Unfortunately, it seems necessary to once again talk about Donald Trump.
Taking up journalistic pages to do this in what is probably the millionth published article about “how we got here” and “why Trump is bad” feels like picking low-hanging fruit. But while I think most readers of this article understand why Trump is a poor president, I do not have the same faith that American voters understand how and why he became president.
By and large — at least represented by conversations I have had and news coverage I have seen — voters and pundits alike seem to begin the Trump timeline in 2015, when he began his presidential campaign. What they attribute with responsibility for his nomination and election are the interference by the Russian government, the unwitting assistance of former FBI Director James Comey and “an abject failure of the Republican Party’s responsibility to the country” — this according to S. V. Dáte, from his new book, “The Useful Idiot: How Donald Trump Killed the Republican Party with Racism and the Rest of Us with Coronavirus,” excerpted last week in the Huffington Post.
Put more simply: Americans — mostly liberals — treat Trump’s election as though it exists in a vacuum, as though his presidency is the whole disease plaguing this country, rather than one symptom and the inevitable outcome of the decades-old political status quo.
Do you really want to know how we got here? If the answer is uncomfortable for you to learn, if it challenges your beliefs regarding America’s two major political parties, would you still want to know?
The last two weeks or so have been, for lack of a better word, very weird for Donald Trump — even weirder than normal.
According to a Vox article published September 5, his administration ordered federal anti-racism training to be ended, calling the training programs “anti-American propaganda” and “a sickness that cannot be allowed to continue.” Also on Sept. 5, an article published by CNN stated that Trump himself suggested to North Carolina voters — twice — that they attempt to vote twice in the November general election.
These articles followed reporting on even more bizarre and infuriating Trump events: the New York Times detailed Trump’s visit to Kenosha, Wisconsin, specifically his decision to replace a current business owner with the former owner of the same business, after the current owner declined his photo op; and NPR reported that the Trump administration announced that the United States won’t join the WHO-led coronavirus vaccine effort, possibly limiting when the U.S. will have access to a vaccine for the virus.
And representing the cherry on top of the unfortunate sundae, the Atlantic reported on Sept. 3 that in the past, Trump denigrated American war dead as “losers” and “suckers.”
All of this has been treated, like the rest of Trump’s presidency, both as infuriatingly beyond the pale and an anomaly. Surely any other Republican president wouldn’t stoop to this level. Surely if another member of the GOP were president — one more moderate of temper as well as politics — we wouldn’t be in the situation in which we find ourselves.
But they would. They have. And we would be no better off.
Donald Trump is viewed as a sickening wart on the face of our political system in part because of his penchant for saying exactly what’s on his mind — which can manifest in the form of overt racism, misogyny and many other forms of bigotry, as well as simple idiocy; his active denial of the facts of science and, lest we forget, the proven lies he has told to the American people about everything under the sun.
But out of all this, what, exactly, had the rest of the GOP not already done before the Trump presidency?
In terms of racism, the rest of the party have for decades been functionally worse than Trump. An article published by the Atlantic in July of 2019 detailed a phone call between then-President Richard Nixon and then-Governor of California Ronald Reagan, in which Reagan referred to African United Nations delegates as “monkeys” and stated that they were “still uncomfortable wearing shoes.” Nixon later called those same delegates “cannibals.”
When discussing an effective electoral strategy targeting the southern states, Lee Atwater, an advisor to Reagan, said in 1981: “By 1968 you can’t say ‘n*****’ — that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff.”
More recently, the Republican Party has — repeatedly and in many different states — attempted to gerrymander congressional districts to exclude or limit the electoral power of voters of color. Many of these attempts at gerrymandering have been ruled unconstitutional.
The GOP denied scientific fact long before Donald Trump even ran for president, but even that is a symptom of the greater issue of long-standing right-wing anti-intellectualism. In 1961 — nearly 60 years ago — prominent American conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. said: “I would rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the telephone directory than by the Harvard University faculty.”
This rejection of intellect and expertise has festered in the hearts of American conservatives for decades. According to Psychology Today, 53% of Republican U.S. Representatives and 74% of Republican Senators deny that the Earth’s climate is changing for the worse despite verifiable evidence. And while Trump’s denial of the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic has cost more than 190,000 American lives, there’s no telling how many millions more have died or will die due to drastic climate change.
Perhaps worst of all — because a political party should exist to serve the American people — are the lies told by the Republican Party over the past several decades. Nixon represents a treasure trove of the evils for which the GOP are responsible, and dishonesty is counted among them: he lied to America when he gave his infamous “I am not a crook” address, vehemently denying responsibility for the very crimes he really did commit.
And then, there are the most cunning and maddening lies told by Republicans in recent memory: those by George W. Bush and the rest of his administration which led the United States to invade Iraq.
I promise you, even all that I’ve detailed here already is only scratching the surface. American Republicans are responsible for more appalling and egregious offenses than I have the space to list here.
All this to say: Donald Trump was inevitable.
The bigotry, the anti-intellectualism, the lies — all of it was always going to lead to a president like Trump. He didn’t “kill” the Republican Party with anything, especially not racism (as asserted in the title of S. V. Dáte’s aforementioned new book) — the Republican Party laid bricks of racism, misogyny, homophobia, anti-intellectualism, dishonesty and so much more for the chariot of Donald Trump to glide over with ease.
Anyone — including Dáte — who says or even implies that the GOP as a whole are not slightly-less-raging bigots, liars and fascists than Trump is politically illiterate at best and actively lying to America at worst.
Ah, but even the GOP are not wholly to blame for the genesis of Donald Trump — but that will have to wait until next week.
Kyle Gombosi is a senior Music: Elective Studies major with a minor in journalism. KG806059@wcupa.edu