By Reed Galen
My fellow Resolute Square contributor, Stuart Stevens, has often correctly said Donald Trump’s rise within the Republican Party wasn’t transformational; it was revelatory. For decades, those of us who worked within the GOP really believed, to our shame, that the party stood for decency, limited government, individual liberty, and a moral and muscular foreign policy. The husk that remains of that party is no less than a moral wasteland.
As with so many movements for which power, wealth, and self-aggrandizement are the only goals, in authoritarian movements, the rot begins at the top. To say Donald Trump is amoral is an insult to the word itself. For five decades, he’s splashed his ugliness around America, in the tabloids, on our television screens, and ultimately from the Oval Office. Paying off a porn star, stiffing thousands of vendors, and dividing the country along ideological lines amid a global pandemic (for purely political ends) are all in a life’s work.
Just as Trump happily took a sledgehammer to many of our perceived norms, another senior conservative, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, was violating the moral guardrails of his station. The Court, enrobed in secrecy and imminence as it was, allowed Thomas and his would-be seditionist wife, Ginny, to accept trips, gifts, and a house for his mother from Republican mega-donor Harlan Crow.
Thomas’ statement that he didn’t know that such behavior violated judicial ethics beggars’ belief. He and his wife knew what they were doing and liked the private jets, the yacht, and the mountain retreats. The little people, who Thomas is supposed to serve, didn’t know, and he apparently decided that what they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them.
Across the street, America watched in real-time as Kevin McCarthy sold what was left of his soul for a wooden gavel and a portrait in the Speaker’s Lobby. Even with his middling political skills, McCarthy knew what he’d have to give up and to whom he’d have to give it to become Speaker. He gave of himself willingly and often.
Now, as the country is just weeks away from defaulting on its debt (due to excessive spending combined with tax cuts that McCarthy and his fellow Republicans put on the family credit card), McCarthy is giving speeches to Wall Street and blaming President Joe Biden for not negotiating. Those ‘Taliban 20’ who made McCarthy have no intention of negotiating. For them, there is no fight but an ideological fight and no acceptable outcome other than chaos and wreckage. McCarthy stands on the bridge of the USS Congress and steers us toward the iceberg.
MAGA’s descent into madness is not restricted just to Washington, DC. Down Florida way, Governor Ron DeSantis demonstrates immoral behavior on the daily. In the wake of massive flooding, South Florida struggles with gasoline and food shortages. Where is DeSantis? Threatening the Walt Disney Corporation with higher taxes, toll roads, and a state prison for a neighbor. Why? Because Disney CEO Bob Iger outsmarted him (not that tough a lift, honestly), and Tater is upset.
If that sort of fascistic behavior isn’t enough, DeSantis has systematically attacked the African American community (3.2 million strong in Florida,) the LGBT community, women (six-week abortion ban), and the state’s school children. Why? Because he believes these hateful acts, and they are hateful, will endear him to the Ultra MAGA wing of the Republican Primary electorate. He and his wife Casey (also his top political advisor) revel in their transgressions. Only these two could make Donald Trump more popular.
Earlier this week, the recording of a McCurtain County, Oklahoma Commission meeting was released. In a group that included the county sheriff, among others, Commissioner Mark Jennings mused about killing a journalist and complained that in the good old days, authorities could “…take ‘em down on Mud Creek and hang ‘em up on a damn rope, but you can’t do that no more.” He concluded, “They got more rights than we got.”
So egregious were the words that even Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, no raging liberal, demanded the entire group’s resignation. The GOP has played politics in the key of race for decades. What we’ve seen and heard in just the past three years from MAGA leaders and followers alike is a full-fledged return to Jim Crow. What Jennings said will be the undercurrent of MAGA’s 2024 campaign.
With no policy to speak of, with no ability to discuss the future, nor any desire to do right by the American people writ large, Critical Race Theory, crime, and the fear of ‘those people’ will be the backbone of the Republican platform next year. As evidence of their bad acts piles up, Fox News and their ilk will be in full-projection mode accusing their opponents (enemies as they’d see them) of even worse. There is no lie, conspiracy theory, strategy, or tactic that MAGA will not employ to win. We cannot and must not underestimate their willingness to cross every line. We do so at our own peril.