50 Years of Republican history in a convincing, chilling thumbnail
Why have only a few elected Republican officials rejected Trump? Columnist Jamelle Bouie highlights scholarly views that “strong loyalty to an institution like a political party might lead a dissenting or disapproving individual to hold on to his or her membership even more tightly, for fear that exit might open the door to even worse outcomes.”
We have heard numerous versions of this rationale from discarded Trump officials, such as John Bolton and William Barr. Bouie cites economist A.O. Hirschman, and his book, “Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations and States,” on what he calls “The ultimate in unhappiness and paradoxical loyalist behavior.”
This arises, Hirschman wrote, “when the public evil produced by the organization promises to accelerate or to reach some intolerable level as the organization deteriorates; then . . . the decision to exit will become ever more difficult the longer one fails to exit. The conviction that one has to stay on to prevent the worst grows stronger all the time.”
“Assuming this is all true” Bouie asks, “how then do we explain the [widespread Republican] reluctance to criticize or condemn? For that, we can look to the history of the modern Republican Party, stretching back to Richard Nixon.
And what do we see? We see a pattern of presidential criminality and contempt for the Constitution, backed in each instance by most Republican officeholders and politicians.
For Nixon, it was Watergate. For Ronald Reagan, it was Iran-contra. For George W. Bush, it was the sordid effort to fight a war in Iraq and the disgraceful use of torture against detainees. For Donald Trump, it was practically his entire presidency.
Most things in life, and especially a basic respect for democracy and the rule of law, have to be cultivated. What is striking about the Republican Party is the extent to which it has, for decades now, cultivated the opposite — a highly instrumental view of our political system, in which rules and laws are legitimate only insofar as they allow for the acquisition and concentration of power in Republican hands.
Most Republicans won’t condemn Trump. There are his millions of ultra-loyal voters, yes. And there are the challenges associated with breaking from the consensus of your political party, yes. But there is also the reality that Trump is the apotheosis of a propensity for lawlessness within the Republican Party. He is what the party and its most prominent figures have been building toward for nearly half a century. I think he knows it and I think they do too.”
[NOTE: The pattern discerned by Hirschman and named here by Bouie is much older than Nixon. It can be detected as far back as 1928, when the Ku Klux Klan mounted a covert national campaign for Herbert Hoover. Then, after the election in 1932, it was the impulse behind the fascist “gangsters of capitalism” attempt to mount a January 6-style military coup to stop Franklin Roosevelt’s inauguration.
That plot failed, but soon there were new conspiracies planted in the U. S. As World War Two approached, with secret German support
(MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow with her stunning “Ultra” podcast series lifts the veil on those shocking, long-buried episodes).
The Nazis were scarcely buried when Republican senator Joseph McCarthy (abetted by Democratic president Harry Truman) gave his name to McCarthyism and a Red Scare that lasted for twenty years.
The Red Scare was soon taken up by the defenders of southern segregation as a powerful cudgel with which they hoped to smash the rising civil rights movement, under the motto, “Integration is Communism.”
Most southern elected officials were then Democrats, reflecting the party’s pre-Civil War support for slavery. But after Lyndon Johnson massively defeated Arizona’s Republican anti-civil rights champion Senator Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential race, and signed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, the “Dixiecrats” soon became born-again openly racist Republicans. By 1980, they had a winning candidate in Ronald Reagan.
Bouie is right to point to the Iran-Contra scandal but he overlooks another historic marker of content for law that the Reagan years sank to: his two terms were marked by more cases of rampant corruption than any in more than a century: a U. S. Justice Department overview put it this way:
“Alleged and actual crime and wrongdoing during the Reagan administration exceeded that of previous presidents, including Nixon, Harding, Grant, and Buchanan. Between 1980 and 1988, over 200 individuals from the Reagan administration came under either ethical or criminal investigation.”
Over two hundred; more than two per month. (The comparable figure for eight years of Obama was: zero.)
To be sure, Democrats have had their share of crooks and scoundrels. But their record pales in comparison. The subversive crop Bouie points to has been growing in the GOP furrows for generations. Is it now approaching the time for us to reap the most bitter of harvests?]