The Republican Party’s back-to-the-future outlook — complete with know-nothing economics, disdain for women in power and race-baiting — does not allow for new ideas to surface. Indeed, to prevent even the possibility of policy innovation and creativity, Republicans have become fact-deniers and economic ignoramuses. (No climate change! Trade deficits are economic death!) The intellectual atrophy of a party once responsible for welfare reform, school choice and PAYGO (budget discipline, what a concept!) leaves it unable to respond to Trump’s right-wing populism, and worse, unable to advance a useful agenda.
Its current agenda — take away Obamacare; pass more tax cuts for the rich — is laughably unpopular, and worse, utterly disconnected from our current challenges.
James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute writes: “The modern Republican party came of age during the Reagan revolution and never advanced much beyond. In its world, it is forever 1980, taxes are always sky high and big government is always the problem. What Mr Trump’s candidacy and victory have brought is a different, yet equally harmful, strain of nostalgia. For him, America was last great in the 1950s and 1960s, the postwar decades of industrial supremacy and cultural homogeneity.”
Pethokoukis argues that neither unbridled capitalism nor Trumpian populism offer a way forward:
Imagine a modernized Republican party which understood that automation, not the weakening China trade shock, is the biggest threat to jobs. It would spend as much time fashioning serious education and work-support policies as it currently does pushing tax-cuts for the rich. A reformed party would seek to attract more foreign workers and entrepreneurs with a good chance of succeeding in an economy on the technological frontier. Perhaps most importantly, it would seek to accelerate growth by ensuring that tax, spending and regulatory reforms promote a competitive, not crony, capitalism.
I would add the following: Imagine a modernized Republican Party that takes wealth inequality seriously, as an impediment to social and political cohesion; seeks to unify the country with a re-commitment to our founding creed (“All men were created equal . . .”); accepts that no party or significant faction of the country wants “small government,” so that the great challenge is creating a government that works — and works for those most in need; embraces scientific reality and returns to its roots as a conservation party; expands the franchise (as its founder Abraham Lincoln did) with modernized voting reform; values and supports work; promotes economic and geographic mobility; and understands the country’s role as leader of the free world, which requires military power and defense of universal ideas.
Strangely, there are a bunch of things for which Trump and his ilk seem to have no nostalgia. It is those things we could use more of these days — a revival of public service, public morality, reverence for the institutions of democracy, character in our public officials and a reaffirmation of our country as a place that welcomes immigrants. (It is odd that Trump’s nostalgia only allows for those traits in our past that bolster his parochial, xenophobic and misogynistic views.)
It’s no secret that I’m skeptical of the GOP’s ability to clean house and regain its footing as a decent and useful national party. However, I very much agree that we need something or someone to get into the problem-solving mode. “America will not stop changing,” Pethokoukis warns. “And if the Democrats continue to edge leftward, and the Republicans get more Trumpy, space may open for a new movement. It would understand the [United States’] new economic realities but look forward for solutions — to dynamic market economics joined with social policy that makes sure workers are not left behind.” He argues, “America does not need a politics that fights over competing retrograde visions. It needs one that transcends them.”
Perhaps it really is time for a third party or independent candidate. If Democrats don’t get their act together, we’ll desperately need a sane, governing vision.
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