When thinking of the Republican Party these days, it is hard not be reminded of the biblical proverb, “they that sow the seed, shall reap the whirlwind.”
I think of it every time I hear a news anchor or commentator talk about the Republican establishment and try to parse the GOP and presidential candidates into distinct segments. You know, establishment (Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush), conservative (Ted Cruz), and beyond the pale (Donald Trump).
The truth of the matter is that these distinctions begin to crumble pretty quickly once one looks at the rightward drift of the Republicans and policy positions that its larger field and remaining candidates hold.
At least since Ronald Reagan, GOP leaders have been jettisoning policy positions and adopting political tactics and strategies that have worked to polarize the American electorate, shred the social-safety net inherited from the New Deal, promote policy paralysis in Congress, and mount a military preparedness posture and budget that would have former President Dwight Eisenhower turning over in his grave.
In the process, the international standing and comparative economic well-being of the American people have continued to deteriorate in the face of ascending and gross wealth and income inequality, seeming wars of choice and warring without end, and the violence and corruption of the American spirit that go with them.
The implications of this rightward course are several. First, so-called establishment figures like our senior senator, Mitch McConnell, have aided and abetted — indeed, been major orchestrators of — this attack on civility and party compromise and on government as villain. He claims that money is free speech, Big Wealth’s interests speak louder than working-class and middle-class needs, America’s superpower role in the world confers a morally justified right put military boots on the ground anywhere and anytime for the security, trade deals and interests of U.S. — based transnational corporations.
Further, in suspending belief in science, they have put their heads in the sand in the face of the greatest medium- to long-term threat to the world from climate change. Then, too, in their attacks on the first African-American president, they have refused to accept the legitimacy of that president, stirred up racial hatred, putting his life in constant jeopardy and unleashing a terrible reversal in racial progress in the process.
Second, this right turn has opened up the field of presidential candidates whose reactionary political positions and policy differences are mere differences in degree, not in kind.
With Trump in the race, the gaggle of Republican presidential wannabees has devolved into a cacophony of shouted insults and name-calling with hardly any semblance of reasoned debate about policy. But if you look at their policy statements, you find supposed leaders of the Party of No proposing the most reactionary ideas and nostrums that will only leave economic inequality worse.
The American Dream would be even more elusive through the continued hollowing out of the middle class and stiffing of the working class, further swelling of the military budget and erosion of social programs that have shored up living standards and quality of life of hardworking Americans.
The Frankenstein monster that is so much the elephant in the room for the Republican political elite today is really a creation of their own making.
Having spawned the Tea Party, mobilized reactionary evangelists and given privileged status to the wealthy in party affairs, the chickens have now come home to roost for their creators.
Any wealthy business person, whether she or he has ever held office before, can now use that person’s wealth to run state and national campaigns for public office without regard to loyalty to party tradition or even modest party discipline.
That Trump has also learned tailor-made skills from reality TV has only enhanced his popularity with alienated citizens who feel left behind and unrepresented by a political system that has become immobilized and an economy that increasingly does not need or respect their labor or the future of their children. The Republicans have made this possible, and in their ambition and self-interestedness they are finding it impossible to either control or subdue their creation.
So as the shrinking clown parade continues and behind closed doors party leaders, presidential candidates and high-tech elites scheme to deny their monster the prize, as he gets closer and closer to winning through a primary and caucus process and social and political circumstances they have themselves fashioned, the future of the United States and the collective life of worried and decent Americans hang in the balance.
Ernie Yanarella is professor of political science at the University of Kentucky.