by Lee A. Daniels
The fate of the Republican Party’s presidential sweepstakes at the moment is being controlled by two political Frankensteins – both of them of the GOP’s own creation.
One, of course, is Donald Trump, the wealthy demagogue who is leading the crowded GOP primary field precisely because he doesn’t have any “platform” except crowing that he’ll dominate anyone at home and abroad who disagrees with him and be cruel to the downtrodden.
The GOP’s second Frankenstein consists of Trump’s supporters among the Republican Party voters, who are also uninterested in the complexities of foreign or domestic policy issues and just want to dominate everyone else who is not like them.
Besides his wealth, they’re Trump’s trump card against the GOP party regulars because, like him, they have no loyalty to the Republican Party as an institution, or to the actual ideas of American conservatism. And forget all that excuse-making about their being “angry” at the difficulties besetting American society. The plain truth is that these people want their intolerance stoked. For all their railing against “Wall Street,” they always choose to take out their anger on the easy targets –Americans of color and those with fewer resources.
They want to let their bent for selfishness and callousness show, and Trump is speaking them.
As I indicated, Trump and his supporters didn’t just appear out of nowhere. They’re a creation of the GOP’s own contempt for the inclusiveness and complexity of today’s American society and of the traditional political processes that have produced that result.
That’s what the GOP actions of the Obama Years mean: the Republicans’ more than 50 attempts in Congress to try to block Obamacare, despite their knowing every single time they wouldn’t succeed. The GOP’s constructing an extensive campaign in states controlled by GOP legislatures to block Democratic-leaning voters access to the ballot box. Its engineering the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United ruling that destroyed limits on contributions to political campaigns – to enable the wealthy to undermine the one-person-one-vote foundation of American democracy.
One could go on down a long list of policy issues, including gay rights, climate change, the crisis of undocumented immigration, re-establishing relations with Cuba, and fighting the global terror war. In each instance, one finds the reflexive, no-compromise opposition of the Republicans.
Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-wining economist and New York Times columnist, among others, several years ago attributed that stance to a “widening wonk gap – the G.O.P.’s near-complete lack of expertise on anything substantive,” as well as its growing electoral dependence on white fundamentalist evangelical Protestants.
Now, the success of Trump’s style of bluster and verbal crudeness among the GOP base goes beyond the wonk gap. He’s turned a segment of the GOP base into a mob.
That achievement has stood out in sharp relief since the GOP debate of August 7 when Fox News’ host Megyn Kelly’s questioning of Trump’s past misogynistic comments provoked his now infamous “blood” remarks against her. Trump’s supporters then unleashed a torrent of vile e-mails and tweets that washed over conservative social media outlets, condemning Kelly and Fox News itself for supposedly disrespecting Trump.
That these ferociously bigoted, profanity-laced responses were aimed at a leading star in the conservative media constellation who hosts a top-rated show on the network conservatives trust the most indicates how much distance exists between the institutional Republican Party and a large part of its voting base. Nor was that treatment confined to Kelly and Fox alone.
When another leading conservative, Erick Erickson, learning of Trump’s “blood” remark, disinvited him from appearing at his RedState Gathering conference that weekend, he too, was quickly deluged with hundreds of fiercely written e-mails from Trump supporters. According to a Washington Post report, Erickson told the conference attendees that many of them referred to him using the dreaded word, “liberal,” to President Obama using “the n-word” and to Kelly using “the c-word.”
That violence of language – which bespeaks a profound, uncontrollable irrationality – is the behavior of a mob.
But there’s something more about the pro-Trump social-media flood that’s important to consider. Given the nature of the social media, the members of Trump’s mob can be even more anonymous and “unreachable” than those who gather in physical mobs. That could present a significant obstacle to the thus far completely unsuccessful efforts by the GOP establishment to both quash the Trump insurgency within the GOP and persuade him not to run a third-party campaign.
Right now, their failure is Trump’s most powerful trump card.
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His essay, “Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Great Provocateur,” appears in Africa’s Peacemakers: Nobel Peace Laureates of African Descent (2014), published by Zed Books. His new collection of columns, Race Forward: Facing America’s Racial Divide in 2014, is available at www.amazon.com