The meltdown of the US Republican Party

Storied party morphs into personality cult
President Donald Trump delivers his acceptance speech for the Republican Party nomination from the South Lawn of the White House. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

"Owning the libs and pissing off the media. That's what we believe in now. There's really not much more to it," said long-time senior congressional Republican aide Brendan Buck on what the Republican Party stood for today, while in conversation with Politico reporter Tim Alberta.

US President Donald Trump has left no doubt of his complete control of the Republican Party at its mind-boggling, norm-busting convention. The tacky presence of Trump is unprecedented in any Western democracy. He spoke every day in the four-day convention. Trump and his family also formed half of the slate of 12 key featured speakers—Trump, his wife Melania, sons Donald Trump Jr and Eric, and daughters Ivanka and Tiffany—also unprecedented in any Western democracy. Except the president, the rest of them have zero record of running for or holding public office.

What a steep climbdown for a party that once prided itself for being the party of ideas! In Republican conventions over the past decades, cultural conservatives, libertarians, evangelicals and other groups jostled for real estate in the party's presidential campaign manifesto. This time around, the Republican Party has dispensed with any pretence of policy at all.

The Republican National Committee adopted the following resolution—"Whereas, The RNC enthusiastically supports President Trump and continues to reject the policy positions of the Obama-Biden Administration, as well as those espoused by the Democratic National Committee today; therefore, be it Resolved, That the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President's America-first agenda; Resolved, That the 2020 Republican National Convention will adjourn without adopting a new platform until the Republican National Convention in 2024."

Come again? How are voters going to figure what the party stands for? This looks less like the re-election of a leader in a Western democracy than the near-total support in yesteryear's cult-like autocracies, like Iraq's Saddam Hussein or North Korea' Kim Il-Sung. This mindless, mass kowtowing brings to mind a North Korean children's book I read many years ago where I was assured that when Kim Il-Sung visited a farm, overjoyed hens laid bigger eggs.

This year's Republican electoral efforts abound in absurdities. Along with the cult-like embrace of Trump, the convention provided a platform to some speakers who seem nuttier than a fruitcake. The Associated Press reports that "anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson, one of the speakers… advocated for 'household voting' in which each household is given a single vote, and said that, if differences arise, women should defer to their husbands." Good luck on winning suburban women's vote with that. Johnson has also said she would be fine with police profiling her adopted biracial son when he's older because "statistically, my brown son is more likely to commit a violent offence over my white sons." Another speaker, elementary school teacher Rebecca Friedrichs, argued that "public schools groom kids for sexual predators like Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, his longtime companion… by teaching them basic sex education."

Some of the invited guests are no less bizarre. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican congressional nominee from Georgia, was an invitee to the White House to attend Trump's acceptance speech. She supports the cockamamie QAnon conspiracy theory, which centres around an anonymous high government official called Q, who shares information about an anti-Trump "deep state" tied to satanism and child sex trafficking.

"She has also made a series of racist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic comments," according to AP. Trump describes her as a "future Republican Star." God help Republicans, and God help us.

An unsurprising and inevitable fallout of the Trump cult has been the spread of one his worst attributes—his shameless mendacity. Take the lies about the Democratic National Convention spread by the right-wing echo chamber. Now, twisting the truth to near-breaking point to make your side look good is a hallowed quadrennial American political exercise. What's remarkable here is how often they are making statements that are demonstrably false.

Take the canard that the Democratic National Convention had dropped "One nation, under God," from the pledge of allegiance. The claim was initially shared on Facebook by former US Republican senatorial candidate Peggy Hubbard, getting 1,000 likes. Trump joined in merrily. In a total of 30 council events, the reference to God was indeed removed—in just two events. On the national stage, "One nation under God" was mentioned on all four days.

Right-wing radio titan Rush Limbaugh also made the outrageous claim that Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden's widely admired acceptance speech was faked. Although nearly three dozen journalists, a small camera crew, several Secret Service agents and many campaign staffers witnessed Biden's acceptance speech in the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, Limbaugh claimed the whole thing was a fraud concocted by stitched-together edited clips. This despite Biden delivering the speech in front of reporters from ABC, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and CNN, among others.

The important point, however, is that Trump is not the cause, but a florid manifestation of the long-term rot in the Republican Party. A decades-long veteran of the right-leaning think tank American Enterprise Institute, political analyst Norm Ornstein, along with centre-left Brookings Institution analyst Thomas Mann, wrote a scathing critique of the Republican Party in 2012, long before Trump was on the political horizon: "It is ideologically extreme, scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition."

Writing recently in The Atlantic magazine, Ornstein pines for a resurrected Republican Party that is "very conservative, but not radical. It would believe in limited government, but a government run by professionals, respecting data and science… It would believe in genuine fiscal discipline. It would try to apply free-market approaches to solving difficult problems, such as climate change. It would… insist that those in office adhere to high ethical standards." Then he delivered the coup de grace: "Sadly, even if Donald Trump is defeated in November, there is no sign that such a party will return anytime soon. But restoring the Republican Party to its traditional values is absolutely essential to preserve the core of our system of governance."


Ashfaque Swapan is a contributing editor for Siliconeer, a digital daily for South Asians in the United States.


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