Very bad things happen all the time in this country, but recently a very bad thing happened that will make other very bad things happen more often: the G.O.P. ceased to be a legitimate political party. This has been a long time in the making—really since Obama was elected and Mitch McConnell declined to support anything Obama proposed, even if Obama proposed things that McConnell had previously supported.
McConnell, who looks like a wax turtle that was placed too close to a heat source, declared his intention to make Obama a one-term president and launched the period of Party Over Country that reached its insurrectionary climax under Trump.
Before Trump, the G.O.P. was hardly a citadel of intellectual and moral rigor, but it had a small menu of articulated ideals: they were against taxes, especially for the wealthy and corporations; they were anti-abortion, pro-NATO, and strongly anti-Communist. Today, they are still against taxing the wealthy and letting a woman decide whether or not she wants to have a baby, even if the father is her brother.
But they care so little about everything else that in 2020, for the first time in history, they didn’t write a new platform for their presidential convention. If anyone asked, they were referred to the one from 2016. The Republican motto could be Non interest mihi, Latin for “Can’t be bothered.”
At the national level, the G.O.P. is almost entirely without a positive agenda. They voted again and again to repeal Obamacare without ever once offering a replacement. It is more than legitimate to oppose Obamacare—no one argues that it is perfect, least of all Obama. What is illegitimate in a country where millions still have no health care is to repeal it without offering an alternative. A real party would put their improved version in front of the public and argue for it. But that is too difficult for today’s G.O.P.—reforming the health-care system takes serious study and hard work, and the G.O.P. is interested in neither serious study nor hard work. They prefer the less time-consuming, and cheaper, “thoughts and prayers.”
Today, they are still against taxing the wealthy and letting a woman decide whether or not she wants to have a baby, even if the father is her brother.
On urgent issue after urgent issue, the G.O.P. offers no solutions. They continue to resist the most basic, commonsense safety measures for America’s unique gun epidemic, changes that would in no way restrict the right of a sane, law-abiding citizen from owning a gun (or 100). They decline to rescue the climate and continue to cheerlead for coal, fracking, and fossil fuels. In what passes for Republican wit, they make fun of global warming because sometimes it still gets cold outside.
Their position is easy, if depressing, enough to explain: the party is in the pocket of the fossil-fuel industry. But nothing can explain why, under Trump, science replaced Russia as Public Enemy No. 1. In a recent poll, almost 50 percent of male Republican voters said they will not get the vaccine. I know they preferred Trump to Biden, but do they prefer illness to health?
In the 1950s, after more than two decades in the presidential wilderness, the G.O.P. decided to stake its claim as the anti-intellectual party. Eisenhower was offered up as likable Ike, while Adlai Stevenson was painted as a tea-sipping Ivy League egghead. The packaging worked, and they’ve stuck with it, even when presenting to the nation the pride of Andover and Yale, George H. W. Bush, who had to pretend to like pork rinds to prove his state-school cred. It is a shrewd strategy for getting votes, since there are always more dumb people than smart ones, but it is a terrible basis for governing. To keep your base of dumb people happy, you have to make decisions they like—which are usually dumb.
When Trump lost to Biden by seven million actual votes and 74 Electoral College votes, rather than look inward and ask what he might have done differently, Trump, whose idea of self-reflection is self-praise, claimed massive election fraud.
Almost 50 percent of male Republican voters said they will not get the vaccine.
His party knew that the only fraud was the pretense of fraud, but Trump’s ego insisted on the fiction of electoral vandalism. Despite the naked mendacity of the accusation, the G.O.P. went along. As they had throughout Trump’s term, they crawled up in his lap and licked his hand. They knew it was a lie, they knew that the lie would not achieve the second Trump term they wanted, and they knew that the price for the lie would be to cause millions of Americans to doubt the integrity of our very system. Why would a major party behave this way, especially in the service of a man whom, I suspect, most of them hate? They may not love Trump, but they love Trump’s base.
That base came to Washington on January 6 and, in one of the darkest days in American history, stormed the Capitol. That night, after the insurrectionists were driven out of the building, Congress came back, and, with the scent of bear spray still in the air, 147 G.O.P. lawmakers voted to overturn the legal results of the presidential election—giving the rioters the support the brave Capitol Police had not.
What message could the mob take from those votes other than “Sorry about that dustup with the cops, but don’t worry, we support you”? In the middle of the insurrection, Trump went on TV and told the rioters, “We love you,” three words he has never said to his male children.
Last month, when a resolution was offered in the House to award three Congressional Gold Medals to the Capitol Police, the Metropolitan Police, and the Smithsonian Institution in recognition of those who had defended the Capitol, 12 Republican representatives voted against it.
Among other sensitivities aroused by the citation, they didn’t like the word “insurrectionists,” an objection that should most of all offend the insurrectionists—when you’re smashing a policeman on the head with a flagpole, you’re not an over-caffeinated tourist, you’re an insurrectionist and you’re proud of it.
To avoid the term, Matt Gaetz, a congressman from Florida who appears to be descended from a human and an alligator, called the murderous riots “the January 6 sequence of events.” (Apparently it takes a lot to interest Congressman Gaetz in even the most popular legislation: for reasons that seemed obscure at the time but are clearer now, Gaetz, who is under investigation for allegedly having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paying for her to travel across state lines, was the only member of Congress to decline to vote for a bill that condemned sex trafficking. He has denied any wrongdoing.)
Apart from all the other questions about these seditious and cynical bigots, one question looms: Why do these people want to be in government at all? They seem to loathe the very idea of it, opting always and only for kamikaze partisan warfare. Are we to believe that if Trump had proposed the same coronavirus-relief bill as Biden that no Republican would have voted for it? Democrats voted for Trump’s coronavirus-relief bills, yet not one Republican voted for Biden’s.
Gaetz was the only member of Congress to decline to vote for a bill that condemned sex trafficking.
It is important to point out that 10 Republican representatives and seven senators voted to impeach Trump. But what does it say that many of these people have been punished for their votes by the G.O.P.? Liz Cheney was censured by her state committee. Republican committees in both North Carolina and Louisiana censured Senators Richard Burr and Bill Cassidy. In Pennsylvania, a Republican county official named Dave Ball attacked Senator Pat Toomey for his vote, saying, “We did not send him there to vote his conscience. We did not send him there to do the ‘right thing.’”
This is no longer a legitimate party. And they know it. They know they have nothing to offer a majority of voters, which is why they are working now to make it harder for a majority of people to vote. The new voting restrictions just passed in Georgia are so anti-democratic that Georgia-based corporations such as Coca-Cola and Delta have condemned them. Delta, for God’s sake, is a commercial airline—they torture people for a living, and even they are offended.
The remaining ladies and gentlemen of conscience in the G.O.P. must resign from the party and start something new—call it the Conservative Party. Offer conservative solutions to our innumerable problems. We need two active, thinking, contributing parties. The Democrats hardly have all the answers. They just seem to since they’re the only people offering any.
But when you oppose medals for the police who saved your lives, when you can’t call a riot a riot or admit you lost an election, when you try to take away people’s health care or block their ability to vote, or you yell “You lie” at a president telling the truth while never yelling it at the most dishonest man to ever hold the office, you are no longer a legitimate party. You are the mob, only with the health care you voted to take away from everyone else.
Douglas McGrath is a filmmaker and playwright, and a columnist for AIR MAIL