In recent Soundings, I have argued that the United States has fallen into a governance crisis occasioned disproportionately by the Republican Party’s choice to mobilize voters by fear and lies. That is, one of the nation’s political parties and its leaders have led the country into crisis by their chosen strategy to galvanize voters via lies and fearmongering and by their apparent decision to stop at nothing to maintain their control of the nation’s governing institutions. President Donald Trump, and the Republican Party following him, systematically lie, mislead and foster fear among voters to obtain their support and encourage them to go to the polls.
Donald Trump has lately embraced the physical assault of a journalist by a congressional candidate in Montana, declaring, at a campaign rally, “Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of — he’s my guy” and also engaged in what many analysts have rightly described as a tirade of Tweets concerning Stephanie Clifford, known also by her stage name of Stormy Daniels, with whom he stands accused of having an extramarital affair and then paying her hush money to cover it up.
I write as the nation just witnessed the final stage of what might politely be labeled the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination debacle. President Donald Trump insisted on nominating the Appeals Court judge and GOP Senate leaders embraced his choice with a fierce partisan devotion only affected slightly by the emergence of several allegations of sexual assault against the nominee that purportedly occurred while he was in high school and college. The most public and poignant of these was advanced by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Nonetheless, the Senate confirmed Kavanaugh to a seat on the United States Supreme Court on an almost completely partisan vote.
In what might be described as a prophetic plea, the late theologian and activist William Sloane Coffin argued in 2004 that the United States should end its efforts at a war of retribution in Iraq and Afghanistan for the September 11, 2001 attacks. Coffin contended that those conflicts, launched in the name of revenge, were both poor policy and, in practice, antithetical to our nation’s dedication to human rights. On his first point, time has suggested he was surely correct, as the rationale for U.S. intervention in Iraq particularly, has been shown to be false and therefore its actions were illegal under international law. Neither war made sense in light of the nation’s existing policies.
Recent days have seen the death of and ringing memorials for Senator John McCain, of Arizona, who endured years of torture during the Vietnam conflict and went on to serve for more than 40 years in the United States Senate and twice to serve as the Republican Party’s presidential standard bearer. The country has also witnessed a set of U.S. Senate hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and President Donald Trump’s nominee for the United States Supreme Court, in which the Republican Party sought to withhold more than 400,000 pages of documents pertinent to understanding that judge’s professional background and likely temperament, were he to be confirmed for the high Court.
Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the obvious and occasionally we read something or converse with someone who shines a spotlight on the proverbial elephant in the room. I had just such a moment when reading a column by the conservative columnist Ross Douthat in The New York Times. Douthat used his essay, “The White Strategy,” to assess the Trump campaign and GOP electoral strategy to increase racial polarization to mobilize voters in 2016 and currently. Douthat carefully parsed Trump’s electoral margins and racialized rhetoric targeted to key demographic groups in 2016 in several midwestern states (which resulted in his Electoral College victory).
One of the great puzzles of the Trump presidency is why his supporters and his adopted political party continue to accept his ludicrous lies and assent to whatever he argues, however fantastic. Logic and reason do not explain why so many Americans are willing to countenance Trump’s continued attacks on journalists, for example, as lying conspiracy promoters and “enemies of the people.” These baseless claims, assaults on the very foundations of a free people, demand much cognitively of those adopting them to rationalize them, since they are so completely discordant with reality.
An acquaintance likes to describe the Old Testament Hebrew prophet Amos as the “truck driver” of the Bible’s seers, as he was straightforward, plain-spoken and fierce about his values and views. Those included, accurately, a belief that the northern kingdom of Israel would be destroyed. He was active as a prophet for only perhaps five years of his life (circa 750 BC) and was a vigorous critic of the Israelite rulers of that time.