“Another Body, Igor!”

skepticNow that (please color in one circle before reading farther)

O Hillary Clinton has won the election
O Donald J. Trump has won the election
O the election has been called off / postponed in favor of concentrating exclusively on the featured role of Anthony Weiner’s … well … weiner in the Phantastic Phantasmagorical Phallic Phestival surely still residing on the Abedin computer

now might be a good time, regardless of the outcome, to harken back to the early Neolithic period and recall the post-2012-election GOP “autopsy” consequent upon the Mitt “Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Concession Speech” Romney debacle. Even a Trump victory would only be the equivalent of a morbidly obese person eating a celery-stick lunch to prove he doesn’t need to lose weight. In that case, the Nation would still be bereft of an intelligent, effective, articulate opposition party, which it hasn’t had since at least Obama-McCain … maybe even Bush-Kerry. So no matter who has won the election – which will certainly have been decided before this column is published – the Republican Party still needs an autopsy, an autopsy – we live in hope! – they will actually pay attention to this time, even if, flushed with victory, Trump-inebriated Republicans spend most of their time hunting for Muslims under everyone’s bed. So …

“Another body, Igor!”

The post-2012 autopsy makes it clear that, while the Republican Party is alive and well at the State and local levels, the core of the problem is Federal.

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The GOP today is a tale of two parties. One of them, the gubernatorial wing, is growing and successful. The other, the federal wing, is increasingly marginalizing itself … [I]n the past six presidential elections, four have gone to the Democratic nominee, at an average yield of 327 electoral votes to 211 for the Republican. During the preceding two decades, from 1968 to 1988, Republicans won five out of six elections, averaging 417 electoral votes to Democrats' 113. … At the federal level, much of what Republicans are doing is not working beyond the core constituencies that make up the Party.

I would suggest that one of the more salient reasons Republicans lose so consistently at the Federal level – by no means the only reason, but certainly one of the more flagrantly conspicuous in terms of “optics” – is that the Republican leadership concentrates on policy, not people, tending to gloss over, assuming it even acknowledges the existence of, the effect those policies have on actual people. I recall one remark by Speaker Ryan, classic for its policy-over-people emphasis, about avoiding the danger that the safety net will become a “hammock” (Ryan’s word) for the indigent.  At one point in the early 60s, my father was laid off during a downturn in the small-aircraft market – Dad worked for Beech Aircraft, now part of Raytheon, in Wichita, KS – and to keep our heads above the water, we had to move back to Arkansas, where both sides of the family could help us.  Beyond Dad’s unemployment comp, we were never on public assistance, but even family assistance – something Republicans often tout as a possible substitute for government largesse – was something we always viewed as a necessity to be escaped from, not one of Ryan’s hammocks to be wallowed in. In order to be an effective opposition party, Republicans need to (re?)learn how to speak to people from the heart, not merely to speak to accountants from the head. Of course, like all successful politicians at the Federal level – both Democrats and Republicans – Republicans tend to be wrapped in a cocoon of money difficult for people-oriented rhetoric to penetrate.

As part of a new “people” orientation, the Party must recognize, accept – dare I say, even celebrate – the “un-white-ing” of the Nation.  (Here, there is some complementary work to be done by Democrats I will address in a moment.) The Trump campaign has demonstrated that Republicans can do a virtuoso job of understanding, articulating, and echoing back white anxieties about the so-called “browning” and secularization of America. But this emphasis needs to transcend concern with attitudes of Hispanic voters, legitimate as those are. This is a point that, if anything, the 2012 “autopsy” over-emphasized.

If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence. It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies. … Too often Republican elected officials spoke about issues important to the Hispanic community using a tone that undermined the GOP brand within Hispanic communities.

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When I first read this, I kept thinking “Yes, but … yes, but … yes, but …,” largely because, not only have Republicans, since 2012, compounded the problem with Hispanic voters by nominating a man who wants to build a wall to keep Mexican immigrants out and violate “due process” to deport the ones already here, but in the years since the “autopsy,” they have not responded, except with almost unanimous hostility, to voices like “Black Lives Matter” that protest fatal police shootings of innocent, sometimes even surrendering / complying, African-Americans.  Whatever progress there has been in the GOP’s relationship with minority communities, it has been “progress backward”, not forward. Condoning, however passively and by default, the killing of your opposition is hardly an effective strategy for reconciliation and electoral success, at any level, Federal or otherwise. On this issue, perhaps more than any other, any effective GOP autopsy needs a “come-to-Jesus” moment to learn to value all lives, but most especially those the Party has so far worked especially hard to exclude and to disenfranchise. I would suggest that one place to start would be the renunciation of the present de facto Republican practice of knee-jerkingly approving, under color of “law enforcement,” any action by any police officer under any circumstances.

But, to be fair, Democrats have some corresponding work to do on their side of the electoral Continental Divide. I have been listening closely throughout this election season, and I have yet to hear one single Democratic pundit or opinion-leader / -maker engage in any serious investigation or reflection of just what it is that makes Trump voters tick. The almost universal tendency is to dismiss Trump voters as bib-all-wearing, tobacco-spitting, cousin-fornicating hillbillies who think the US is “a Christian country”. I say “almost” because the one, lone, solitary, and conspicuous exception to this willful ignorance is Michael Moore, who has spent time with refugees from the Rust Belt to understand Trump’s appeal – and who, contra Nate Silver & Co., as this is written, persists in predicting a Trump victory. (Actually, now that I pause to think about it, there is a second exception:  a recent New York Times column by conservative David Brooks apologizing for what he now recognizes as a condescending attitude toward Trump voters.) I hope he was wrong. I pray to Great Cthulhu and the Great Old Ones he was wrong. But even if he turns out to be wrong, he is / was asking the right questions, questions most liberal Democrats evidently considered beneath their dignity to even consider. Why? Because he takes seriously the reasons Trump voters vote(d) as they do (did). Trump voters are to the typical chardonnay-swilling, kale-eating Democrat what black and Hispanic folks are to country-club Republicans:  a lower species of political life. The greatest lesson for liberal Democrats of the Republican autopsy:  everyone’s story matters. Everyone’s.

800px-nasa_science_update_-_the_voyager_spacecraft_-_humanitys_farthest_journey_-_detailI could go on forever.  And by now, you probably think I already have. But there remains one point of the 2012 autopsy that is symptomatic of the dry rot currently eating at the foundations of the Republican Party, at all levels, not just the Federal.  The evidently endemic, DNA-encoded hostility to science that is characteristic of conservatives generally, but that by now could be exclusively copyrighted by the GOP.  I well recall, in the run-up to the 2008 election, an early GOP-candidates debate in which the moderator asked all the hopefuls lined up on stage to raise their hands if they rejected evolution. Best I recall, all hands went up. And, of course, in 2016, we all remember Dr. Carson's excoriation of the theories of the Big Bang and evolution as having been forged in the pits of Hell itself -- Carson being the same candidate who seriously theorized that the Egyptian Pyramids were built on Joseph's order to serve as great warehouses to store grain in preparation for the imminent Egyptian famine mentioned in Genesis. (Paradoxes abound:  Carson is a brain surgeon!) If you search for references to science literacy in the 2012 autopsy, you will be disappointed. Such references occur in only two places:  (1) a vague advocacy, in the 8th recommendation, of the establishment of an RNC fellows program to recruit data, digital, and tech “fellows” from college campuses, targeting potential graduates in fields such as computer science and mathematics; (2) the employment of more sophisticated statistical hardware and software to better track and predict voting patterns at successively finer levels of "granularity," an art whose practice both Obama presidential campaigns have dominated.  Not a word about science education.  Not a word about detaching the theory and practice of science from religious ideology.  And the scientific evidence for global climate change? Yeah ... right ... that's funnier than Abbott, Costello, and "Who's On First"!  Not a word about filtering out candidates whose abysmal ignorance of elementary reproductive biology leads them to assert publicly that women cannot become pregnant through rape. And this is the Party that purports to be competent to reform the teaching of science through RNC fellows in the STEM disciplines. My question:  Don't you have to believe in science before you can teach it, let alone claim competence to reform the teaching thereof?

I want the Republican Party -- or some future analogue thereof -- to succeed.  I really do.  The Nation needs an articulate, intelligent, informed, sophisticated, thoughtful opposition party for the sake of formulating alternatives.  In the British parliamentary system, this is known as the Loyal Opposition. For perhaps 20 years -- and even that may be optimistic -- the United States has only had an Arguably Disloyal (remember the Senators' contrarian letter to the Iranian government?) Obstruction (remember the shutting-down of the government?).  I believe it was the great Rabbi Hillel who remarked "If everyone pulled in the same direction, the world would tip over". So would the Nation.

Even if we, as I do, disagree with it most of the time, the Nation, for its own sake, needs a healthy Republican Party. I used to be a registered Republican.  I hope the day comes when I can again consider that as a viable alternative.  That would be a helluva lot easier than contemplating exhuming yet another grave.

James R. Cowles

Image credits
Elephant logo ... Republican Party ... Public domain
Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp ... Rembrandt van Rijn ... Public domain
Hispanic immigrant arrest ... Arasmus Photo ...  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
Black Lives Matter protest ... All-Nite Images ... Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic
Science ... NASA ... Public domain

 

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