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A Political Sea Change

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Here’s my thinking on this Trump stuff: I became a Republican in the last year of George Herbert Walker Bush’s administration when, lifelong Democrat though I had been, I became convinced that the conservative agenda pushed by Reagan had largely succeeded while the mainstream media and Democrats in Congress had reacted by calling in the dogs on the first Bush presidency. I was disgusted with the seaminess of their campaign against the elder Bush just as I’d been disturbed by the vitriol with which they had set about trying to dismantle the Reagan presidency in his last years in office.

I could see that the Democrats and their media abettors had absorbed the lesson they had taken from the Nixon years: You beat the other side by savaging them any way you can. The Republicans had their own tendency toward this (the bitter partisanship had come most explicitly to the surface in the Nixon administration after all). But the blatant partisan propagandizing of the Democrats and media organs like the NY Times really turned me off.

So I switched parties and have been a loyal Republican ever since. Unfortunately, that loyalty is being sorely tested now. Always recognizing that political parties in the American system were coalitions of various factions and interest groups, I was fine with compromising to work with conservatives of other types toward the common goal of returning conservative governance to this country.

I was not completely out of sympathy with many of my former Democrat colleagues. It’s just that I had come to believe that my approach to policy questions fit better within a conservative mold. My basic stance was pro-libertarian which meant I wanted to ensure constitutionalism in how we govern ourselves and maintain freer markets and free trade. Because I believe in in the need for global stability, I also favored a strong U.S. military and overseas footprint (even knowing the risks of entanglements that entails). Although not a social conservative, I had great sympathy for our cultural traditions and understood why some people feel as strongly about rejecting abortion as they do. (My wife, no wilting wallflower by any means, convinced me that there was a strong case to be made against unlimited abortion.)

But here we are today, in a world where a good 40% and maybe more of the Republican Party base seems to have gone off the deep end, embracing a would-be North American Caudillo who has a history of self-dealing financial activity, of bullying those who have gotten in his way, of insulting and demeaning others, and who has demonstrated time and again his capacity and willingness to manipulate audiences through his mastery of television messaging. Crudeness and disregard for facts and a complete absence of well thought out policy proposals have characterized his campaign. Yet a significant segment of my fellow Republicans have rushed to embrace this guy. Worse, they have shut the door on any useful dialogue directed at considering the merits of that embrace.

Trump voters simply don’t want to hear anything against their boy and, when they do, deny or ignore it. Trump wasn’t wrong to say he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his supporters would still support him. It’s not his policies, his ideas or, frankly, his resume they have signed on for. It’s his attitude, the meanness of his words, the anger in his voice, the facial contortions — and admiration for the fact that he, alone among us all, gets away with it.

They see in his on-screen antics a mirror image of their own souls: angry, vengeful, committed to destroying those they perceive as having beat them these past seven years. And beyond, of course, for, with Trump, they have turned their vengeance not just on progressives and the Obama administration but against their own. They have accepted Trump’s false narrative about the last Republican president’s decision to remove Saddam Hussein by force, along with a whole slew of other trash Trump has talked on television and the campaign trail, even forgetting their own one-time support for the former president. And they have turned their fire on their own party leaders because Republicans in Congress haven’t been able to reverse the progressives’ gains under the current Democratic president.

Blithely unaware, it seems, of the constitutional requirement imposed on Congress to overturn presidential vetoes, they have blamed Republicans in Congress for not working extra-constitutional magic to overturn what this president has done by executive order. As Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal, they want their own extra constitutional strong man to defeat the one the Democrats now have in the White House. Instead of seeking a return to constitutional norms they want the same kind of power by fiat that President Obama has arrogated to himself. And so they’ve signed onto the program (such as it is) of this would be strong man, the big haired billionaire from Manhattan, Donald Trump.

For me this is a non-starter. Just as I could not abide what partisan Democrats did to the first President Bush, I cannot abide the embrace of this phony populist, this master manipulator of voters’ minds and beliefs, Donald Trump. If Republicans persist in this madness and make Trump their presidential nominee this year, then I can do nothing else but leave the GOP. It will pain me because I’ve found a political home in this party for 30 years. But times change, as a very old Chinese proverb has it, and with them, their demands. I will look elsewhere for political affiliation or cast aside any hope of that if Trump becomes the face of the Republican Party. I know many of my Republican friends don’t care if I choose to depart from their ranks. What’s one colleague more or less in the grand enterprise of regaining power and reshaping our country? But the problem is the kind of reshaping they seem to have in mind. Trump has promised to break laws (and then reversed himself when he realized what he’d said), to treat some human beings differently than others, to bully other countries and to sue journalists who write stories he doesn’t like.

Trump is a clear and present danger to American democracy, should he manage to buck the odds and actually win the presidency. But even if he doesn’t, his incredible rise in the polls and in the opinions of so many of us has already poisoned America’s political well. How can we ever be the same?

About Stuart W. Mirsky

Stuart W. Mirsky, a former New York City official who last served as Assistant Commissioner for Operations in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene before retiring in 2002, wrote a column, "The Rockaway Irregular," for The Wave, a south Queens based weekly, for more than a decade (until Hurricane Sandy changed the equation). He is an original founder of the Rockaway Republicans, one of the most active Republican groups in southern Queens, and author of a number of books, including The King of Vinland's Saga, an historical novel of the Norse in 11th century North America, A Raft on the River, a memoir of Holocaust survival, and Choice and Action, a work of contemporary philosophy addressing the implications of relativism and nihilism for our moral beliefs.

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Well thought out and written piece. Thanks to you, I had to get my online dictionary open to lookup the word Caudillo. Agree with your sentiments, and you hit the same points I have been trying to make.