It is the very political positions the Republican party used to gain power that render them divided, incapable of effectively solving the problems they were elected to address.
THE failure of Paul Ryan and the Republican House of Representatives to pass President Trump’s health-care bill, his first piece of major legislation, has caused an avalanche of interpretations and explanations from mainstream commentators.
Everyone, it seems, has an opinion. Republicans are too divided ideologically to govern; they have been elected to tear down, not build; Trump knows nothing about governing; his advisers are either incompetent, inexperienced, or useless ideologues. The list goes on.
But I have read nothing about the most important of all reasons. The Republican House has before it an impossible task: In order to gain power and stay in office, the Republican party has been forced to use three broad strategies.
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• One, it has exaggerated and twisted basic conservative concepts until they are out of touch with current political challenges. For instance, 19th-century ideas about the wisdom of the unregulated marketplace cannot begin to address the enormous and complex labor, health-care, tax-code, environmental and infrastructure needs of the 21st.
• Two, they have had to mortgage their integrity to the very richest of Americans, who demand tax cuts and devious welfare-for-the-rich and deregulation deals that make any sort of rational and creative legislative response to difficult 21st century challenges impossible to craft.
• Three, they have had to quietly and under cover of code words and stereotypes make common cause with the worst of American culture: racism and xenophobia.
These three strategies make for great political theater: nasty sloganeering, powerful advertising campaigns and vicious scapegoating. But winning an election through manipulation and bullying does not necessarily translate into good governance. And winning an election in simplistic, vicious, nefarious ways especially makes governance in a democracy difficult.
So it is the very political positions the Republican party used to gain power that render them divided, mean-spirited and incapable of effectively solving the problems they were elected to address. In the vernacular of the country and Western culture Republicans have exploited since Reagan, you “dance with the one what brung ya.”
Governing takes studying, reasoning, expertise and collaboration, which anti-intellectualism and the distrust of Washington cannot abide. It takes caring for others, and especially an attention to difference, poverty and oppression — qualities that racism, misogyny and homophobia detest. It takes an adequate amount of federal funds, which can only be raised by a progressive tax structure, more like that which was used in the Eisenhower administration than the regressive tax policies of Republicans since the Reagan administration.
The Republican party is in the process of being gored by its own ox. It was a great beast to ride when the job was destruction. But the monster is not domesticated, and by definition it cannot live in the halls of Washington. If not subdued it will tear apart older political traditions and important recent policies that inched the country slightly closer to fulfilling its great promise. The one thing that would save the day is the one thing the Republican party is by design incapable of doing. Our ideals of diversity and fair governance — indeed democracy itself — hang in the balance.