant about McConnell’s strategy is his lack of concern about political reprisals for his totally partisan actions, including ramming Trump’s conservative appointments to the federal courts through the Senate. He acts as if Democrats will never have an opportunity to do the same to Republicans. In fact, McConnell’s tactics seem to anticipate long term, perhaps permanent, GOP control of the government.
Which brings me back to President Trump who has his own plan for dominating the government. Like Gingrich and many other Republicans, he attacks the mainstream media, calling them the “enemy of the people.” With very little pushback from spineless congressional Republicans, Trump assaults the Justice Department, the FBI and the rule of law. He apparently thinks his word should be the law.
Clearly, Trump is on a route to a Trumpocracy with state-controlled media, an autocratic government and suppressed individual freedoms. It’s a destination where the wealthy few will control the multitudes – where the average American will struggle to secure health care and prosperity — where freedom of religion is only for Christians — and where freedom of the press is only for right-wing media. It is a path we do not want to take and a result we must avoid at all costs.
Yes, the saddest story ever told is about the GOP quest for political dominance, Donald Trump’s authoritarianism and the eventual demise of democracy in the United States. But the last chapter is still just an outline. So, voters can take a giant step in November toward ensuring that this tragic ending is never written.