There’s a fundamental mean streak running through the Republican Party that Democrats lack. The GOP’s operating manual is simple: Whatever it takes.
The pathology goes deeper than the competing tugs of different governing styles and opposite constituencies – urban vs. suburban, young vs. old, black and brown vs. white, the coffee house denizens vs. the Wall Street captains of industry.
In politics, the word “mean” too often translates as “tough” when it actually suggests a willingness to suspend honor, dignity and values to win at any cost. Not that there’s anything wrong with winning.
The meanness we’re talking about here even gives cynicism and ideology a back seat. But more than semantics or definition, it illustrates the difference in parties and how they go about getting things done. To give the conversation proportion, while the Republican network was plotting a top-to-bottom takeover of the government, Democrats were hung up on parental leave.
What, for example, was meaner than the way Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) back-handed Merrick B. Garland to reserve the Supreme Court seat to pack the court with conservative judges? And was anything meaner than the manner in which McConnell maneuvered Brett Kavanaugh to do exactly that?
McConnell topped that heroic gesture by ramming through the Senate a lengthy list of judges to lower federal courts who will sit for a lifetime while Democrats fiddle over whether to support Nancy Pelosi for another run as speaker if they reclaim the House. Get elected first, then worry.
McConnell can’t be as insensitive as he appears. So it may come down to this: Whom do you trust to evaluate the nation’s soaring deficit, McConnell or a Nobel laureate in economics? McConnell claims entitlements are driving up the deficit and wants to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Paul Krugman, the Nobel winner and New York Times columnist – and a bunch of other economists – say baloney, the Trump tax cut for the wealthy is driving the deficit.
President Trump, not comprehending a whit about the economy, now expresses shock over the deepening deficit he caused with the untimely tax cut. He now says he will order an across-the-board 5 percent budget cut that “will have a huge impact.” Wharton must blush that he claims its epaulettes.
The way that Trump has reacted to the apparent slaughter of Washington Post contributor
suggests that he considers an arms deal and oil more important than human rights, though he’s edging ever so gently toward the idea that the Saudis might have to be slapped on the wrist for Khashoggi’s brutal murder.
Barney Frank, one of the wittiest men to serve in Congress, got it right when he observed that “Republicans believe that life begins at conception and ends at birth.”
It’s useless to include Trump at this point, except to say that he is inept, ill-informed, a chronic liar, an accused sexual predator, a suggested tax cheat and only Robert Mueller III and his hunting-dog investigators know what else. But try telling that to 35 percent of the electorate that make up Trump’s base and they won’t be yelling “lock him up,” but they’ll be measuring you for a prison jump suit.
Across the electoral lifescape, GOP dark money is rearing its ugly head at the national level in a kind of Willie Horton revival festival of ad-making. Commercials are urging voters not to elect “dangerous,” “left-leaning,” “socialist” candidates and “tax-and-spend liberals.” They especially vilify the Democrats’ doyenne, Pelosi. As a reference point, they kind of mimic the ads the Republican Governors’ Association is running against Democrat Ben Jealous in Maryland.
And as if that wasn’t enough, Republicans have resorted to their stand-by strategy of denying the voting franchise to minorities. Already there are examples of purging voter rolls and turning back black voters seeking the convenience of early voting.
Democrats, by contrast, rarely show strength through meanness. As a national party, they are completely leaderless and shut out of power with no coherent message to unify and rally their diverse coalition. They are fortunate to have Trump as a lucky rabbit’s foot in this election and are foolish to want to impeach such a handy foil.
But to compensate for what they lack in backbone, they seek the moral high ground to demonstrate moral superiority for political strength. More often than not, Democrats are concerned with doing what’s morally correct, no matter what they penalty or cost, even when they lack the numerical muscle to impose their will.
As the Democratic Party shifts to the left, it is hung up on identity politics and can’t figure how to break the curse. Democrats are on the side of the dreamers and the poor, those who might lose health care and food stamps and homeowners who might lose their houses or tax breaks. That’s a voiceless mass but a powerful numerical constituency if they could only assemble the moving parts.
What we often get from Democrats is the top of Sen. Charles Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) defoliated head as he reads another inane statement over half-glasses, declaiming outrage instead of victory, threats instead of strategy and the promise of future retaliation instead of imminent retribution.
To further delineate their meanness, Republicans have been employing the federal tax code in much the same way they have used redistricting – to accelerate their accumulation of power and money and further divide the country. (It has been reported that Trump has already harvested $100 million toward his 2020 reelection campaign, an unprecedented amount this far in advance.)
Check a map and it’s clear that Republicans control geography and Democrats dominate population, as the 2016 presidential election results validate. (Hillary Clinton won the popular vote while Trump carried the Electoral College.) The tax code, as it was rewritten, is the GOP’s payoff to the checkbook class that underwrites their elections for which they fully expect kickbacks in the form of contributions at campaign time.
As if that weren’t enough, Barnes and Noble, the bookseller, recently published a map in red and blue (what else?) on the Internet showing areas of the country that read books favorable to Trump and to Democrats. There were several blue states on each margin of the map but the rendering was mostly a sprawling Rorschach of red.
To underline the point, note that Trump’s rolling itinerary of rallies are the air-routes to the nation’s Palookavilles, where he enthralls the crowds and minimizes the risk of protest. Those out-of-the-way places are where Trump’s base resides and are the same benighted flight paths traveled in 1968 by Spiro T. Agnew, who riled the locals with press-bashing, race-baiting and jingoistic speeches – the same as Trump’s divide-and-conquer playbook. Remember “troglodytes” and “effete snobs”?
Safe in the heartland, or the rust belt, or wherever, Trump urges his flush-faced supporters to “vote as if I’m on the ballot,” in one breath, and “don’t blame me if we lose the House,” in another. What more compelling enticement do Democrats need?
The GOP leadership, namely McConnell (now that Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is retiring) has made it painfully clear that with the tax overhaul accomplished, benefits and social welfare programs are next on the chopping block. Their ultimate goal is the dismantling of the New Deal and Great Society entitlements that help underwrite the broad Democratic constituency and the continuing weakening of the Democratic Party.
The Republican Party of compassionate conservatism no longer exists. It has been subsumed by the nationalist authoritarian shenanigans of Trump, who has terrorized GOP officials into following his impulses and dictates (to call them policies would be blasphemy).
At the core of the Republican meanness is the brazen Darwinian notion that screwing each other improves the breed. It assumes, of course, that they are the fittest and are entitled to survive and the rest are condemned from birth.
Democrats should take the advice of the world’s foremost political consultant, Niccolo Machiavelli: “It’s better to be both loved and feared.”