In 1952 the United States loaned two billion dollars to France, mired in a war against the Vietnamese, who sought their independence. Despite the loan, the French eventually lost. But the loan meant more than money; it was the first step taken on a long road of American involvement in Vietnam. It ended in a war that killed 58,000 American soldiers and possibly a million Vietnamese. The United States lost.
The Vietnam War destroyed the presidency of Lyndon Johnson, divided the country, and brought Richard Nixon into the White House in 1968. The war launched a half-century of Republican pandering to the lowest common denominator. Nixon exploited the division between working class “hard-hats” and anti-war protester (aided no doubt by a few infantile, leftist radicals enchanted by the fantasy of revolution). Nixon strategists rolled out the “Southern Strategy”—the wooing of racist Dixiecrats from the Democratic Party into the Republican fold.
In the 1980s the baton of pander was handed to Ronald Reagan, who delivered a cynical “States Rights” speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were brutally murdered in the 1960s. Before long, the South went solidly Republican. As the political pendulum swung further right in the 1990s, the center became right and the right became radical; “conservative” blowhards, formerly confined to bellowing from the backwaters, now spewed from the mainstream; liberals were demonized as traitors by the likes of Ann Coulter. (For the sake of brevity, I’ve skipped both the Carter and the Clinton Administrations.)
The stage was now set for two of the worst presidential administrations in American history (sandwiched around one of the best). As the 21st century dawned, mediocrity, personified by George W. Bush, was inserted into the White House by a conservative Supreme Court. Bush, a precursor of things to come, ignored warnings of a possible attack by Al Qaida. He then invaded Iraq on false pretences, Iraq having nothing to do with 9/11. The invasion destabilized the Middle East, sparked the rise of ISIS, and led to a westward wave of desperate refugees This says nothing of the meltdown in the U.S. economy.
The Bush Administration failures led to the election of Barack Obama, who righted the ship and brought eight years of relative calm and progress. But his tenure did not stop Republican mischief; on the contrary, it increased. On the very night of Obama’s election, Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor, convened a hasty meeting, where they swore to block every initiative of the new president, no matter their worth.
The Affordable Care Act symbolizes eight years of GOP intransigence. It’s worth taking a little space to address it. A conservative plan, first put forth by the Heritage Foundation in 1989, became the target of relentless attack; over 60 votes were taken in the House to repeal it. Even now, with a Republican president, the GOP pulled its own health plan from the House for lack of votes. Nonetheless, they could still destroy the Affordable Care Act by voting to repeal the mandatory provision which conservatives loathe. Regarding that, here’s a quote from the Heritage Plan: “There is an implicit contract between households and society based on the notion that health insurance is not like other forms of insurance protection. A mandate on individuals recognizes that contract.” And check this one: “Direct and indirect government assistance should be concentrated on those who need it most.” Sounds like socialism! Had a conservative president put forth a health-care plan identical to “Obamacare,” Republicans would have hailed its genius.
Almost a hundred years ago, H. L. Mencken said, “Sooner or later the American people will elect as President a narcissistic moron.” Mencken got part of it right. Trump got a lot of votes from fellow morons and a few from fools, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that his “election” was manipulated by Vladimir Putin and a handful of anti-democratic billionaires. (See “Trump’s Money Man” in the New Yorker of March 27, 2017.)
It’s amusing to watch Republicans wrestle with the problem of Donald Trump. One could almost feel sorry for them. But Trump, his cabinet, and the people who advise him are dangerous—a threat to democracy.
So shed no tears for the Grand Old Party. Donald Trump is the culmination of 50 years of Republican pandering. They created him, and they must deal with him.