Three characteristics define the current Republican Party: Racism, Willful Ignorance, and Wealth over the Common Good. The domination of Donald Trump over the party only completes and consolidates these characteristics that have been developing for generations.
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From Goldwater to Nixon to Reagan to Gingrich to Trump, the GOP has shed its moderate wing and brought on board southern and suburban whites. (Claire Malone offers a cogent examination how the party made itself white in a post on FiveThirtyEight.) She chronicles the evolution from dog whistles to overt racist expressions by our current president—all driven by perceived political necessity to remain in power.
Donald Trump’s racism should now be beyond question from comments about “shithole” countries, support for “very fine people” who happen to be white supremacists, and “rigged elections” that put and keep people in power who should “go back to where you came from.” The current Black Lives Matter movement has taught us that racism is more than language and even emotion, it is structure. Racism is both in the American political DNA as well as the bones and sinew of our institutions and culture.
Trump is only overt in expressing what many people think and feel. Which brings us to Number 2.
2. Willful Ignorance (and Death)
America leads the world in the total number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. After a partial flattening of the curve, we are now headed back up nationally and accelerating across several states. The path of the virus has now reached states that are politically red, a predictable outcome as the governors took their cues from the White House that withdrew from any active role in responding to the threat.
On June 23, Trump said that the coronavirus will simply “disappear”, despite the fact that the case counts continue to climb up a mountainside. This was the 13th time he predicted that the virus will magically disappear. So far, more than 128,000 Americans have perished from the disease. The new case count just passed 50,000 per day on its trajectory to reach a Fauci-predicted 100,000 new daily infections. Yet, the president will not invoke existing powers to marshall medical supplies, support testing and tracing, or even set an example of wearing a mask.
Where are the rest of the Republicans? A few leaders have started wearing masks. Some GOP governors in states hit hard recently have started inching towards more restrictions. But plenty of Trump supporters refuse to practice social distancing by attending his rallies and confronting government agencies in open meetings to rail against oppression—all because they are asked to wear a bit of cloth to cover half their faces. Trump himself eschews wearing a mask or taking other exemplar steps to counter the virus.
Partisan politics has overwhelmed scientific knowledge. We now live in our own Dark Ages where reason and evidence have been replaced by incantation and magical thinking. The fact that no Republican of note has stood up to resist this deadly practice speaks to their lack of concern for the general welfare.
That brings us to Number 3.
3. Wealth over the Common Good
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America is built on the myth that anyone can be successful, as defined by having great wealth. Yet, Donald Trump is a living example of being born on third base and reaching home before he was three years old. His father provided him an annual income of $200,000 (in today’s dollars) at three and he was a millionaire by age eight. Eventually, Donald received over $400 million from his father. While that is an extreme, although now singularly important example, it is only a difference in degree not kind.
Wealth begets wealth. Rather than taxing the rich to pay for education from pre-K to college, Americans rely on regressive taxation to fund education, usually local property taxes. While that offers wealthy neighborhoods good schools, it does nothing for those on the other side of the tracks. If education is the great equalizer in our mythology, underfunded schools (because of tax policy) hobbles millions by denying them equal educational opportunities.
Poverty persists. Lacking education and living in places where good jobs are scarce, America’s poor live lives that have actually gotten worse over the past 50 years. The national minimum wage peaked in real dollars in 1968 and has generally declined ever since. In today’s dollars that 1968 wage would be $11.65, when the actual current minimum is $7.25 per hour. Moreover, that decline took place during a surge in worker productivity. Since 1979, worker productivity increased over 252% while real wages increased 115%. Who pocketed the difference?
Since the Reagan tax cuts of the 1980s, wealth has flowed uphill. This gravitational inversion has resulted in the top 1% owning 40% of the nation’s wealth while the bottom 80% have only 7%. These are levels reminiscent of the days before the French Revolution. No wonder the streets are filled with angry protesters.
These economic policies had a lot of help from Democrats, who have some hard questions to answer, but they were driven by Republicans. From Reagan to Bush to Trump, the GOP has sought to rob workers of the income and wealth they generate. Instead of those most able to pay carrying a fair share of the common tax burden, many millionaires and billionaires pay little or no taxes. The tax code is an elaborate shell game where the rich hire the magicians and the rest of us foot the bill.
Trump once claimed, "I have legally used the tax laws to my benefit and to the benefit of my company, my investors and my employees. I mean, honestly, I have brilliantly - I have brilliantly used those laws.” For once, he has stated a mostly true thing. Those laws were written for people like him, not the rest of us. They put him on a skateboard on his way to home plate.
There will be a reckoning. Those protesting systemic racism, the oppression of the police, and the persistence of poverty are only the advance guard. Driven by desperation, perversely motivated by overt police violence, and fueled by the most dangerous ingredient—the American belief in equality—these patriots are marching for the 99.9% of us who are now demanding change. They will not stop.