January 26, 2021

Impeachment and the Republican Party

After the American Century

It is not only Donald Trump who is on trial. The Republican Party spent four years overlooking his many illegal actions and bullying tactics. They will also be tested, and unfortunately they will probably disgrace themsleves. For they surrendered to Trumpism, with only a few exceptions. They wanted power more than they wanted truth. Now the 50 Republican Senators will have to decide if they care about how they will be remembered. Historians will not be kind to those who continue to support Trump,, who say that the election was rigged, who claim Trump really won, who pretend against all common sense and a great deal of evidence that the attack on the halls of Congress had so little to do with Trump that he is not responsible for it.  

Liquidation Sale, Trump Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City

Now I write this as someone who grew up in a Republican family, and whose father and mother were both elected as Republicans. My father was elected to the town school board and my mother was elected a Justice of the Peace. That was back in the 1960s, when many Republicans, including my parents, supported Civil Rights, full equality for women, and scientific research. My mother taught biology and my father taught engineering. They would be horrified to see what the Republican Party has become.

When Trump goes on trial, the big question is not whether or not he is guilty. He has committed so many crimes that whole books will be published analyzing them. The real question is whether the Republican Party can separate itself from his brutal tactics and his inability to tell the truth. 

Does that sound like an exaggeration? The Washington Post has made a list of the lies that Trump has told. They found that the number of  lies increased with each year.  Trump averaged six false statements a day during 2017, 16 a day in 2018, 22 a day in 2019, and 27 a day in 2020. By election day he had made about 25,000 false statements during his time in office, creating an alternative reality for this followers.

Many of these lies were exaggerations. The most common one was that the American economy was “the best in history.” By 2020 this escalated to the repeated claim that it was “the best economy in the history of the world.” The second most common lie – 262 times – was that the border wall with Mexico was being built. In fact, only a few miles of new wall had been built by May 2020. Fragments of existing barriers were rebuilt, but they were hardly impregnable. In 2020, Trump repeated 38 times that the wall was almost completed. The third most common lie was that his tax cut was the largest in American history, but economists calculated that it was the eighth largest, and not even one third as large as Ronald Reagan’s tax legislation in 1981. Trump did not explain to his crowds that the lion’s share of his tax cuts were for the wealthiest 2 percent of the population. (For more on Trump's presidency, see The United (and Divided) States,  especially the final three chapters.)

Lying became the basis of Trump's campaign and his most common form of attack on other people. Of course, the biggest lie was that he had won the election, but it had been stolen from him. It appears that after the election he was unable to separate that lie from the truth, a sad development for him, and a catastrophe for his followers and the Republican Party, which in the fall of 2020 was fast becoming more a cult than a political organization. 

When the impeachment process begins in two weeks, the central question will be whether the Republicans will continue to live a lie, or whether they can begin the harder process of acting like a political party again, a party that respects education and science, a party that argues from facts rather than invent convenient "alternative facts," a party that does not embrace extreme right-wing zealots who think it is patriotic to attack the Congress, or, in short, a party that people like my parents would recognize and want to be part of.  As for me, I gave up on the Republicans in the Richard Nixon years, though there were some honorable men and women among them. That was decades ago. It has now become a threat to democracy. May it find a way to reform itself. 

But don't hold your breath. The Trump brand is as bankrupt as his casino hotel in Atlantic City, but more than 60 million Republican voters could not see it.