GOP lu­nacy in high places

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - Michael Ger­son

— The great Repub­li­can crackup has be­gun.

There is a grow­ing group of Don­ald Trump par­ti­sans, in­clud­ing for­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich, Rush Lim­baugh and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Then there are Repub­li­can of­fi­cials who pub­licly sup­port Trump and pri­vately hope he will lose in Novem­ber — a group that could only be counted via lie de­tec­tor, but I would test Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell first. And there are Trump op­po­nents and skep­tics, in­clud­ing the 41st pres­i­dent, the 43rd pres­i­dent, Jeb Bush, Mitt Rom­ney, Sen. Ben Sasse of Ne­braska and House Speaker Paul Ryan. Ryan, in par­tic­u­lar, is pro­vid­ing air cover for the un­con­vinced.

What com­mon views or traits unite the most vis­i­ble Trump par­ti­sans? A group in­clud­ing Lim­baugh and Christie is not pri­mar­ily de­fined by ide­ol­ogy. Rather, the Trumpians share a dis­dain for “coun­try-club” Repub­li­cans (though for­mer House Speaker John Boehner ap­par­ently likes Trump be­cause they were golf­ing bud­dies).They tend to be white and mid­dle-aged. They are filled with re­sent­ment.

Above all, they de­test weak­ness in them­selves and oth­ers. The coun­try, in their view, has grown soft and fee­ble. Their op­po­nents are losers, lack­ing in en­ergy. Rather than de­spis­ing bul­ly­ing — as Ryan, Rom­ney and all the Bushes do — they el­e­vate it. The strong must take power, defy po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, hu­mil­i­ate and de­feat their op­po­nents and re­verse the na­tion’s slide to­ward medi­ocrity.

There have al­ways been politi­cians who de­spise weak­ness and the weak. Richard Nixon and Lyndon John­son are ex­am­ples. They were not al­ways bad at gov­ern­ing, but they were bad hu­man be­ings who came to a bad end.

This type of lead­er­ship can mo­ti­vate, usu­ally through re­sent­ment and anger. What it can­not do is in­spire. In­spir­ing lead­ers are of­ten those who iden­tify with the weak. They may de­velop this trait by ris­ing from poverty them­selves, like Abra­ham Lin­coln did. Or they may have had their ca­pac­ity for em­pa­thy ex­panded by suf­fer­ing, such as Franklin Roo­sevelt’s strug­gle with po­lio. In Amer­i­can his­tory, in­spir­ing lead­er­ship has of­ten been in­formed by re­li­gion, which (at its best) uni­ver­sal­izes our em­pa­thy.

This is the main rea­son that some of us can­not sim­ply lump it and reluc­tantly lend our sup­port to Trump. The Repub­li­can Party is not en­gaged in a pol­icy ar­gu­ment; it is de­bat­ing the pur­pose of pol­i­tics. For some


Trump op­po­nents, the jus­tice of a po­lit­i­cal sys­tem is de­ter­mined by its treat­ment of the vul­ner­a­ble and weak. In the Catholic tra­di­tion, this is called “sol­i­dar­ity.” What­ever you call it, this com­mit­ment is in­con­sis­tent with a type of pol­i­tics that beats up on the vul­ner­a­ble and weak — say, un­doc­u­mented work­ers, or Mus­lims — for po­lit­i­cal gain.

Those who ac­cuse Trump op­po­nents of elitism are en­gaged in a par­tic­u­larly men­da­cious slur. Trump is at­tempt­ing to place na­tivism at the cen­ter of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. Those who re­sist are not en­forc­ing the rules of a pri­vate club. Many — in­clud­ing re­li­gious peo­ple in poor and work­ing-class com­mu­ni­ties — are de­fend­ing a vi­sion of pol­i­tics in which em­pa­thy is hon­ored and the weak are placed first. They are op­pos­ing a can­di­date who mocks the dis­abled, de­means women, en­gages in eth­nic stereo­typ­ing and en­cour­ages re­li­gious big­otry.

Those who re­gard this tawdry mix of vul­gar­ity and cru­elty as typ­i­cal of any so­cial class are en­gaged in a par­tic­u­larly of­fen­sive form of con­de­scen­sion. Hat­ing losers and the weak is fun­da­men­tally in­con­sis­tent with Chris­tian ethics, and other sources of moral judg­ment, in ev­ery in­come quin­tile.

Make no mis­take. Those who sup­port Trump, no mat­ter how reluc­tantly, have crossed a moral bound­ary. They are stand­ing with a leader who en­cour­ages prej­u­dice and de­spises the weak. They are aid­ing the trans­for­ma­tion of a party formed by Lin­coln’s blaz­ing vi­sion of equal­ity into a party of white re­sent­ment. Those who find this one of the nor­mal, ev­ery­day com­pro­mises of pol­i­tics have truly lost their way.

This is not even to men­tion Trump’s pledge to limit press free­dom, or his ma­li­cious birtherism, or his dan­ger­ous vac­cine skep­ti­cism, or his eco­nomic plans that would bring global re­ces­sion, or his lack of rel­e­vant qual­i­fi­ca­tions, or his tem­per­a­ment of brood­ing and brag­ging, ego­tism and self-pity, or his prom­ise to eman­ci­pate the world from Amer­i­can lead­er­ship, or his ac­cu­sa­tion that Ted Cruz’s fa­ther was some­how in­volved with Lee Har­vey Freak­ing Oswald.

Some are try­ing their best to act as though all this were nor­mal. But we are see­ing, in the words of G.K. Ch­ester­ton, “lu­nacy danc­ing in high places.” None of this re­quires a vote for Hil­lary Clin­ton. But it for­bids a vote for Don­ald Trump.

Michael Ger­son is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at michael­ger­son@wash­

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