My Big Fat Republican Government

by Michael Liss

"What do you expect from a Republican?" IMG_0222

Being the child of FDR Democrats, I can't tell you how many times I heard that. What does one expect from a Republican? Always siding with business and the wealthy over the interests of the common people. Loving wars; making them, spending big for the toys to make them, and questioning the patriotism of those who disagree. Displaying an unseemly admiration for pencil-mustached right-wing dictators who wear uniforms and mirrored Ray Bans. Having an unhealthy fascination about how others live their private lives—and a compulsion to tell them how to live it better. That's what you expected from a Republican.

With my limited world-view (my Dad insisted I read the incomprehensibly dense and partisan Ramparts magazine), I saw "Republicans" as sort of a duck-billed platypus. There were the kooks—what we would now call the tinfoil brigade—conspiracy spouting, rootin' tootin' Yosemite Sam types. There were the American Gothics, the Midwestern farmers who, to me, not understanding social issues particularly well, inexplicably voted against their own economic interests. There were the blue-collar ethnics who had started to move out of decaying cities to the suburbs and exurbs-Nixon voters in 1968. There was the beginning of the great political migration of the Solid South. And, most importantly, there were the guys at the top of the food chain, the well-heeled and the well-bred. Tall, good-looking, society-page weddings, Mayflower, SAR, DAR. Those guys—the ones who really ran things, and for whom the government always worked. Discreetly. As you can see, I had a very sophisticated view of things.

Of course, this was a caricature. There was an entire moderate wing of the GOP. A real one—not some lonely Rock Cornish Hen wingette, but a plump, juicy game-bird of an appendage. New York's very own Governor, Nelson Rockefeller, was in charge of that wing, having inherited it from one of our former Governors, Thomas E. Dewey. Dewey started the State University System, doubled aid to education, and pushed through the first non-discrimination-in-hiring law. Rockefeller built more colleges, supported environmental causes, and created the New York State Council on the Arts (it's exceedingly difficult to explain to my own children that there actually were Republicans like this).

Yet, humanity evolves (in a non-Biblically offensive way). The moderates went the way of the Giant Squid—we hear occasional reports of one washed up on a distant shore. The farmers' loyalty intensified with the ever-warming Earth. The South turned so beet red that it solemnly considers secession every time there's an election result it doesn't agree with. Yesterday's kooks are today's….White House staffers, Freedom Caucus, and Cabinet Secretaries. And the blue-collar ethnics, and a surprising number of white-collar workers stalled in a no-growth-for-them economy, found their hero in a four-times-bankrupt brigand.

Why Trump? Why not? Was the old way really working, except for the big shots? Historically, most Republicans in positions of real power saw themselves as heirs to the Founders' vision—a democracy, but one governed by the educated and affluent elites who knew better than the common man. Republicans would adhere to the model of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson—calm, sober men of education, experience and judgment. Preservationists of the old order and called to a certain higher duty. You played by the rules (most of the time) and were mindful that government was transactional and majorities impermanent. You showed restraint. You did well for yourself, of course, but overt looting, ravaging, and pillaging were gauche. The GOP was the Party of Cool, Cool, Considerate Men.

Quaint, isn't it? Not unlike a lawn party on some magnificent country estate you pass on a bucolic road and see, shrinking, in your rearview mirror. Don't bother to stop to watch the croquet, it's by invitation only.

So, the ground was plowed for an angry candidate in 2016, someone who would shake up the old order. But, still, why Trump? If you want an angry scourge, why not someone like Cruz, or Newt? Plenty of convert-or-die in those two. Why pick someone profoundly ignorant of policy, and disinterested in learning any? Someone who lacks fixed principles and routinely reverses not just long-held positions, but those for which the ink (or digital footprint) is barely dry. Someone who takes whatever isn't nailed down, and looks for a crowbar to collect the rest. Someone extraordinarily thin-skinned about personal hurts and thoroughly callous about those he inflicts on others. And those are his good points. Why him?

Why? His supporters just don't seem to care about his deficiencies. For many rank-and-file Republicans, who chose others in the primaries, it's an exercise in craven opportunism, party loyalty, and moral gymnastics, repugnant but sadly understandable. But for Trump's base, the ones who have a personal loyalty to him, the answer may very well be that his flaws are irrelevant. They've been yessed forever, but never been invited anywhere. Trump, for them, is a non-ideological egg-breaker. They know very well they aren't going to agree with him on everything, but they can at least hope that some of the battles he fights will also be theirs.

That suits Trump just fine, because it's basically how most deal-makers operate, and Trump sees himself as the ultimate deal-maker. You decide what you have to have, and trade anything else (regardless of whether you actually own it) to get it.

Where is Trump going? Here's what we know about him from his first hundred-or-so days: He doesn't really care all that much about Obamacare, or whom it covers, or the contents and impact of any replacement. It's a bargaining chip, with a victory to be claimed whatever the result. The same with Medicare and Social Security—if "reforming" it advances another Trump goal, go ahead, Paul Ryan. If it doesn't, don't mess with it. He doesn't care about social issues, so if the regular GOP wants to go hard right on that—on religion, on abortion, on schools, on the NEH and NEA and Big Bird—sure, it's never going to affect a Trump anyway. He needs to burnish his manly "Border" brand, so he wants his Wall, or something he can claim is a Wall, and he wants his DOJ threatening immigrants and sanctuary cities. Makes for great coverage on Fox. He loves government policies he can personally profit from, like his big tax-cut proposal. He wants a free hand to monetize his time in the White House. He wants businesses singing his praises, with pictures of happy workers wearing hard hats and MAGA caps. He likes to show off a bit with some muscular new military equipment, with maybe a parade like Vlad has. He doesn't care what the cost of these things are, or whether they are good policy, or whom he might be offending or even hurting, or whether they blow a hole in the budget. Give him some of his personal priorities (and stifle the Russia investigation) and you can have whatever else you want.

Republicans, for all the dysfunctional Freedom Caucus stuff, have already figured some of this out. Using just the Congressional Review Act and Trump's desire for photo-ops at signing ceremonies, they've managed to kick Planned Parenthood, enable mentally ill people to purchase guns, revoke a rule requiring federal contractors to disclose and fix significant labor and worker safety regulations before getting new contracts, open new areas for drilling and extraction, and my two favorites, permit coal miners to dump poison into streams, and ISPs to collect and sell your personal viewing habits. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what today's Republican Party calls progress. And in just 100 days!

And Democrats? Democrats are appalled. They have organized, and marched, and raised money, and pointed out, continuously, the moral failings of Trump. They feel really good about themselves—and the percentage of voters who think that Democrats understand their needs has dropped in half. Dumb, dumb, dumb, I say to my own people. Hello—didn't we learn anything from the last election? Everyone knows Trump is profoundly flawed–and there he sits in the White House (whichever one he's in at the time) with the crown on his head. For goodness sake, feckless leaders, find a better way before we all get stripped of our citizenship and herded into reeducation camps built on top of toxic waste dumps.

That is how we came to a Big Fat Republican President, and a Big Fat Republican Government: how a so-called populist revolt led us to be ruled by a preening billionaire with an inexhaustible supply of antagonism and a bottomless appetite for self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement. All aided and abetted by a GOP-dominated Congress that has suspended whatever compass it might have had, to fall, ravenously, on a pile of spoils. The swamp is strong with these guys.

What do you expect from a Republican?