Okay, I confess to the obvious: I am a bleeding heart Democrat, an unapologetic progressive/liberal, and a hapless do-gooder. And in case you have missed it, I hate Trump.
That said, I know, like and admire a lot of Republicans. My father was a loyal Republican, who as far as I know never voted for a Democrat. Most of my friends growing up and in high school and college were raised Republican and remain so today. Many of the clients of my consulting firm were real estate developers who were Republicans whose optimism, risk taking and chutzpa I really liked. I would guess that over half of my non-profit, mainly faith-based clients were conservative Republicans as well. I admired and respected them.
The kind of Republicans I used to know, however, are not the same kind of people who are lining up in praise and adoration of our Republican President, Donald Trump.
The kind of Republicans I used to know believed in self-reliance, hard work, personal responsibility for one’s actions, minimum government regulations, lower taxes and robust capitalism. They valued family and community institutions. Many were churchgoers. They believed in charity and outreach to others but did not think it was so much the government’s role to do this as it was the role of private citizens. They believed in a strong military and distrusted autocrats. They believed in order, predictability and fairness. While I believed many to be blind to racial and class issues, I would not call them racists per se—certainly not most of the ones I knew.
I did not—and I do not—myself embrace all of the Republican the values, but I think I understand them. I get it. I know where they are coming from. I was brought up this way myself in a pretty fancy neighborhood in Nashville, Tennessee.
What has happened to these people? Where are they today and what do they believe? Why are they keeping quiet?
I read today that Trump has the highest approval rating among Republicans ever enjoyed by any Republican president except briefly for George W. Bush following 911—well above 90%. Can these people be the same people that I knew who valued decency, personal integrity, and a healthy distrust of big government, bureaucracy, and foreign adversaries?
If they still believe in these conservative Republican ideals, how can they support Donald Trump?
How can they support someone who brags about groping women, who demeans immigrants and people who are physically handicapped, condones extremist racists groups, divides the nation according to class, race and ethnicity, who is an incorrigible narcissist, a perpetual liar, and who is ripping apart the fragile social safety net? How can they support his tariffs and trade wars and abandonment of free trade, his insults aimed at our most important allies, his war on science and denial of climate change, his embrace of dictators and totalitarians, his abusive and arrogant personality, and his war against the free press and government institutions like the FBI and the CIA? Trump has the personality of a strongman leader, a dictator, a despot. He is the first president to serve who unabashedly is more concerned about his business ventures than the state of the nation. Yet except for a brief moment which occurred for George W., this man is more popular among Republicans than any other president in American history.
How can this be? How can traditional conservative leaders like Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Lamar Alexander, and Lindsay Graham line up behind a man who would appear to be the antithesis of what they supposedly believe in? Why is there no Republican opposition to his policies and outrageous behavior except from retiring senators like Bob Corker or John McCain or Jeff Flake? Why have the primary voters in Republican primaries voted overwhelmingly for Trump candidates over traditional Republicans?
To these questions I invite reader response.
My own take is that many of the people I call “traditional Republicans” have made a calculated Faustian bargain. They have agreed to tolerate Trump’s abhorrent, unpredictable and often dangerous behavior in exchange for getting conservative Supreme Court judges and other conservative appointees and large tax breaks for themselves and others of considerable wealth. As for the other stuff that Trump is doing, well, that’s the trade off. We don’t live in a perfect world. And besides, they could argue, “Look, we have already won. We have Gorsuch with more conservative appointees to follow, and we have our tax breaks. The economy is booming. Mission accomplished.”
But have they won? History will ultimately pass judgment on this Faustian bargain, and it will not be kind. By keeping silent, responsible –or rather formerly responsible—traditional Republicans have allowed Trump to create an atmosphere and environment of hatred and division where the basic foundations of our Democracy are at stake—such fundamental institutions like a free press, free speech, an independent Department of Justice, the rule of law, and equality of opportunity for all. Then there is climate change and the environment and alliances with dictators and despots at the expense of our North American and European allies. The huge deficit facilitated by the tax cuts will come back to haunt the economy and the country, and that will happen sooner than most people realize. And of course always the risk of nuclear war is present, albeit less for now, given that Trump and Kim Jon Un are best friends. The list goes on. The world order has changed. History will record Trump as one of the most significant of all who have served our country as president, a true game-changer, as the saying goes. The traditional Republicans who do not like Trump or share his values will be held responsible for their complicity in what I and many others fear is a looming catastrophe.
But you are over reacting, some may say. We have a constitution, and there is only so much he can actually get away with. And after all the Republicans have gotten themselves elected. If you want things to change, you have to get your Democratic candidates elected, and that has not happened. So the people will decide, and for now the people have chosen Trump.
I am hoping that that argument prevails, that Democrats will retake the House and Senate. But what if it doesn’t? What if Trump, along with a decidedly conservative Supreme Court, limits what news media can write or say? What if Trump and a conservative Congress actually do begin massive deportations of dreamers and undocumented immigrants? What if Trump abetted by a conservative Congress continues to get tougher on crime with more minimum sentences and more private prisons? What if the modest social safety net gets ripped apart? What if our infrastructure continues to decline because there are no government funds to address the crisis? What if Trump remains in power for a second term and others like him follow? What if in a typical Trump tizzy, he pushes the nuclear button?
Couldn’t happen, you say. The same thing was said about Germany and Central Europe following World War I. Catastrophe couldn’t happen there–the most sophisticated and educated country in the world– but it did. Catastrophe couldn’t happen here either, but it could—if good people who disagree with Trump on many issues and abhor his behavior sit on the sidelines and keep quiet as long as they see something in it for themselves. If there is anything good to come out of the Trump Presidency, it is a reminder of just how fragile our democracy is. Yes, good readers, it could happen here too.
Some would argue it is happening right now, before our very eyes.