Old wounds threaten unity of our coun­try

The Sentinel-Record - - VIEWPOINTS - Micheal Gerson

WASH­ING­TON — In the spirit of the po­lit­i­cal sea­son, I want to claim credit for the most STUPENDOUS, INSIGHTFUL and POW­ER­FUL po­lit­i­cal strat­egy since Per­i­cles bound the DELIAN LEAGUE into an empire to re­sist THE

PER­SIANS. I urged vot­ers to sup­port rea­son­able Repub­li­can can­di­dates in the

Se­nate, and to vote for every

Demo­crat in House races.

And the coun­try rose up in

TO­TAL VIN­DI­CA­TION of my IDEOLOGICALLY INCOHERENT but PER­FECTLY PRAC­TI­CAL sug­ges­tion for strate­gic vot­ing.

Judged purely by its out­come, the 2018 midterm elec­tion was sig­nif­i­cantly north of ac­cept­able. Any evening in which fu­ture for­mer con­gress­man David Brat and ap­pears-to-be-ousted Dana Rohrabacher — who help con­sti­tute the right wing of GOP lu­nacy — feel de­jected is emo­tion­ally sat­is­fy­ing. The Demo­crat-con­trolled House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives will be a check on an ad­min­is­tra­tion in des­per­ate need of check­ing. At the same time, the Se­nate will con­tinue its orig­i­nal­ist shift in the fed­eral courts — the sup­port of which sep­a­rates con­ser­va­tive Never Trumpers from those who have sim­ply be­come lib­er­als.

With an eco­nomic growth rate above 3 per­cent, and an un­em­ploy­ment rate below 4 per­cent, and a rel­a­tively peace­ful world — and fol­low­ing a Supreme Court nom­i­na­tion bat­tle that ral­lied and united the GOP — the pres­i­dent and his party lost con­trol of the House. The #MeToo move­ment rolled along, bring­ing the voices of younger women to Wash­ing­ton. Democrats car­ried in­de­pen­dent vot­ers. The “blue wall” was par­tially re­con­structed in Michi­gan, Penn­syl­va­nia and Wis­con­sin. It was, by any stan­dard, a ma­jor de­feat for the Repub­li­can Party. Or, as Don­ald Trump calls it, a ma­jor vic­tory.

But this ac­cept­able midterm out­come dis­guised dis­turb­ing trends — like a pa­tient who is en­tirely healthy ex­cept for a touch of leukemia. Trump’s fi­nal po­lit­i­cal ap­peal — lit­er­ally warn­ing that brown peo­ple were in­vad­ing the coun­try and promis­ing they would be shot — was both Trump­ism and racism unadul­ter­ated. His base of sup­port — mil­lions of peo­ple, skew­ing white and male — found this mes­sage com­pelling. When he called his for­mer al­leged mis­tress a “horse­face,” or sep­a­rated mi­grant chil­dren from their par­ents, or rounded up mi­grant chil­dren in a desert prison camp, his sup­port­ers re­sponded “Hell yeah!” in sports bars and (God help us) evan­gel­i­cal churches across Trump coun­try. They did this be­cause Trump talks like them, and tells it like it is, and de­fies po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, and doesn’t take any crap from any­one — some of the most in­sipid jus­ti­fi­ca­tions in the his­tory of Amer­i­can pop­ulism. These ex­pla­na­tions make Free Sil­ver look like a com­pelling cause in com­par­i­son.

No se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal prog­nos­ti­ca­tor — and there are a few — thinks that this ap­peal to this group of shrink­ing vot­ers can pos­si­bly win na­tional elec­tions 10 or 20 years from now. By mak­ing the GOP the party of misog­yny, anger and big­otry, Trump is sys­tem­at­i­cally alien­at­ing large and grow­ing por­tions of the elec­torate. He is di­vid­ing old from young, and white from mi­nor­ity, and men from women, and ru­ral from ur­ban. And when Repub­li­cans are left with a po­lit­i­cal coali­tion con­cen­trated among ag­ing, paunchy, male Cau­casians (my de­mo­graphic group), Trump will be long gone from pol­i­tics. Like many nar­cis­sists, he will leave a trail of ruin be­hind him, and care not one whit.

Trump has not found a new and creative way to win. He is ral­ly­ing a coali­tion that was at its most po­tent in 1988 for one, last, bit­ter, alien­at­ing hur­rah. He may un­der­mine the vi­a­bil­ity of the Repub­li­can Party in the process. More than that, he has ripped open old wounds of race and gen­der that threaten the unity and jus­tice of our coun­try.

Democrats have now been given a stage, a plat­form, to demon­strate a bet­ter way. But they have a fate­ful choice. On one hand, they could elect an off-putting, po­lar­iz­ing House speaker from the past, prove un­able to dis­tin­guish be­tween use­ful over­sight and par­ti­san ha­rass­ment, and be riven by in­ter­nal de­bate over im­peach­ment af­ter spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s re­port. Or … OK, let’s face it; Democrats will do all these self-de­struc­tive things. It is the shared ad­dic­tion of re­cent Amer­i­can pol­i­tics to in­ter­pret par­ti­san wins as op­por­tu­ni­ties to achieve ab­so­lute ide­o­log­i­cal vic­tory, rather than build a broader coali­tion.

The most im­por­tant test will come in the 2020 pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion process, which has al­ready be­gun. Here is the hard, po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity for Democrats, un­changed by their re­cent House vic­tory: Faced with a choice be­tween a scary, quasi-so­cial­ist cul­ture war­rior of the left and a scary, right-wing, na­tivist buf­foon, Amer­ica’s cur­rent pres­i­den­tial elec­torate may well choose the lat­ter. And this would grant a racist dem­a­gogue the BIG­GEST VIC­TORY OF HIS LIFE.

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