Posted by: ericgrimsrud | December 18, 2015

The GOP’s huge drag on responsible US behavior

Let’s begin with a bit of reflection concerning who a large portion of Republicans are today. The GOP has changed: it is whiter, older, less-educated and more blue collar than it used to be. Our country has offered most of its citizens, including those Republicans, good opportunities in both education and employment. The USA is also said to be a place where competition matters so that the best among us can prosper. This was the prevailing philosophy of Ronald Reagan who is still idolized by almost all Republicans. As a result, many financial winners emerged during the Reagan Era along with, of course, a large number of others who have not done so well even if they happened to be Republicans.  But that’s how competitive endeavors are expected to turn out, right?

It now appears that a lot of those Republicans who feel they have not benefited sufficiently from this abundance of opportunity are crying “foul” and consider themselves to be “disenfranchised” even from the traditional leadership of their own party. They don’t seem to understand what has happened to them possibly because of a lack of education concerning recent US history in which Republican leaders played major rolls.

Therefore, if you are a Republican candidate for the Presidency of the United States today, you might feel obliged to remind those disenfranchised folks of the Reagan solution to such problems – that is, simply try harder and improve yourselves. Isn’t that exactly what Ronald Reagan would have said?

There might be an easier and more effective way of getting those votes, however, and that would be by good old-fashioned pandering and flattering . That is, tell those folks that their problems were not self-inflicted but were caused by a variety of ill-defined entities called the “government” or the “establishment, or the “press” or “elitists” or simply  “Obama” and “Hillary”.  These disenfranchised folks might readily buy that explanation and not even understand that Reagan’s “trickle down” theory was no more that a theory supported by the very wealthy and was never really intended to lead to a “shining city on the hill” for everyone.  And even if the disenfranchised Republicans do recognize this bit of betrayal perpetrated on them, they might prefer to now blame it on the Democrats who were left to clean up the messes that the Republicans left behind in 2008. Thus, many of these confused Republicans would understandably be very attracted to a candidate who panders, flatters, and complains endlessly about the Democratic cleanup crew.  A candidate of that sort would not even have to lay out his specific plans. Just “saying stuff” that takes these Republicans off the hook for their own shortcomings might be enough to get many of those votes.

Then, enters “the Donald”: Donald Trump is a very experienced and smart businessman.  He is not a know-nothing himself, but knows how to get the votes of those who are.  So he tells these intellectually challenged Republicans that all of their troubles were caused by that Democratic clean-up crew, as I summarized above. Also included in Trumps tiny bag of “solutions” are the promotion of religious bigotry, the construction of walls (yes, in spite of Ronnie’s distain for them), and “just say no” to action on tough problems such as climate change (in concert with Nancy’s solution to drug use).  All very thin soup that goes down easily.

Consider also the demographic changes occurring within the USA. Whites will no longer be the majority by midcentury. Incomes are not increasing except for those at the top.  Manufacturing jobs are gone.  If you don’t have a solid college or even post graduate degree, you might be learning what lower-class misery can be like.  And then we presently have a Democratic President who is a black man, was educated at those elite Ivy League schools and whose father was a Muslim. Therefore, Barack Hussein Obama provides a perfect target for the generation of fear and loathing among the Republican losers of what remains of the Reagan Era. Trump’s base and vial statements about all of this reminds one of the McCarthy era of the 1950’s when problems, real and imagined, were suggested to be due to communist infiltrations into our government, military, and even main street.  Unfortunately, Trump’s history-challenged  supporters probably don’t even know who Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin was.

At this point in time, it seems very unlikely that the upcoming nomination of the Republican Party will go to a mature and experienced candidate, such as Jeb Bush. Unfortunately for Jeb, he happens to be a grownup just as his father was and, therefore, does not offer painless, simplistic, and vengeful solutions to our country’s problems. Thus, Jeb still lingers near the bottom in the GOP Homecoming King contest.

It is interesting to note that what is happening to Jeb Bush now happened to his father back in 1992. George H.W. lost that election to a new-comer named Bill Clinton, who had pandered his way through the Democratic nominating process.  He claimed he could do everything on the Democratic wish list without raising taxes.  Even though H.W. had just superbly managed the first Iraqi war – including his wise decision not to “break it” so that we didn’t have to “take it”- George H.W. had also retracted his “read my lips” promise of not raising taxes. He felt that the growing national debt following the increased spending of the Reagan years should to be paid in a timely manner rather than putting it on the proverbial credit card. The base of the GOP did not share H.W.’s sense of responsibility, however, and showed only luke-warm support for him in his quest for a second term. “Slick Willy”, who happened to turn out much better than anyone might have guessed at that point, then managed to win that election.

It is also interesting to note that upon taking office eight years later in 2001, George W. Bush quickly undid the accomplishments of his father by cutting taxes, invading and breaking Iraq, and putting the costs on our national credit card – all of which facilitated the financial crash of 2006. Thus, even though Jeb’s father was one of our best and most responsible Presidents, Jeb is also cursed by having a brother that was one of our worst and most irresponsible.

Returning to our political problems of today, the three other Republican candidates, in addition to Trump, who are presently enjoying substantial support are Cruz, Carson and Rubio. Unfortunately, all of them are just as scientifically illiterate concerning the forces driving man-caused global warming as is Trump and are not prepared to face this and perhaps other real and substantial problems. While I don’t know who will squeeze out the Republican nomination, I doubt that any of those top four contenders will get to first base in the national election. In our increasingly complex and dangerous world, we need leaders in government who will not be a drag on responsible behavior – whether the issue is climate change, terrorism or some other. Bombastic pandering for the sake of one’s own popularity leads nowhere.


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