Long before his Royal Trumpness had the balls to make it his actual campaign slogan, the Republican Party was promising to Make America Great Again.
Usually couched in the imaginary language of “tradition,” Republican leaders have long celebrated the fabricated idea of an American golden era, circa 1945 to 1958, when 18-35 year old males had been forced to go to another continent to fight a great war against tyranny and despair.
They returned home as men, as heroes, and set to work, making babies with doting wives and grabbing the American Dream with both hands in the new land of suburbia. [Of course they conveniently skip the part where the same age group had to go to Korea and Vietnam for made up wars that we lost which were born from made up nightmares of communism taking over the world, or that losing those wars produced nothing of value amidst riots, sit-ins, protests, political assassinations and the like].
The same party eventually claimed credit for outer space greatness which was the result of scientists in white lab coats and black-framed glasses who toiled away to put American astronauts on the moon, and college professorial scientists with little more than microscopes who cured horrendous diseases like polio and smallpox. Of course now,emphasis is no longer on cures but life-long revenue streams from treatments. It is, after all, about profit, not what is good for Americans.
They harken back to days of all the pretty new homes behind white picket fences with fancy, new household gadgets to make life easier and more fun. Teenagers hung out at sock hops and neon-lit diners, girls longed for lavaliers and boys wondered how to get laid. Dad had a pension from a fund that hadn’t been stolen blind by ruthless administrators, [amid regulations to monitor them that made it harder to misuse the funds’] and the promise of a gold watch at the end of a long career with a single firm. Mom had a new Frigidaire. Everyone was happy. It said so on television after all, with June Cleaver gleefully vacuuming the house, preparing the perfect meal to suit Ward Cleaver when he came home from earning the bacon for the family, while June remained respledent in her pearls and perfect hair.
Republicans since Reagan have uniformly promised that if you vote for them they will give you that again.
But the Republican promise has always had the very same fatal flaw as their policies: It is contingent on requiring a constantly larger group of people to exploit in order to support their privileged lifestyle.
The Native Americans’ land, the black and browns’ labor, intellect, or culture. Now, it’s grown so massive that it requires exploiting the entire middle and lower-income sections of America to sustain their obscene wealth and privilege.
They nevertheless deftly maintain the empty promises built on an illusion, carefully constructed to conceal that America’s “golden age” was as imperfect as any other, however masterfully propagandized. Half a million of those boys who went off to war never came home — some of them were not boys at all, but men, who left wives and children with desperate struggles without their husbands and fathers to help. Many come home were never the same, their bodies or minds damaged beyond repair.
Women who had filled in for “men’s work” were forcibly driven back into domesticity, segregation was a legal form of discrimination, every LGBTx woman and man had their very own closet. Mental illness was treated with lobotomies. McCarthy and Nixon were hunting communists to “keep us safe”. And we fought and lost those all-but-forgotten wars in Korea and Vietnam losing tens of thousands of forced soldiers to fight brutal wars so that defense contractors and the politicians in their pockets could reap the monetary benefits. There were back-alley, coat-hanger abortions, the KKK flourished, and students were gunned down at Kent State, Ohio and Jackson, Mississippi by the National Guard for peacefully protesting an unjust and unnecessary war in which they were forced to fight unless their wealthy parents could get them exemptions [like Prince Cheeto].
And throughout the following decades that stretched into the new millennium, the Republicans continued to promise one thing: Vote for us — and we will restore your waning white privilege, so you will maintain the luxury of never having to care about that other stuff; or about those people who are not like us.
They lied that it was all about hard work. Just work hard, and you will get your due. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!” cried the Republican leadership, desperate to conceal that the scheme was never to enrich the working people — including their own middle- and lower-class base — but to rob them of their rights and money to fuel their wealth redistribution upwards plan with the ironically named “trickle-down” bullshit.
In reality, they shouted about bootstraps and work ethic and America’s endless reservoirs of independence and ingenuity while they busted unions, ignored the consequences of automation, and relocated that bootstrap factory to China.
Republicans like to own a lot of things, but responsibility is not one of them. It wasn’t their fault that good, god-fearing, white people were working harder than ever and still falling behind. It wasn’t their fault that the only thing the Invisible Hand gave its working class believers was the middle finger. It wasn’t their fault that their decades-long, tantalizing promises had come to nothing.
And they always gleefully provided their disaffected base with a group to whom their ire should be directed.
It was the fault of those “others”. They’re the ones who are taking your jobs, sucking up all your tax money on hand-outs, and telling you that you are to not even be a man anymore. It’s their fault!
“If it weren’t for progressives… If it weren’t for feminists and gays and undocumented immigrants… If it weren’t for that dark-skinned president…if it weren’t for that uppity WOMAN who thought she could be PRESIDENT!”….they’re the ones to blame!
People who bought into the Republican narratives of self-determination, of rugged individualism, who believed in the American morality tales of Manifest Destiny, Social Darwinism, and the Prosperity Gospel, were left with nothing but impotent anger where their righteous hopes of prosperity used to exist.
But now, having been encouraged to make no social contract, to depend on no one but oneself, to mistrust the “liberal” media and mistrust the government that binds us all under one flag, to hoard all the rewards of the success that bootstrapping was supposed to yield but never materialized, they were now left with no one to blame but themselves when it all went wrong.
Which, obviously, was not an option.
So with cowardice and aplomb Trump and the GOP and their propaganda arm Fox/Limbaugh/Drudge/Hannity appointed “those people” as scapegoats, and nurtured their base’s hatred. The Republican Party then magnanimously offered to stand on the line between their base and all of those people who were demanding to take away their very way of life, their rights, and their privilege.
They carefully cultivated a dangerous smokescreen between rights and privileges. They made rights a zero-sum game: Extending rights to those people is inherently taking away the rights of the people who already have them.
And make no mistake, Republicans have had an enormous amount of success convincing their base that the insecurities they feel as the result of divisive Republican policy-making — and the accompanying discomfort of losing their privilege — is really the result of those people demanding equal American rights.
Losing one’s rights is legitimately frightening. But the disproportionately white, straight, male Republican base is not, and never has been, losing any of their rights. They are just being convincingly told that they are because, after all, there are only so many rights to go around!
And the resulting fear has increasingly made this country unsafe for those people at whom conservative, fear-centered hatred is directed.
As a result, there are large parts of the population in this country who do not know how to process fear. And then there are entire industries dedicated to planting and profiting from that fear.
- The Republican Party.
- Fox News.
- The burgeoning, localized, even more radical Sinclair Group of local media outlets.
- A.M. hate radio
- A vast weapons industry whose marketing is based on the unfounded premise that there is something to be afraid of, something from which you need to protect yourself.
And the less privileged among their ranks — the working class men and women of otherwise underachieved privilege — have real fear about job insecurity or healthcare access or how the hell they are going to pay the mortgage or rent next month. They are fears that are out of their personal control, and for which the Fear Manufacturers are happy to provide scapegoats — immigrants, brown people, feminists and boys or girls kissing their own gender— and the Fear Manufacturers have been the architects of that fear, too.
My God, what is one to do when one has no capacity to process fear, no developed strategies for coping with fear?
Well, in a lot of cases, one buys a gun. Or many guns. And then looks for an authoritarian who validates both your fear and your hatred, and promises that he, and only he, is the one who can protect you. Enter President Grifter.
Donald Trump’s entire campaign was built around such a promise. He positioned himself as the savior the Republican Party who could restore their fantasy land of a white privilege America. And he expressed his faux contempt for the party leadership over the failure that the agitated base has long felt; reflecting, magnifying, and validating their anger at having been ignored.
Trump arose as the uncensored subconscious of the Republican base, which is why story after story is recounted about Trump voters in Middle America STILL commending him for “telling it like it is” and “just saying what everyone is really thinking,” or suddenly deciding, “who cares if he’s in bed with Russia?”, it’s better than those people.
He channeled and amplified the bigoted, fear-drenched, rage that the Republican Party had carefully cultivated among their base for decades. Trump is not a betrayer of their values, simply their most skilled promoter.
He’s the culmination of the GOP’s reckless exploitation of the darkest prejudices, the worst of human nature. Their greed. Their relentless fear mongering. Their cynical scapegoating. Their endless claims of white injustices.
They are the true suppressed. They and their bumper sticker sloganeering in a complicated world.
The GOP promised that Leave It to Beaver bullshit fantasy to their base, as if the typical family once was, and should be again, one of white Christian perfection, that never fought, never struggled, never suffered — and never had to be subjected to interactions with people of color, or LGBTx folks. They held it out as if it actually existed, and as if it could be that way again if it were only up to only the GOP.
And Republicans did so even knowing that the fantasy of this nonexistent perfect America is the very thing that created the beloved “traditions” of racism, sexism, homophobia, and white Christian Supremacy in the first place. It’s the same bullshit notion that “The South shall rise again”, and that the Articles of Confederation is the rightful Constitution, the Civil War deserves to be revered as “southern heritage” instead of treason against the United States of America.
The Confederacy was an act of treason and sedition, and the Southern States never should have been allowed to regain full United States of America rights to vote or be trusted to value human rights. They should have been quarantined and Jim Crow, segregation, and the belief that white Christianity represents the only truly American values that the modern day conservatives now exploit. And I grew up in Mississippi, so I know what I’m saying is viewed as heresy in those parts.
And Now? Now the GOP shamelessly deflects blame by pretending to be mystified by why their base rallied around a money-laundering billionaire narcissist with his transparently bigoted slogan stitched in gold thread on tacky hats, and an unshakable following of white people who feel “they was robbed” by the “libruhls and colored folk”.
Republicans perfected deflection from accountability. And that is exactly what got us here in the first place.
In the end, these new Republicans are only leaving behind their association with a brand tainted by Trump’s use of a bullhorn instead of the dog whistles that better suited their delicate sensibilities. They still like the policies, mind you. They still want the tax cuts. They still feel that they should be exempt from what “ordinary” Americans should have to endure. They just don’t like Trump verbalizing their intentions with such blatant stupidity and directness.
I’m sure they’re some Republicans happy to tell you the bedtime stories about how they are self-made men, who never took a handout from anyone, and I’m equally sure they don’t understand — or care — how their threadbare anecdotes prop up the leader they’ve secretly come to despise. But you know what? Too damn bad. You made him. You will have to own the revelations of traitorous, Russian puppeteering that he brings. You will have to bear the stink of Nixonian Republicanism hatred that attaches to every single one of his supporters.