Sitting on our porch in northern Virginia, waiting for movers, my wife and I heard what we would later learn was the terrorist attack on the Pentagon. On that awful day I never questioned whether or not the United States would survive, only how long it would be until those responsible were brought to justice.
When reports that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Imperial Japanese forces, cadets at Texas A&M enthusiastically shouted, “Beat the Hell outta Japan!” They had no doubt that is precisely what would happen.
Time and again, Americans have responded to existential threats with unwavering assurance that our nation would survive even the darkest of days. Through recessions and depressions, the Civil War and Watergate, the United States has survived.
And I’m sure the Republic could survive a Donald Trump presidency. But I’m not sure the Republican Party can survive his nomination.
Let me qualify my certainty on the future of a Trump-led Republic. Donald Trump isn’t running to be president; he’s running to be a monarch, or worse. His campaign is based on an appeal to the lowest common denominator. He doesn’t care about policy, justice or truth; he cares about “winning.” His “winning” ego cannot even allow him to distance himself from the endorsement of a white supremacist.
Donald Trump’s definition of winning is unhinged from any recognizable sense of morality. This void is what allowed him to try to use eminent domain to take the home of an old lady to build a limousine parking lot. That immoral action was justified by his desire to “win.”
It sure wasn’t justice. (He ultimately failed to take the home, by the way.)
On several occasions, George Washington was given the opportunity to be a king; he refused emphatically. Donald Trump would no doubt call Washington a loser. If president, Trump tells us, he would exercise executive authority with “greatness.”
Greatness. That undefined appeal to materialism sounds vaguely familiar. It has echoed through the rhetoric of tyrants for generations.
As did his egomaniacal predecessors in other lands, Trump would redefine America in terrible ways. His constitutional illiteracy is staggering, and he seems to revel in being casually dismissive of our constitutional separation of powers. He has declared he would do things – from building a wall to imposing trade tariffs – which a president simply cannot do without the support of Congress.
When confronted with such facts, he and his fans blithely say he’ll do them anyway. It‘ll be great…unless you respect the limits on government found in the Constitution.
But can the American Republican withstand a Trump presidency? Probably. Maybe. But not easily.
On the other hand, I am all but convinced Donald Trump’s know-nothing “greatness” movement would be the death of the GOP.
He embodies the worst of the last century of American populism, business, and theology. He is the living embodiment of the “prosperity gospel” of some Protestant churches. It’s a theology unhinged from Scripture; it declares God’s love for someone is seen through the toys they collect in this life.
Trump must be good, the adherents say, because Trump has the most toys.
Meanwhile, his business enterprises are less about the art of the deal than the art of cronyism. By his own admission, he plies politicians with cash so he can get favorable regulatory treatment. He is a lifelong practitioner of what is merely bribery by another name. And since he did it without penalty on one side of the deal, one can only imagine he would continue it on the other.
Trump’s vision for American prosperity is driven not from free-market liberty but bullying others into a kind of economic submission.
Make no mistake: Donald Trump is not a free-market capitalist. He is, at best, a crony corporatist. He profits off of his relationship with government or his relationship with businesses that exist only through government monopoly (like the casino industry).
Donald Trump is not a conservative. He doesn’t pretend to be interested in limiting government. He is not, by any stretch, anything like a conservative. He endorses “single-payer” health care (then excuses it by saying he’ll negotiate better rates). He wants restrictions on first amendment rights, and has no problem restricting second amendment rights. He has no interest in reducing the size of government; only in directing its power in the directions most appealing to him.
The Republican Party stopped believing in things. I saw it in Dallas this weekend, where a speaker at the “Reagan Day” dinner urged against tests of ideology for candidates (not his words, but his tone). When the GOP cast aside ideology to allow pro-abortion liberals and country club ne’er-do-wells to run without challenge, they created an environment for an opportunistic conman to worm in.
The GOP, once a party of substance, has become a party of sound bites. The establishment told us to stop talking about ideas and to focus on winning.
The Republican establishment has told Republicans to stop paying attention to ideology and focus on personality. The result is Donald Trump. Donald Trump is the horrifyingly logical product of the party’s devolution. In Texas, we have a state legislative GOP caucus full of members that revel in never reading their party’s platform, let alone adhering to any of its tenets.
A political party that ultimately believes in nothing must ultimately become nothing. A Donald Trump presidency would be the nail in a coffin constructed by the GOP establishment for the last two decades.
Where will Republicans go? Some might try the Constitution Party or the Libertarian Party. Some might make a go at a new party altogether. Perhaps some will join the Democrats, either as ideological soul mates or in hopes of taking it over.
So while the Republic might stand, it would do so without the GOP. I can construct a world in which the American Republic withstands even a Trump monarchy. I cannot construct one in which the Republican Party of Reagan is anything other than a cautionary tale in a future political science textbook.
Donald Trump’s “greatness” candidacy appeals to our worst nature. As Republicans we must, quickly, find and exercise our better angels if the Grand Old Party is to stand for something of substance. That is, if we intend it to survive.