America’s first Republican president said it best. A nation divided against itself cannot stand. For that matter, neither can Lincoln’s badly divided party.
On the one side of the GOP are traditional conservatives who believe that the Trump presidency is a disaster. Real conservatives care about pragmatism, the character of political leaders, the rule of law, a free and open domestic and global economy and preserving those American values embedded in the Constitution. Trump has shown he is indifferent to or ignorant of such values.
On the other side of the GOP are Trumpistas, a ragtag group of mainly older white folks who seem desperate to be valued as tribal loyalists and thus are willing to overlook, or simply ignore, the Constitution’s checks and balances, Trump’s sexual dalliances, his numerous lies, his trade wars, his affinity for dictators and his personal quest for greater glory and economic gain through successful branding of the family name.
Conservative columnist George Will, former head of the GOP Michael Steele and writer-editor Bill Kristol are three examples of traditional conservatives who abhor Trump and his wacky followers. All three have made clear in numerous TV appearances that Trump has hijacked the party of Lincoln and that the GOP “base” has entered a Faustian bargain with the “extremely sane genius” to remake the GOP into a white nationalist party that proudly denounces immigrants, people of color, women, Jews, Muslims and “socialists,” all groups that understand that American democratic values are inclusive, not exclusive.
Trump’s base — older white rural voters lacking a college education — is a dying demographic. Only 23 percent of the electorate in 2020 will be 65 years or older while in that election year citizens of color, who tend to vote Democratic, will make up a third of all eligible voters. A Pew survey from last year shows that 59 percent of millennial voters (born 1981-96) support the Democratic Party, while 52 percent of the “silent generation” (born 1928-45) support the GOP. Less than a third of Generation Z voters (born after 1996) and millennial voters say that Trump’s performance as president is acceptable and over 60 percent of voters in these two groups favor greater racial and ethnic diversity. In brief, the Dems are the party of the present and future; the GOP is the party of the past.
Personally, I lament the GOP’s decline. My parents and grandparents were loyal GOP supporters who understood the yin and yang of American politics, accepted the historical trend that the two major parties would, even should, alternate in power, acknowledged that some of the Dems’ policies were helpful to all Americans (Social Security and Medicare are two examples), but also believed that the GOP’s allegiance to American traditions and social continuity helped make America the “city on the hill.”
But my parents were also unabashed racists who favored the Liberia experiment — sending the descendants of freed slaves to a nation of their own in Africa. They also supported American missionary efforts to convert Central and South Americans from Catholicism to one of the Protestant religions, and they favored little wars that were supposed to advance American interests. They accepted income inequality, gender inequality and class privilege as unalterable conditions that appropriately rewarded the deserving. My mother had little or no regard for her own gender — “the weaker sex” — and my father believed that his business successes owed nothing to anyone other than himself. Both parents feared “socialists” but were incapable of explaining why.
Today such retrograde views have no home but Trump’s GOP. Worse, perhaps, is how Trump’s wing of the GOP has shifted energy to building its own distinct brand of identity politics, aimed at aging white people without a college degree, dwelling largely in the “fly-over” states and intent on saving white America from the influx of millions of immigrants of color. “America first” for the Trumpistas now means “white Americans first.”
Demography is the enemy of the GOP. Trump’s GOP faction knows this and is trying to move heaven and earth to address the problem. Stacking the courts, shutting down the border, urging Democrats of color to “go back home” to the nation of their parents’ birthplace and slandering political enemies relentlessly are some of the desperate measures being taken by the party of Trump to protect white, male-run government.
Early 20th century writer G.K. Chesterton wrote that conservatism “means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead [and of those next in line to die].” The passing of so many older white Americans, the growth in population of new Americans, especially of color, as well as Trump’s disastrous policies to “make America great [white] again,” spell the end of the GOP as we know it.
RIP, GOP, and etch your tombstone to read “We trusted Trump.”
Roger Bowen is a political scientist living in Prospect Harbor.