A current major politically ambiguous question asks, what is the core and essence of Republican Trumpism in the 21st Century?
The term as it applies to its leader, supporters, ideology and platform, is meant to be ambiguous – by design. Increasingly, we hear from traditional Republicans that the “GOP” – the Grand Old Party of yesteryears, has been replaced by Trumpism and is no longer grand, but undefinable and unrecognizable.
This causes great consternation to those who still hold on, at times with questionable and distasteful loyalty, to the GOP brand. The ambiguity is being expressed by Republicans, who once raised the GOP banner high, but no longer see themselves representing Republicanism – a la Trumpism.
For many Americans, remembering iconic Republican Presidents, the new version of Republican Trumpism is insulting and deplorable.
For such Republicans, the vision, mission and guiding principles of the GOP have been transformed to a degree that they no longer recognize nor support in good conscience. A segment of the Republican Party, from 2016 on, was no longer in lockstep due to the social-cultural-political ambiguities. Conservatism morphed into conspiracy theories, charlatanism, criminality and extremism on steroids.
Not only were definitions blurred, but also standards and norms. You have to look far and wide to find an actual issue and policy that was/is being promoted by Trumpism that is on behalf of Democracy and the quality of life of the American people.
Cutting taxes for “fail safe” families that can pay out of pocket for whatever / whenever has been their only claim to fame. Those dollars were promised to trickle down, but never did and never do.
The party that once stood for the “moral high ground“, “law and order” and “family values” no longer can claim such prestigious terra firma, but rather tends to be proud of leaving landscapes in ashes. Empty dogmatic slogans and banners have replaced metacognition, introspection and reflection of what it means to be a citizen living in a Democracy, guided by the rule of law, decency, civility and compassion.
Shamelessly, pathologically lying, promoting division and fear-mongering have become unprincipled norms and its brand. Anger, bitterness, resentment, hopelessness and cynicism are the new guiding forces, along with a backdrop of violence. The cry is now, “don’t collaborate but obstruct”, regardless of the consequences for the youngest and eldest among us.
Obstruct, regardless of victimizing veterans, farmers and miners, leaving them with empty promises. Disparage the Department of Justice if and when it investigates Trumpism. Call it a witch hunt. Do not accept the loss of any election; proclaim the outcome as rigged.
Republican Trumpism created a deep crevasse and schism, leaving a segment of the GOP in a state of shock and distress with reasons to no longer support the MAGA leader and his followers. This is a position that many Republicans never thought they would ever have to address. So what happened?
The Republican Party has been part of a two party system since the 1800s. The two party system, while differing on articulating solutions for socio-political issues, tended to find common ground by using debate, bargaining, collaboration and coalition-building within the framework of the Constitution, Democracy and rule of law.
Both parties, with partisan cohorts within their own party, agreed to disagree but came together with compromises and concessions – especially when it mattered most. As Lee Drutman, author of the Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop: The Case for Multiparty Democracy in America explains,
“From the mid-1960s through the mid-’90s, American politics had something more like a four-party system, with liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans alongside liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. Conservative Mississippi Democrats and liberal New York Democrats might have disagreed more than they agreed in Congress, but they could still get elected on local brands. You could have once said the same thing about liberal Vermont Republicans and conservative Kansas Republicans. Depending on the issue, different coalitions were possible, which allowed for the kind of fluid bargaining the constitutional system requires.”
The two party system in the 21st century has dramatically changed, with the two parties separated in absolute terms. While I can still recognize remnants of the Democratic Party given its 21st Century progressive platform and political agenda, the Republican Party is a mere historical semblance of the past.
George Will, an iconic conservative Republican, answered a question by Chris Wallace on Fox News as to why he had left the Republican Party,
“I decided that, in fact, this is not my party anymore. I changed my registration to unaffiliated 23 days ago. I hardly made an announcement. I just mentioned this in a meeting with the Federalist Society. The long and the short of it is, as Ronald Reagan said when he changed his registration, I did not leave the Democratic party, the Democratic party left me.”
The very language of critical inquiry and thinking was replaced by unlettered MAGA political hacks, grifters and actors, who most often sound like capricious, spoiled middle schoolers during recess, bullying each other, pulling down girl’s skirts . . . just little boys being little boys ‘unfortunately or fortunately’ . . . learning to become little men. The unenlightened, illiterate language used by the Great White Hope MAGA leader is demeaning and insulting to every citizen – even those he represents.
It would be unimaginable to witness George Will or William Frank Buckley Jr.
on the same debate stage with Donald Trump.
It’s like comparing a Ferrari and Maserati to a tricycle.
Surely a skit from Saturday Night Live.
Other conservative Republicans have terminated their GOP identity, because in good conscience, they can’t compromise or lend their reasoning, emotional intelligence and moral courage to a party that is rudderless, corrupt, radical, without a vision, mission and guiding principles.
These traditional conservatives do not always agree with each other on issues and policies, but are able and willing to articulate specific socio-cultural-political positions with reason, intelligence, temperance and coherence. They pause to listen and deliberate.
Let me be clear, Republican Trumpism is not an alien organism but a manifestation of a political pathology that has been brewing throughout the 1800s-2000s. Manifestations of a heritage still healing from the paradoxical genesis of “equal but separate.” America continues to struggle to deconstruct insidious racist social constructs and socializing agencies. This is the homework left for all of us to do. It is not the work of one party, but each citizen – regardless of party affiliation – regardless of our affinity group(s).
The conundrums caused by Republican Trumpism have resulted in tribalism, in order to preserve power and maintain its control. History tells us that the past not only teaches, but forewarns. The extremism that defines Republican Trumpism is not new. The anger, hate and bitterness being played out by White Supremacists, Domestic Terrorists, Insurrectionists and pathological liars – without shame or conscience – has always been in our history books, identified as Nazism, Fascism, Autocracy, Authoritarianism and Totalitarianism. It has not been just about one party or one man, but an inhuman ideological force.
History constantly forewarns! Germany in the 1930s faced existential threats that were relentlessly pernicious. Nazism was based on nihilism, historical revisionism, fear-mongering, manipulating or eliminating the rule of law, racism, violence, control of the press, blind faith in one autocrat, and by using the propaganda technique called the “Big Lie” (distortions and misrepresentation of the truth).
The use of the “Big Lie” is not new. What is new are social media platforms that provide the power. The phrase “big lie” was used in a report prepared in 1943 and early 1944 by Walter C. Anger (American psychoanalyst) for the OCC – United States office of Strategic Services in order to describe Hitlers psychological profile. The history of the report was published in the book, The Mind of Adolf Hitler in 1972. Anger stated of the dictator:
“Hitler was probably a neurotic psychopath bordering on schizophrenia.” “His (Hitler’s) primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.“
A somewhat similar quote appears in the 1943 Analysis of the Personality of Adolph Hitler: With Predictions of His Future Behaviour and Suggestions for Dealing with Him Now and After Germany’s Surrender, by Henry A. Murray: “never to admit a fault or wrong; never to accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time; blame that enemy for everything that goes wrong; take advantage of every opportunity to raise a political whirlwind.”
It took time for America to come to terms with the realities of Nazism, anti-Semitism and genocide. The legacy of our own inhumanity, by way of slavery and maltreatment of Native Americans, caused pause as to whether we truly – authentically believed in inalienable rights, inclusivity and equity. That acclimation – that assimilation has been an ongoing torturous process for American minds, hearts and spirits.
The Civil War and its aftermath was a turbulent transition. The tenets of racism turned to state rights to push back on the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. With every step forward, barbed wire walls and mine fields were constructed to suppress and keep Americans from authenticating its declaration of inclusivity and equity.
The lineage connected to racism remains fixed for a segment of Americans who are inherently predisposed to the delusion of a master race – White Supremacy, White Nationalism through Domestic Terrorism.
It would be beyond foolishness to think and believe that Republican Trumpism is but a passing political fancy heralded by a bunch of freaks and clowns. The threads and peripheries are glaringly obvious and on display on a daily basis. These groups are draped in “America First” flags and dedicated to what Nick Fuentes (American white supremacist) heralded as, “finishing what President Trump started in 2016.”
When hearing casual descriptions of Republican Trumpism, I am reminded of Jacob otto Dietrich, the German SS officer who served Hitler as Press Chief, who wrote in his memoir, The Hitler I Knew, “In the twelve years of his rule in Germany, Hitler produced the biggest confusion in government that has ever existed in a civilized state.” Sound familiar?
The German elite thought of Hitler and his followers as a clown show; not to be taken seriously. But Nazism was constantly sowing division, chaos, misinformation, grievance politics, defining opposition to the party as unpatriotic, sowing fear about immigrants, demeaning academic critical thinking, suppressing the press, promoting a Master Race and classifying some groups as less than human. It was highly sophisticated at promoting “Big Lies.”
Does any of this sound familiar . . . slightly familiar?
Republican Trumpism is not just another political aberration. Rather, it is a dangerous threat to Democracy, as experienced by the insurrection, election deniers and its associations with White Supremacy, White Nationalism, Domestic Terrorism and Hate Groups – and all home grown.
Republican Trumpism must be continuously and clearly identified for what it is and examined for what it does. For example, in 2021, The Southern Poverty Law Center tracked 733 Hate Groups across the U.S. with the majority paying allegiance to Republican Trumpism.
Is there an immediate answer? The focus must begin with the FBI, Attorney Generals and Counterterrorism Divisions of each state exposing, tracking, and creating a coordinated national network of information on Hate Groups. Such pro-active interventions would focus, not only on recruitment and radicalization of individual members, but the leadership, financial supporters, local business owners and politicians that provide White Supremacists and Domestic Terrorists with safe harbor.
Republican Trumpism is supported, depending on the research and polls, by 38%, 32% or 28% of the American citizenry. Its demographical Base is declining exponentially and therefore the “replacement theory” has become a major rallying cry. Declining numbers have only added to the desperation by those who have been radicalized and are willing to commit acts of violence.
The majority of support for Republican Trumpism comes from the oldest living generations – The Silent Generation (1925-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), with Generation X (1965-1979) remaining fluid, with some conservative Americans drawing lines due to MAGA extremism.
What Republican Trumpism did not expect was the reaction by Americans who were watching the insurrection. The reaction was emotional and gut wrenching. According to an open-ended survey of responses collected from January 8 to 12 by the Pew Research Center – In Their Own Words: How Americans Reacted to the Rioting at the U.S. Capital Hannah Hartig 01-15-2021.
The reaction ran the gamut, “Horrific, disappointed but not surprised, embarrassed, violent, shocked, anguish, saddened, hurt, outrage, disbelief, disgusted, – ‘Act of treason.’ – ‘Never thought I would see anything like this in my life.’ – ‘This is not who we are or want for our children.‘ – ‘A slap in the face to democracy, something you would expect to see in the third world nation.’ – ‘Clearly an act of domestic terrorism, sedition, attempted coup.’ – ‘All involved should be charged with treason and sedition.’
A minority of Trumpers blamed the event on Antifa and Black Lives Matter and felt that the majority of participants were peaceful demonstrators evoking their 1st Amendment rights. A recently fired FOX
News Rumors anchor promoted the insurrection as a peaceful demonstration. Trumpers chose to deny what their eyes witnessed on national and international news. This does not surprise, as denialism and confirmation bias are major psychological phobias of Trumpers, regardless of proven facts or substantiated and unequivocal evidence to the contrary.
For Republican Trumpism, the truth does not matter and often is the enemy.
But the truth does matter. Insurrectionists are being arrested, prosecuted and convicted on a daily basis. According to the Department of Justice database, 978 people were charged and arrested as of January of 2023. The numbers have grown exponentially.
Leaders of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys have been found guilty of seditious conspiracy as of May, 2023. The DOJ continues to hold accountable those who directly participated in the insurrection and is investigating those who created, instigated and promoted the events, regardless of their political status. As Rachel Maddow would urge, “Watch this space.”
Trumpers have awakened to the reality that the Rule of Law and Justice remains the spine of American Democracy.
While past generations believed and embraced bi-partisanship, Republican Trumpism is an absolute. There are no guarantees when dealing with Fascism and an Autocracy because it does not seek consensus. It is not interested in reciprocity. Make no mistake, the ideology, regardless of its madness, is engineered and does not occur by happenstance.
Republican Trumpism is not a platform but an inhuman mania and psychological phobia.
So is there hope? The hope is ultimately expressed with every vote cast. But a Democracy demands constant vigilance, critical inquiry, reflection and a relentless advocacy for its guiding principles. Its preservation takes work on a daily basis during the best and most arduous of times. Yes, we should enjoy, celebrate and embrace our freedoms, respect the rights of others, demonstrate good will beyond self, but at the same time remain awake and alert when civil norms are threatened.
Democracy is based on credibility, trust and transparency. It calls for free and fair elections, collaboration, civil public debate, rule of law, a credible free press dedicated to critical inquiry, equity, inclusivity and accountability. It also demands constant attention to follow the truth. Therefore, Democracy is the antithesis of Republican Trumpism
Democracy will test us to go far beyond being merely members of a political party. It will challenge each of us to acknowledge a history that requires ongoing critical scrutiny and recognizes the inherent value and essence of our humanity.