A catalogue of recent Republican behavior reads like the devil’s handbook:
Obstruct always and everywhere. Blacken the president’s name with such a barrage of foul and farcical attacks and disputes of his legitimacy that even calling him a patriot provokes denunciations from right-wing radio. Belittle the best-prepared and most seasoned candidate by unleashing every sexist trope and suggesting that the only possible reason anyone could support her is that she is a woman.
Drill down into our subterranean sea of bile until the nation gushes with misogyny, racism, xenophobia, sectarianism, homo-hatred and anti-transgender panic. Deflect every frustration away from pilfering plutocrats and onto the most downtrodden. Disparage every expert. Mock every decent impulse. Stoke every source of overseas strife to justify more and more ruinous militarism, while gutting protections for the public safety and health. Deny the president’s right to do the job for which he was duly elected. Blame the resulting chaos on the Democrats.
This may not be “America the Beautiful,” but it has brought the GOP close to total domination of the machinery of power. Spare me glib and fanciful assurances that the Republican Party is dead. I will believe the radical right is finished after Democrats regain the House, Senate, a majority of state legislatures and governorships.
Let us not distract ourselves with facile revolutionary rhetoric that is all cloud castles and no plan. Avoid high fives while watching the Republican parade of lunacy. Even if Democrats retain the presidency, our ability to enact our policies will depend on down-ballot races that too many of us ignore. Republicans have a turnout advantage in non-presidential elections. The right hardly needs its voter-suppression tactics when millions of progressives disenfranchise themselves by sitting out midterms.
We need to awaken ourselves to the danger our nation faces: a shrinking group of privileged bullies seeks to extend and secure its power by keeping the rest of us at one another’s throats.
Rejecting incremental efforts in favor of instant magical perfection will only hand reactionaries an undeserved win. If you doubt Republicans’ contempt for the general welfare, look at Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s handling of the water crisis in Flint caused by his own reckless, undemocratic policies. Weigh his party’s demand for profligate military spending against its refusal to repair crumbling infrastructure. The GOP is the student slacker who entertains his way to being elected class president without ever showing a learning curve on any subject.
Why do we allow this degradation of our country to continue? Either we are more sympathetic to the rampaging bigotries than we wish to acknowledge, or we are afraid to challenge them. Perhaps we think the madness will run its course, like a 24-hour virus; or we whistle past the graveyard, assuring ourselves that if worse comes to worst, our own privilege will protect us.
We ignore at our peril our adversaries’ structural advantages: liberals are clustered in large cities. Gerrymandering turns “the will of the people” into a mockery. The allocation of Senate seats gives disproportionate power to rural and conservative states. Another advantage the right enjoys is how gullible we are. How in the world can so many voters believe that both parties are equally responsible for government gridlock when it was Republicans who vowed from the outset to block everything Obama did, and Republicans who turned their primaries into a festival of intolerance and scapegoating?
America’s founding values were the fruit of the Enlightenment, but were never self-implementing. We must make them real in each generation. Virtue is not a lifeless object that can be passed down like an heirloom. Our character and prospects are harmed when we are blind to the struggles of others. Greatness becomes a slogan on a hat.
If you seek a particular outcome, embrace the work and respect those who are doing it. Do not posture self-righteously while snubbing potential allies, as Black Lives Matter Chicago leader Aislinn Pulley did to President Obama. She called his Feb. 18 White House meeting with civil rights activists a sham, while issuing a long list of utopian demands. In happy contrast was Campaign Zero co-founder Brittany Packnett, sitting between the president and the attorney general, using her place at the table.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2016 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.