I cast my first vote — I say this now with a sort of perverse pride — for Richard Nixon, whose administration created EPA, devised a way to get government contracts to minority-owned firms, passed the Clean Air Act, ended the war in Viet Nam, and brought the PRC onto the international stage.
He was smarter than the other guy. The Republicans were smarter than the other guys. The Republican Party was the place where all the ideas were, from the Laffler Curve to Enterprise Zones to neoconservatism.
The party’s idea leader was a man named Jack Kemp. Unlike a Herbert Hoover Republican (or, for that matter, a Barry Goldwater Republican) a Jack Kemp Republican recognized that it was not acceptable for a tenth of the country — mostly African-American — to live miserably, in dangerous, rat-infested projects, with jail instead of jobs to look forward to. Kemp’s solution was to unleash the power of American enterprise on these blighted conditions, rather than to pour government money on them. Kemp died in 2009.
Kemp’s ideas reached their apotheosis during the administration of Ronald Reagan. Reagan inherited an America where both unemployment and inflation approached double digits. To top things off, Iran had broken into our embassy and was holding Americans hostage there.
Iran released the hostages the day Reagan took office, and thereafter Reagan broke the back of inflation and unemployment. It was his revolutionary idea that by reducing taxes, we could actually increase tax revenue, since the economy would thrive in the lower-tax environment, thus generating more tax revenues. It took some juggling, but it worked; by the time Reagan left office, tax revenue was up 5% after inflation. Mortgage rates had been cut in half (and continued to decline afterward).
Reagan died in 2003.
It was a good time to be a Republican, and I was one. The Republicans were the party of ideas. All the Democrats had to offer was cant, obfuscation, identity politics and giveaways. I organized, circulated petitions, gave money, knocked on doors, wrote campaign literature. If I wasn’t actually solving America’s problems myself, I was helping people who could solve those problems.
That party’s over, brothers and sisters.
In the radioactive glow of the Republican primary results, you can see the ashes of what used to be the Republican Party’s ideas. The presumptive nominee is a man whose sole accomplishment is to make himself rich while cheating his creditors four times through bankruptcy. His ideas are this: I will build a wall the length of the Mexican-U.S. border, and make Mexico pay for it. (It won’t; Mexico is more likely to make an accommodation with its drug dealers than surrender its sovereignty to the U.S.) I will make Muslims register, as Hitler made the Jews register. I will murder the relatives of terrorists. I will bring back torture, bigger than ever. I will abrogate trade treaties I consider unfair. And — oh, yes, I will cut taxes.
These aren’t ideas, these are adolescent wet dreams of vengeance against a vast phalanx of imagined foes, and the Republican base has eaten them up. Who are these people, anyway?
Sadly, they are the worms we invited into the apple. When Lyndon Johnson secured the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he observed that he had lost the South for the Democratic Party for a generation. Well, anybody could see that; even Goldwater, the most inept major-party candidate of the 20th century, won the South for the Republican Party. The question was, how could a Republican candidate hold the South without losing the rest of the country?
Here was Richard Nixon’s solution: find the least popular civil rights program, and be against that. So here he was, in favor of integration, in favor of civil rights, but opposed to forced bussing. Nobody liked to have her kids dragged across town to school; many African-American families disliked forced bussing. And quotas, too; judge each person on the content of his character, instead of the color of his skin.
And so he gave a little signal — a silent dog whistle, in one popular metaphor — to the bigots, the haters, the losers who attributed their own personal failings to the fact that African-Americans were, for once, getting a fair shake. We understand you, the dog whistle said. In the meantime, for the rest of us, Nixon seemed reasonable; you couldn’t be against a fella just because he opposed this extreme remedy to segregation; let’s find a better one.
And then Reagan came along. In the midst of his revolutionary ideas about tax relief, regulatory rewrite and recharging American Enterprise, he would occasionally say something about welfare queens — folks who made a good living on the dole, fraudulently claiming children they didn’t have or conspiring with crooked doctors to claim medical procedures that never took place. And, of course, who could be in favor of welfare fraud? But to the people who were listening to the dog whistle, what they were hearing was that all assistance was fraud, and we will wipe it out.
And after that came the first Bush, and Willie Horton. We had begun to run out of ideas at that point; rather than Reagan’s incisive activism, Bush tended to platitudes — a thousand points of light, and so on. He was in real danger of losing to the Governor of Massachusetts until his campaign manager hit on the idea of exploiting Horton, an African-American Massachusetts inmate who had committed murder while on work release. There was no real point to this — should we discontinue work release for prisoners? — except to blow the dog whistle, hard. Black people! Committing murder! Bush won comfortably.
Things went downhill after that. It took the Democrats twenty years, but they came to realize that the voters wanted a government which would respond to them, rather than the other way around. Bill Clinton became a successful Democrat President by acting like a Republican: balancing the budget and significantly reducing welfare. Republicans, out of ideas, responded by attacking him for the incomprehensible Whitewater scandal and for what he did with his ding-dong.
And we blew the dog whistle harder. For eight years we played whack-a-mole with Barack Obama, without discernable success. We attacked his health-care plan, about which reasonable people may differ, as though it were the fundamental principals of Satanism. We shut down the government, at great cost to the taxpayer. We questioned his loyalty to the country; we pretended he was a Muslim; we pretended he was born in Kenya. And why? Not because of his policies, which were indistinguishable from those of any other liberal Democrat. Perhaps it was because he is African-American.
Well, the dog whistle isn’t silent any more. It has become a trumpet; Donald Trump’s Trumpet, and the Ku Klux Kandidate is using it to call all the bigots we’ve been seducing to come out from under their rocks and take their rightful place in the Republican party.
And they have.
Make no mistake: Donald Trump won the Republican nomination because Republican voters want a bigot who is not afraid to stand up for bigotry; who will round up the Mexicans and the Muslims and all the despised people and deport them or intern them or shoot them; and who will turn his back on the world and the people in it who are fighting tyranny.
Those people have become us. The Republican party.
So I’m done. I will vote for Hillary without hesitation this November, and for Democrats up and down the line in order to express my contempt for what the Republican Party has become. I have my differences with Clinton but they pale in comparison to my differences with the Ku Klux Kandidate. Sane Republicans are much closer in ideology to Clinton than they are to Trump. Our home in the Democratic Party will not be comfortable, but the Republican Party has become uninhabitable.
And — we may have a role to play. The Democrats have problems of their own — the Communist wing, which came within shouting distance of the nomination this year. Bernie’s legions believe as the Trumpeters believe, that the nation’s structural problems can be laid at the feet of a few boogeymen. By importing a robust quantum of Sane Republicans to the Democratic Party, we can help keep at least one political party free from delusions.
And to the slimeballs we leave behind: one small favor. The party you now infect was once an honorable place. It had Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and Ike and Reagan as its Presidential candidates. Let that party rest in peace. Find a new name for your party — one which resonates with your beliefs and feelings.
I understand “National Socialist” is still available.