By Ameen Izzadeen
What has happened to the Republican Party? Picking Donald Trump in 2016 as the Republican candidate, giving him victory in primary after primary and later tolerating his idiosyncrasies and unpredictably dangerous behaviour and policy decisions were bad enough however much one tries to digest them as vagaries of the democratic tradition.
But some Republican leaders going to the extent of endorsing Trump’s refusal to concede defeat is shocking if not outright sycophancy and the ultimate insult to the Grand Old Party. Among the praiseworthy exceptions are former President George W. Bush and Senator and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney who had called President-elect Joe Biden to congratulate him and urged President Trump to concede defeat.
Past Republican presidents, if they are alive, will be banging their heads on democracy’s wall in disbelief and, if dead, will be turning in their graves if they hear that Senate Republican leader Mitchel McConnell and some other Republican seniors, tacitly or otherwise, back Trump’s claim without evidence that the November 3 election was a fraud.
Joining this cabal this week was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who told journalists there would be a smooth transition to Trump’s second administration. Trump-appointed Attorney General William Barr, meanwhile, ordered the Justice Department’s election crime unit to initiate a probe on Trump’s election fraud claims, prompting the head of the unit to resign in disgust.
According to a poll conducted by Reuters and Ipsos on November 5, as much as 30 percent of the Republicans believed Trump’s claim that he had won the election – an indication of the extent to which Trumpism had penetrated the Republican grassroots.
The party today stands stripped of its hallowed ideology that was the standard bearer during the civil war under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, a martyr hero who laid his life for abolishing slavery and upholding democracy as highlighted in his immortal Gettysburg speech.
Trump has hijacked the Republican Party and made it a party of and for stooges and illiberal and irrational extremists, conservatives and racists.
Ahead of the 2016 presidential election, some concerned Republicans did foresee the danger to the party and the country if Trump was to be elected as the president of the United States. The then House Speaker Paul Ryan, a loyal Republican and vice presidential candidate in 2012, worked out a framework to protect the party from any harm that an opportunist and wild card entrant like Trump could cause. At a party seniors’ meeting, Ryan presented a set of proposals, describing it as “This is Trump inoculation Plan.”
In the type of politics Trump dabbles in, principles have little place. As president, he became unruly, dismissing democratic traditions and not doing what rightminded people thought was right. As a result, the Republican Party lost its identity and soul. Republican politicians one by one started defecting to Trump’s camp. All 51 Republican senators sided with Trump to defeat the impeachment resolution passed by majority vote in the House of Representative although there was evidence to back the impeachment charges that he obstructed justice, violated emolument clauses and undermined the independence of the judiciary.
If only two Senators had desisted from voting, the Trump era could have ended in December last year, but the Republican politicians propped him up, though he was the biggest presidential misfit in US history.
That Trump officials kept resigning in frustration or got fired for not carrying out his irrational bidding only confirms the chaos associated with the billionaire businessman turned president. One White House inside source described the chaos as a 12-year-old in an air traffic control tower of a busy airport.
The Republican Party is known with its honorific Grand Old Party in recognition of its historic achievements such as abolishing slavery and saving the Union. The party was founded on classical liberalism which believes in freedom, liberty, and equality. Free trade and free market activism, as had been advocated by Reaganism, were part of the party policy.
Though the country is politically divided along the lines of Republican and Democratic party affiliations, until Trump came to the scene the two parties had been united by a common belief that republicanism is democratic while democracy is rooted in republicanism. The two parties had their roots in one single Democratic-Republican Party that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison founded in 1792.
Republicanism has its origin in the ancient Greco-Roman democratic tradition. The word Republic is derived from the Latin word Res Public – meaning the thing of the people. Rome was once a republic and had been so since the 5th century BC for more than 500 years. The excuses trotted out by those involved in the Julius Caesar assassination plot were that he had destroyed the constitutional republic and had established himself as Rome’s first dictator for life.
In ancient Greece, Plato insisted that the republic’s ruler should become a philosopher, or a philosopher should become a ruler to promote the people’s welfare through knowledge. But Trump spurns science and knowledge-based governance and is widely known to be a demagogue acting on impulse, as has been seen in his costly mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While not respecting the will of the people and not cooperating with President-elect Biden’s team to facilitate a smooth transition, the Republican renegade is throwing multiple legal challenges to his rival’s victory.
Meanwhile, his hardline supporters, his Proud Boys, to whom he told stand down and stand by during an election debate, are flocking to Washington DC to stage tomorrow a show of force dubbed the million MAGA march. It could even be a mini coup d’état if the President’s actions of firing Defence Secretary Mark Esper and appointing loyalists to key positions in the National Security Agency and the Pentagon were an indication. Similar shake-ups are also expected in the CIA and the FBI.
The March for Trump and the President’s intransigence raise fears of further chaos or even a civil war, similar to what is often seen in weak democracies where rulers care little or no two hoots about democratic governance. The manner in which Trump behaves makes him in league with dictators in ‘shithole’ countries, to use his own words.
As the US is being plunged into uncertainty and its democracy’s darkest days, perhaps the hope for the Americans is in the unlikely possibility that his stubborn behaviour is only a face-saving exercise or a narrative to claim he won the election but was deprived of his second term by the establishment or what he and his supporters derisively refer to as the deep state.
It is high time the Republican Party found its sole to once again practise principled politics and save itself from the ignominy of being lumped together with rightwing political parties which have destroyed the democratic fabric of the countries where they operate.