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GRAND OLD PARTY NO MORE

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

December 11, 2020


Just when I think things can't possibly get worse — or, in the odd moment I've caught myself thinking things might actually start to settle down now that the election is over and a vaccine is on the way — another wave of woe and drama breaks. Sometimes it takes the form of an actual event (constantly occurring, since the day Trump took office). Other times it's in the form of a revelation. Either way, they're profoundly upsetting, if not horrifying. That's just 2020 for you.


Last night it was a revelation. It came to me all at once that we no longer have a Democratic and a Republican party in America. We now have a Democratic Party, which is frequently on its back foot, and another party that's not yet named. Maybe it's a system and not a party at all.





Whatever it is, it's new to America but not new in the world. You can call it authoritarian, an oligarchy, a dictatorship, fascism, or possibly a fanatical monarchy. All of those would be accurate terms.


Meanwhile, one of the political parties in America is still calling itself Republican. It claims to love America and to be "fighting for democracy," and it even continues to embrace the word "conservative." But none of that fits anymore. Whatever this party loves, it's not America — at least, not the America founded as a democracy based on the Constitution, and not one I recognize, either.


This new party has chosen its leader, and there's no doubt among its members that they want him and only him,


Its objectives are likewise absolutely clear. They're based on some of what I, personally, believe is most shameful about this country, like white supremacy, hatred of immigrants, and a slavish devotion to money at the expense of other people and the planet. But the party doesn't care if I approve of it or not. In fact, it wants me and people like to me to disapprove, or even better, to go into a frenzy of disapproval and impotent fury. The more appalled we get, the more extreme they get. Its extremism seems to be what it loves most about itself: that and its aggression, its single-mindedness, and its rage.


Its willful irrationality, its rejection of science and fact, its embrace of bizarre, mind-bending conspiracy theories: these are aspects of itself it loves, too.


Now forming an actual army behind their leader, Donald Trump, these new "Republicans" believe all he has to do is finish setting up the America they want, which they believe is the "true" America, and "the libs" will go down. Finally they'll get to enjoy the "freedom" they feel is denied them now, which is so limited that they're only allowed to wear semi-automatic weapons in public and infect others with the coronavirus. In all other ways, they're being squashed by "elites" who have all the best of everything, who read books and go to art galleries, who wear suits and ties to work, and who look down on them.





I never looked down on them before. It would never have occurred to me to think of "our side" looking down on "their side," or vice versa, or frankly to think in terms of sides at all. As recently as six months ago I was a staunch proponent of American unity. You know this since I wrote about it here. I never expected to change my mind. I thought then, and still think, that our country is strongest when unified. I believed, like Kamala Harris, that "we have more in common than what separates us," and I believed we could find our way back together if we weren't constantly being goaded by a malevolent President who delights in getting others to fight.


I don't think those things anymore.


I think our two factions have now achieved true enemy status. And that breaks my heart. All night last night I kept thinking about how we got here and how in God's name we're going to find our way back, if we can, without breaking our nation, and ourselves, into lots of bloody little pieces.


HOW THE HELL DID WE GET HERE?



Illustration: Randall Enos, www.politcalcartoons.com


Democrats really haven't changed that much in my lifetime. We've always been the 'bleeding hearts," the ditherers, the idealists, the ones worrying about education and the poor and the disenfranchised. By contrast, the GOP was once comprised of mostly rich, white, WASP-y, fiscal and social conservatives who cared about corporations and the stock market. Now it seems even the so-called moderate wing is no longer those things. Now "Republicans" let Donald Trump do most of their thinking for them. He tells them the November election was rigged and they believe him, despite all the recounts, lawsuits and evidence.


Believing whatever he says has turned many of them in to a group of angry, red-faced, armed, rural, sometimes survivalist, did I mention angry, people fused together into a single brick of rage.



Once upon a time, a segment of the GOP formed something called the Tea Party, so named because they thought paying taxes was unfair. This was the first extremist, aggrieved group claiming Republican membership that I remember. Tea Partiers thought government should be kept small, and they had a keen dislike of "spendthrift liberals" who wanted our tax dollars to fund federal agencies and entitlement programs. OK. We didn't like them much and they didn't like us. But they were entitled to their opinion, just as we were entitled to ours.


We had Carter and Reagan and the first Bush, then Clinton for two terms, followed by the second Bush. In every administration there was plenty of animosity to go around but it felt like the seesaw that is any two-party system did reliably go up and down.


But something started to creep in during Clinton's term that felt darker and uglier than anything that had come before. By and large he was a popular President, presiding over a prosperous era. His tenure was notable for legislation that reduced welfare and rewarded work, clamped down on violent crime, and expanded the role of the U.S. in NATO, all bipartisan objectives. Clinton also famously pulled us out of the Reagan/Bush debt and left us with a federal surplus. But it seemed Republicans didn't like him, were determined not to like him, no matter what he did. It seemed just being a Democrat made the GOP seethe, day in and day out, in a way that I, personally, don't remember happening before then.


Honestly, the Monica Lewinsky scandal was a bit of nasty sleaze that didn't have to happen, and there was no reason behind it but to discredit and humiliate a President and his party. I'm sure every scandal in every Presidency involves the gnashing of teeth on the "caught" side, and much crowing on the "gotcha!" side. But this went further. The GOP spent years in pursuit of a scandal, shaking every tree and shrub, until eventually they were compelled to make one. They secretly taped the private conversations between a White House page, Lewinsky, and a former employee, Linda Tripp, then composed a whopping 453-page report (435 pages? Really?) revealing every squalid detail. It had nothing to do with governance. It had everything to do with spite. It seemed to come from a party whose position was not "We disagree with your policies" but rather, "We hate you and we're going to find a way to hurt you, no matter how low we have to sink to do it."


Left: Monica Lewinsky with former President Clinton



The old GOP would never have done that. Yes, the party was a bit uptight, but they were also upright. They were worthy of respect. I remember getting mad at them for their positions about gun control, abortion, religious expression and more, but I always respected them, and so did other Democrats.


The Monica Lewinsky affair took political infighting to a new, personal and vicious level that the parties have still not recovered from, in my opinion. It scored such a hit with the public that Republicans have been looking for opportunities to bully and harass Democrats ever since. It glorified figures like Ken Starr, Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh who were willing to throw aside the conventional rules of engagement in politics and hit from behind, wherever and however, because they believed that in a majority-rule system, with the left usually outnumbering the right, the deck was stacked against them.


It's now clear that Republican resentment over the perceived "advantage" by Democrats has gone from smoldering coals to a raging fire. I once did research on the Fox network, reading on Wikipedia that it was originally founded as a "right wing alternative to CNN" even though CNN wasn't and isn't a "left-wing news organization" (a contradiction in terms). That description has now been altered on the site.


I also read that the idea for the network was born after Nixon's resignation in the 1970's. . Apparently there wasn't enough support to make it a reality then, but Rupert Murdoch succeeded in the 1990's after Clinton's election, with the stated goal that the U.S. never again elect a Democratic President.


We didn't realize it then, but the advent of Fox "news" heralded the abandonment of the two-party system, democracy expressed through free voting, and the divided government most Americans have generally preferred.



The network's style was simple, colloquial, blunt and unapologetically inflammatory. It mixed entertainment liberally into its programming. It was often willing to cast aside the traditional format of reporting "top news" stories first in favor of those most congenial to its audience. So while CNN, all the major networks, outlets like the BBC and NPR all reported on, for instance, the announcement of the year's Nobel Prizes, Fox might lead with a hair-raising account of a "crime spree" committed in a minority neighborhood of a city like Baltimore. Only later in the broadcast, if at all, would the Nobel Prize story get airtime.


Over the years, insider leaks at Fox (depicted the 2004 documentary and again in last year's mainstream feature film, "Bombshell") revealed that former News Corp. Chairman Roger Ailes developed a method of imparting information designed to alternately alarm and entertain viewers -- always while holding them close in the warm circle of "us" vs. "them that remains the Fox "news" signature. Or as Rolling Stone writer wrote in 2011, "The network, at its core, is a giant soundstage created to mimic the look and feel of a news operation, cleverly camouflaging political propaganda as independent journalism."




It's the camouflage that's the problem. It's the masquerading as a "news network" that encourages its 76 million viewers to disregard the information of medical experts, public health agencies, and the so-called "fake, left-wing media," in Trump's words, and go on believing what Fox says instead: that coronavirus is a hoax, or anyway 99% survivable, and also a "blue state" plot to infringe on the freedom of true Americans.


Long before there was OAN and Newsmax, Fox distanced itself from traditional authority and mainstream media. They didn't want to cover what the majority of media outlets were covering, and they didn't care to keep their personal opinions out of their news reporting, either. In fact, as time went on they became less and less objective in their delivery of the news, not just in terms of its content but even in its presentation.


"You got to see it to believe it," a Fox host might say conversationally from behind the "news" desk. "A mother of four was recently caught shoplifting in Wal-Mart and her excuse was 'my government check was late.' So first these people collect free money every month, then they go out and commit crimes when it doesn't get to them fast enough. This is the America we live in today." (A made-up example. But you get the point.)



In study after study over the twenty-odd years, many of them nonpartisan, bipartisan and/or academic, Fox "News" has consistently been called out for its biased content. Factual, accurate, verifiable, and dare I say truthful news has often taken a back seat to editorializing, conjecture, gossip, and conspiracy-theorizing.


For some reason, the FCC never cracked down on Fox. I am a big First Amendment fan and I say, let Fox air its opinions. Just don't call it a news network. Why is that so hard?


In democracies, "news" means it's true. You can prove it, and you can trust it.


Fox has a great deal to answer for in 2020 — even more than I've been thinking. Not only has it brutalized the term "news," convincing a major segment of the population that every other media outlet is giving out "fake" information, it has been a major contributor in promoting misinformation that has caused the spread of the virus, for which it is now being sued.





At the same time, Fox has legitimized and supported a Presidential administration that has set an all-time national record in the number of officials accused of, indicted for, and imprisoned for crimes. After January 20, the President himself, having lost his bid for re-election last month, can be charged with myriad state and federal crimes including tax fraud and evasion, conspiracy (family estate settlement proceedings), multi-level marketing fraud, campaign finance violations, obstruction of justice, bribery, obstruction of the work of a federal agency, real estate fraud, misuse of public funds while in office, violations of the emoluments clause, and defamation in regard to at least two sexual assault cases.


And those are just the things we know about.





So I say, by all means, bring Trump down. Bring down every one of his enablers, including members of Congress who have betrayed us throughout his term, including and especially this awful year, when we needed them to protect our safety and sustain us economically with our own tax dollars, and yes, just to do the work we pay them for. All of them are answerable to us, and to the justice system — from Attorney General Barr, who authored his fictitious "summary" of the Mueller Report to Roger Stone who gave American campaign information to the Russians, to every one of the Trump kids who have profited from their father's position and enriched themselves with pandemic relief aid.


In the rash of indictments to come (I really, really hope there's a rash of indictments), Fox "news" should not be forgotten. It turns out now that in addition to undermining our laws and even our democracy, it's been fomenting civil war. Yeah, an actual war. I don't see how we get out of one, at this point. That's another part of the revelation I had, which knocked me sideways last night: we are almost certainly headed for war.


But more on that later. Writing about 2020 is exhausting — for all of us, I know.



War photo: Hasen Almasi




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