Dear Republicans: Maybe you didn’t ask for our advice, but here it is anyway

Dear Republicans: Maybe you didn’t ask for our advice, but here it is anyway
Supporters of US President Donald Trump attend a rally on the Ellipse near the White House in Washington, DC on 6 January 2021. (EPA-EFE / Michael Reynolds)

Over here at Daily Maverick, we have drafted a memo for the Democratic National Committee to send to their counterparts at the Republican National Committee over the increasingly intemperate tenor of politics in the US. We hope they will take this up with urgent effect before at least one side of American politics sinks further still.

Here we are proposing a letter for the Democratic National Committee to send to their counterparts at the Republican National Committee to help rebuild a sense of national comity around public discourse. Maybe they can also share it with their incumbent elected members of Congress and former presidents and vice presidents — once they put their stamp on the precise wording. 

It is our hope for the nation that Republicans will find a way back to the mainstream of national political life and language and escape the demographic and political cul de sac they have now created and locked themselves into in their rhetoric. 

Crucially, we hope they will reject those siren calls from the increasingly angry — even unhinged — ghetto of the former president’s cronies, acolytes and panderers who have adopted the idea that the road to future political success lies in embracing “the big lie” about the 2020 election and in demanding unswerving loyalty to their former president, no matter what corrosive, malicious things he says and does. 

“The big lie”, of course, refers to the dangerous argument that some vast global conspiracy came together to deprive the former president unfairly of his victory in the 2020 presidential election. In fact, the future of the republic, and not just the future of the Republican Party, depends on renouncing such dangerous myths and finding a different way forward.  

Dear Republican National Committee officers and members:

In the most recent national election, to restate the obvious for you, your party lost the presidency and the Senate, and could not regain control of the House of Representatives, despite generous gifts from the longstanding practice of the gerrymandering of many congressional districts. That process has made many congressional seats virtually impervious to shifts in temper and mood on the part of the population. 

It is easy to say the economic crisis precipitated by the Covid-19 pandemic created a unique set of circumstances that led, in turn, to last year’s electoral outcome. It is also true that despite those factors, Democrats were unable to generate a massive 1932-style wave for themselves. Such results can easily feed pipe dreams among the GOP faithful of a roaring Republican comeback in the years to come.

But given the current style and behaviour of your party, as well as some deeper national demographic patterns, these factors will collectively lead to a future that will make a major return very difficult. That, in turn, becomes a crisis both within your party and for the nation as a whole. 

Over time, there is a growing likelihood your party will be reduced to an increasingly small yet noisy, even poisonous irrelevancy in national politics. Such an outcome will also have deleterious effects on the country as a whole.

First let us make it absolutely clear that we Democrats (at least most of us in our boisterous, raucous big tent) believe our nation requires a political life where more than one party has an active, vigorous and constructive role in defining the political and economic landscape via a lively, energetic contestation of ideas and policies. 

After spending many years wandering in the political wilderness, opposed to the New Deal and supporting a policy of international isolationism in the years following World War 2, your party largely embraced the nation’s democratic consensus. This included agreement about the importance of social welfare expenditures (although not on every single policy or project), the need for a more thoroughly regulated capitalism and financial system, and a foreign policy of engaged internationalism. 

In fact, in one of your finest moments, some of your most nationally minded leaders were crucial in giving birth to the legislative civil rights revolution of the 1960s.

But around that same time, your party began opening the door — first just a crack and then increasingly flung wide open — to conspiracy theories and ideas that looked back to the largely mythic golden age of an America set apart from the rest of the world and unengaged in problems elsewhere, to a past where small town and rural white Americans ruled virtually unhindered, and to a time when everyone else knew their inferior place and stayed there. 

This mythic landscape was also one where corporations could run their affairs unhindered by those irritating environmental concerns, civil rights rules or gender equality values — things imposed on the nation by a meddlesome, intrusive federal government.

These feelings drew energy from a more general anger and anxiety about the evolution of the country towards a more varied demographic tapestry, revolutionary economic changes that did away with numbers of old-style industries and jobs, and a growing sense of distance and alienation from national decision-makers. 

This led to a rolling revolt against your own party’s traditional positions in support of broader democratic traditions, a view encouraged and then unleashed by some politicians who determined that their way to power was via encouraging just such dissatisfactions. You surely know who we are talking about.

Such politicians increasingly denigrated the very legitimacy of an opposition’s role in national politics against the political “revealed truth” of this new generation of politicians as they increasingly insisted on loyalty tests within their own party to a leader. 

In fact, the loyalty test of support of the former president has largely superseded efforts by Republican political figures to advocate actual political, social or economic policies, besides proclaiming that any new policies will bankrupt the nation or are the terrifying equivalent of radical socialism.

Most recently, we have watched with a sense of weary schadenfreude the way your party has decided to forcibly reject a former presidential candidate like senator Mitt Romney and House Republican conference chair Liz Cheney for their insufficient loyalty to the former president, no matter what.

Such behaviour may, in the short run, make your party more internally cohesive, but it also means anyone who does not believe in such dangerous nonsense is shunned. That is a very small tent to inhabit. 

Or as congresswoman Cheney herself wrote the other day in The Washington Post (usually not her favourite newspaper!):

“In public statements again this week, former president Donald Trump has repeated his claims that the 2020 election was a fraud and was stolen. His message: I am still the rightful president, and President Joe Biden is illegitimate. 

“Trump repeats these words now with full knowledge that exactly this type of language provoked violence on Jan. 6. And, as the Justice Department and multiple federal judges have suggested, there is good reason to believe that Trump’s language can provoke violence again. 

“Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work — confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has ever done this.

“The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution. In the immediate wake of the violence of Jan. 6, almost all of us knew the gravity and the cause of what had just happened — we had witnessed it firsthand.

“House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) left no doubt in his public remarks. On the floor of the House on Jan. 13, McCarthy said: ‘The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.’ Now, McCarthy has changed his story.

“I am a conservative Republican, and the most conservative of conservative values is reverence for the rule of law. Each of us swears an oath before God to uphold our Constitution. The electoral college has spoken. More than 60 state and federal courts, including multiple Trump-appointed judges, have rejected the former president’s arguments, and refused to overturn election results. That is the rule of law; that is our constitutional system for resolving claims of election fraud.

“The question before us now is whether we will join Trump’s crusade to delegitimize and undo the legal outcome of the 2020 election, with all the consequences that might have. 

“I have worked overseas in nations where changes in leadership come only with violence; where democracy takes hold only until the next violent upheaval. America is exceptional because our constitutional system guards against that. 

“At the heart of our republic is a commitment to the peaceful transfer of power among political rivals in accordance with law. President Ronald Reagan described this as our American ‘miracle’.” 

Over here at the DNC we usually do not find ourselves in easy agreement with congresswoman Cheney — although we are in this case — and as Democrats, we probably should be pleased your party seems embarked on a political suicide march into becoming the residents of an increasingly irrelevant zone in public life; but, in truth, we should not. This is why. 

Our own particular partisan ideas, policies and values are not sacrosanct and they must be tested in the crucible of public debate and discussion. An opposition party given to obscurantism and blind loyalty to an intemperate figure with incoherent values cannot effectively put our values and ideas to any sort of public test. 

Without the vigorous tussle of a give-and-take in political debate, politics simply becomes a contest to see whose ideas have the most immediate, unthinking mass appeal. It soon becomes a competition between extremes and an appeal to corrosive populism. 

There is one further issue that requires your urgent attention as your older, more experienced political figures work to reassert control over your own party. That is, of course, the subtle but damaging demographic trap you face unless you alter your message and your approach. (You did recognise this after your presidential loss in 2012 with a realisation that you needed to reach out to the larger population, but you were sidetracked in the wake of the populist rebellion of 2016.) 

However, your party now is increasingly basing its backward-looking appeal on stoking the angers and fears of white, middle-aged, non-college educated, small town and rural, southern and midwestern populations. 

These are the very people who have been fed a constant diet of “the big lie” and astonishing falsehoods about the country and your opposition via media like Fox News and One America cable channels, along with other social media conversations. 

Unfortunately for your party, that cohort of Americans is shrinking irrevocably in percentage terms, in the face of the growing multi-ethnicity of the country, the increasing share of the population with tertiary educations, and the decreasing fraction of the nation centred on strong-back factory work. 

Accordingly, an appeal based on a consistently shrinking share of the electorate will, over time, reduce your party to irrelevance to the vast majority of the nation’s people. In essence, it is impossible to win with a continually shrinking share of the electorate. 

For you, the way forward is increasingly clear. It means returning to a party that privileges policy debate and advocacy over the slavish worship of a failed president, blind loyalty towards one politician, and that former president’s insistence on embracing the “big lie” about the past election. 

In contrast, we are convinced that lively, engaged debates on issues and policies will be good for your party and ours, and for the country as well. 

We urge you to rejoin the kinds of discussions that have made our country great in the past and led to a better, fairer, more prosperous nation rather than to continue down a path that leads to ever more rancour and anger. 

We do have one modest request. Please can we ask you to encourage your representatives to disengage from the use of angry ad hominem, even racist attacks on opponents — the kind of language that is quickly becoming a hallmark of some in your caucus. 

Just maybe, too, can we get your folks to drop the use of “radical socialist” as a slur and swear word in discussing things like pre-kindergarten schooling or expansion of healthcare coverage and, instead, return to the practice of debating the propriety or effectiveness of the idea and its financing — or even offering alternative ideas and solutions to national issues. Maybe that won’t be as much fun for some, but it certainly will be more helpful to the nation.

Yours sincerely, 

Your friends from across the aisle. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • ian hurst says:

    How about DM allowing an article by a Republican supporter – for a change?

    • Nico Spence says:

      There are embarrassingly few remainingly sane Republicans such as Liz Cheney. She speaks truth to power.

      Shame on these Trumpians who have despoiled the Republican Party, shame on them for defecating on the principles, integrity and ethics of all Americans, shame!

  • Louis Potgieter says:

    In short: Republicans, reverse your slide into fascism.

    • ian hurst says:

      Fascism comes with a controlling big government. More a feature of the Democrats than the Republicans don’t you think?

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    A rather tall order for a intellectually bankrupt organisation that trots out garbage such as ‘cancel culture’ -which, if it exists is of their own making ! Remember the only reason the buffoon president won the previous election … is because he openly (unlike the rest) embraced the KKK types!

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      & most of the rest of the Republicans have embraced it also, without having to acknowledge it! Even the likes of Tim Scott, Cruz, Rubio, & Haley (not in congress) are desperate to be ‘white’ & part of white privilege! BUT .. it comes with the nasty serving of white fragility (fortunately free!)!

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