Monday, May 1, 2017

My Big Fat Republican Government

"What do you expect from a Republican?" 

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. Discretely. 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).

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?