Don’t Fall For Republican Nostalgia

Paul Ryan’s only just announced his retirement from Congress, and already people in the media are writing hagiographies to how “different” his brand of Republicanism was from Trump’s.

Don’t fall for it.

These same people wrote the same hagiographies about Bush when Trump won the election. They wrote the same lies about Reagan when Bush was in office. I’m certain they’ve got similar paeons to Nixon, they just can’t get them published.

Let me be clear: the Republican Party has been a party of right-wing nationalists and bullies my entire life.

Reagan’s rise was a dramatic split with the centrist GOP of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. His faction dropped support for the Equal Rights Amendment from the national party’s platform, and embraced the pro-corporate economics (deregulation, tax cuts) that until then sat on the fringes of the party. Once in office, Reagan caused a massive recession, presided over the biggest bank scandal in our history (until W outdid him), and repeatedly lied to Congress about our military engagements. Not to mention his neglect of anything resembling the public health, like the AIDS epidemic, inner city blight, or the rise of crack cocaine. All the while, he bragged about family values and restoring our nation’s confidence.

Sound familiar?

When Bush II was elected, he followed a similar pattern: tax cuts leading to massive deficits and recession, along with misbegotten foreign wars built on lies and sustained via misinformation. And to rally the troops at home? Talk of an “axis of evil”, of the perils of Muslims, and of a restoration of morality to the White House. But nothing about the soaring cost of home ownership, or the stagnant wages of the American worker, or the struggle for single working mothers to find affordable child care.

Trump is just more of the same, but this time with the mask ripped off. Instead of talking of a clash of civilizations, he talks about “shithole countries.” Instead of dancing around a woman’s right to equal pay and equal dignity with talk of “traditional family values,” he brags about the sexual assaults he’s gotten away with. And going beyond talk of tax cuts helping the economy, he flat-out tells us that tax-dodging is “smart.”

So don’t fall for anyone who tries to contrast Trump with some golden era of Republican civility. For the last forty years, that party has been a coalition of radicals hell-bent to undo the progress made during the New Deal. Their policies have bankrupted our government and crippled our ability to respond to the domestic and foreign challenges we face today.

They are not conservatives. They’re radicals. And they’ve been that way for a long time.

The Invisible Bridge by Rick Perlstein

Riveting. Perlstein’s book is long, but moves at a fast clip; I stayed up late three nights in a row to finish the last half of the book.

He doesn’t explicitly draw any analogies with our last few elections, but the parallels are there: disillusioned voters; party elites that ignored insurgencies until it was too late to stop them; division of the world into good people and bad people, with any tactics that stopped the bad people allowed.

Not exactly comforting, but it did make me feel better to know that these problems are not new, and they can be overcome.

Three of the many, many things I learned:

  • Republican Party of 1976 was much more liberal: party platform that year supported the Equal Rights Amendment, like it had every year since 1940.
  • The idea that there are still hundreds of POWs in Vietnam is based on a lie: Nixon inflated the number of POWs from 587 to 1,600 so North Vietnam looked worse. Once the real POWs came home, he didn’t reveal the truth.
  • New York City almost declared bankruptcy in 1975. When the city asked President Ford’s government to bail them out, Ford (and Reagan, and Rumsfeld, and Cheney) not only said no, they were glad to see the great city brought low.