Thursday, 6 April 2017

The Republican Party Is Starting To Wake Up: Will The Political Axis Reset?

Moderate conservative, cartoon by Wendy Cockcroft
As the Trump administration flails about, mocked worldwide for its incompetence, the moderate members, who had been pushed to the fringe by the loons, are starting to see an opportunity to reset the party and make it relevant again. Will they succeed? This is the state of play.

Americans don't know what "conservative" means

If you ever wondered why Americans can't accept that you can be both left-wing and conservative it's because they think "conservative" means "right-wing anarchist" or "knuckle-dragger." Actually, true conservatism is about maintaining the status quo or promoting an idyllic view of a past that is held up as a model for the future, extolling the virtues of traditional community values, upholding the rule of law, and encouraging people towards thrift, a strong work ethic, and to avoid being a burden on others. It's neither left nor right. However, due to the poisoning of political discourse "the left" has been caricatured as a bunch of workshy hippies who can't decide which gender they are from day to day while "the right" wants to burn poor people for fuel when they've come to the end of their working lives, or something.

I'm the moderate Pirate edition, meaning I believe that the market has a role to play in the allocation of resources, but as our servant, not our master. While I've got some sympathy with left-wing/progressive stances on issues such as the social safety net and tax-funded healthcare I'm not a socialist, I'm a realist.

I've watched through my fingers as the GOP went from Fascist to outright alt-right anarchist in less than a decade, poisoning political discourse by demonising opposition. The advent of the internet has given partisans on both sides a megaphone to blast out hate, to divide and conquer, and we let it happen because it's easier to blindly accept what we're told by our favourite puppet-master than to think for ourselves. Result: Trump.

Alt-right nutters make conservatives look bad

As the weeks since Trump's inauguration pass it's becoming more apparent that he's a trainwreck with no clue how to run a government, who hired a man who wants to dismantle the state to help him ruin the country and who hired unqualified people to run state departments. Even the Justice Secretary isn't interested in actual justice. Heck, he even gets Jared Kushner, Trump's daughter Ivanka's husband, to do Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's job from time to time. This is what happens when you run a country like a company; a country and a company are different things, people. It's the difference between an orange and an elephant. Meanwhile some of those people Trump has appointed to fill state department vacancies have had to be fired and the Russian hacking/collusion scandal continues to dog both Trump and his family.  Now Republicans are seeing the endgame of decades of untenable policy positions — and their most cherished talking points, and it doesn't make them look good at all.

Is a reset on the cards?

Like Bruce Bartlett I was terrified by the hardline neoliberalism that was turning the Republicans into fascists and looked to Trump to score such a massive own goal that the GOP (grand old party, as the Republicans are also called) would implode and reset. This was supposed to have happened after Romney's campaign bit the dust in 2012 but they just came to the conclusion that they hadn't sold their policies well enough, refusing to acknowledge that their policies are the problem. Now that they can see the naked, jagged edges of their theories in practice they're beginning to do the soul-searching they should have done five years ago. Better late than never, I suppose. It's come to this:

But virtually everyone who wrote to me shared a common complaint: The traditional “Left ↔ Right” spectrum used to describe and categorize Republicans has become obsolete in the age of Trump. The question now is what to replace it with. - The Republican Identity Crisis, by McKay Coppins for The Atlantic

Basically, the GOP has gone so far right it's become a freakish cartoon parody of itself and it's alienating the population. Some of the more reasonable, pragmatic members struggle to define an identity that doesn't currently mean "Bleeding heart liberal lefty progressive" while holding onto positions considered perfectly orthodox five years ago. Result, the GOP is not imploding spectacularly, it's crumbling and bits are falling off. Basically, they fought the election on "Hillary bad, Mexicans bad, Muslims bad, NAFTA bad, we'll make 'em all go away." They haven't gone away. Hillary is conspicuously not in jail after being perp-walked through the Capitol. The wall is apparently going to be financed by tariffs on imports. O ISDS, where art thou? Why, in the as-yet un-renegotiated NAFTA, of course. Have fun, Donny boy. Oh, and the Muslim bans keep getting overturned by the courts on the grounds that they're freakin' racist. While I continue to encounter Trump fans on Twitter and in the Techdirt comments sections, I find their hearts just aren't in it any more. They know their cause is lost and that their idol has got feet of clay, they just haven't got around to admitting it yet.

They're not there yet

The Trump administration is stumbling and puking but it hasn't fallen over yet. The healthcare bill has been dragged behind the head and shot because Americans don't want to be punished for having pre-existing conditions, which has left the alt-right looking to "single payer" as a solution — for building a healthy white race, or something. Steve Bannon, who was supposedly turfed out of the National Security Council, will continue to attend the meetings. His old job there has been taken by Rick "with this ultrasound wand, I thee rape" Perry. Is there no one who is actually qualified for the job available? One presumes that, if Perry blots his copybook they'll get Governor Sam "trickle-down" Brownback of Kansas to take his benighted place. Meanwhile, the old order is being restored. While Bannon's departure and the reasoning behind it is being debated online, it seems to me that Trump is beginning to see Bannon as being as much the architect of his failures as of his successors. Night of the Long Knives, anyone?

That left/right thing has got to go

The national socialism of the alt-right, in the form of support for welfare programs to get people on board, is probably going to dismantle the traditional left/right axis on which politics has see-sawed. Neoliberal free-market solutions are being abandoned because the market is failing to provide. This can only be a good thing because it means that the welfare state and the public good will no longer be considered a purely socialist consideration. This can only be a good thing. Resistance may come from the neoliberal faction but even they must admit that co-opting your enemy's most popular policies and making them work is a vote-winner for sure.

A new hope

Conservatism and capitalism needs to grow the hell up, get a job, and move out of its mother's basement. When Cato AND Reason both accept an article that glosses over the outright horror of the regime of Augusto Pinochet in Chile and declares it a poster child for capitalism, something is wrong. When a think tank scholar threatens a newspaper in order to get it to remove articles he wrote in case his prospective employers don't want him any more (use the Wayback Machine to view this:, something is wrong. And when legislation and regulation is dismissed as "socialist" to shut down discussion*, something is wrong. If we are to have any hope at all that things will change, the policy positions we consider to be conservative are going to have to shift into those that take responsibility for themselves and for the general good. If this happens, I'll have one reason to think better of Donald Trump than I do now.

*Please can we call this "Cockcroft's Law"?

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