It should drive all of us crazy that the friend of authoritarians and despots currently occupying the White House not only wants to be our president forever, but also immediately flipped into groundless attacks against his political opponents.
“We caught them doing some really bad things in 2016,” Trump said. “Let’s see what happens.” In Trump’s world, political opponents are more than an opposition. They’re the enemy.
Thus, in the opening hours of the first day of the GOP convention, the president ratified the dire warnings that former president Barack Obama offered at the Democrats’ conclave last week. Obama spoke of “how a democracy withers until it’s no democracy at all,” and told the country: “Don’t let them take away your democracy.”
Those who fear Trump’s authoritarianism are not alarmists, nor are they paranoid. And it’s not just his “12 more years” shout. He has something larger in common with autocrats, who typically either create one-person parties of their own (as Trump’s friend Vladimir Putin did with his United Russia party) or reduce once-vibrant political parties to personality cults (see: Viktor Orban in Hungary).
The Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan has done this to itself. Formally. The day before the convention opened, the Republican National Committee (RNC) approved a resolution announcing there would be no new party platform until 2024.
The RNC claimed it did so because of the reduced size of the convention, caused by the pandemic. Thus, it “did not want a small contingent of delegates formulating a new platform without the breadth of perspectives within the ever-growing Republican movement.”
In place of a platform, the committee voted Trump a blank policy check. “The RNC enthusiastically supports President Trump and continues to reject the policy positions of the Obama-Biden Administration, as well as those espoused by the Democratic National Committee today,” the resolution affirmed. “The Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda.”
Putin and other strongmen around the world must have smiled at this endorsement of one-man politics by a political party that once prided itself on being principled. Over its long history, the Republican Party had often engaged in spirited battles over ideas, even at the risk of losing elections. The struggles of the 1912 and 1964 GOP conventions involved passionate debates over deep philosophical differences.
Republican platforms past said bold things. The 1860 platform adopted by the convention that nominated Lincoln stoutly declared against the spread of slavery. “We deny the authority of Congress, of a territorial legislature, or of any individuals, to give legal existence to slavery in any territory of the United States,” the platform declared.
Reagan’s 1980 platform was as clear as could be about many issues, including taxes: “The Republican Party supports across-the-board reductions in personal income tax rates, phased in over three years, which will reduce tax rates from the range of 14 to 70 percent to a range from 10 to 50 percent.”
Big tax cuts for the rich are not my idea of great policy. But no one could claim that the Republicans didn’t tell the voters exactly what they had in mind.
Naturally, the 2020 RNC also voted to say that anyone on the outside who had problem with its default in expressing any ideas at all was ... partisan. Especially the press.
“The media has outrageously misrepresented the implications of the RNC not adopting a new platform in 2020,” its resolution thundered, “and continues to engage in misleading advocacy for the failed policies of the Obama-Biden Administration, rather than providing the public with unbiased reporting of facts.”
I don’t blame the Republicans for being so defensive.
It’s embarrassing for a party to go to the voters with nothing to say. Who really wants anyone noting that your party has placed its fate entirely into the hands of a man who leads crowds in affirming his desire to stay in office indefinitely? You really hope your timidity won’t be compared to the boldness of your forebears.
“Having thus set forth our distinctive principles and views, we invite the co-operation of all citizens,” the 1860 Republican platform gallantly concluded.
The only thing 2020 Republicans have set forth is their blind and absolute loyalty to Donald Trump.
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