Political parties blow up. That’s a fact of life. But not all political explosions are similar and this year’s nuclear meltdown of the Republican Party is unique in the United States and, I’m sure, terrifying to other countries who depend upon our, well, dependability to keep the peace, ensure economic tranquility and to fight against injustice most of the time.
Consider. When the Democrats blew up in 1972, the issue was the Vietnam War and the influence of the far left wing, many of whose adherents were communists. That year’s nominee, George McGovern, a Senator from South Dakota, was not the party’s first choice, but since Nixon’s dirty tricks campaign had eliminated Edmund Muskie and scared off Ted Kennedy, this is what the Democrats were left with. Add to the fact that Nixon was popular after having gone to China in February and that the GOP had wads of (unregulated, illegal, corporate) cash, the race was going to be an uphill climb for McGovern. Then he made the mistake of naming a semi-vetted running mate, Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri as his VP. When word got out that he had undergone shock therapy and had to drop out, any momentum McGovern was going to get was gone. His policies veered too far to the left and the pictures of long-haired, drug-taking hippie freaks in Nixon attack ads pretty much sealed his fate. Watergate hastened the return of the party in 1976, behind a religious, centrist Jimmy Carter, but that was just the drain plug that couldn’t hold back the conservative tide that won three elections in the 1980s.
Ah, the good old days.
The Republican Party’s descent into political hell that Donald Trump is leading makes 1972 seem like a peaceful transition in a Scandinavian country. His especially noxious brand of politics, which by the by has been on display from Day 1 of his campaign, is unprecedented for a presidential campaign in this country. He has decided that the issues don’t matter, except to point out that he would arrest and jail his Democratic opponent, arrest millions of immigrants, and build the wall with Mexican money. Everything else he’s said over the past week has been offensive, sexist, contradictory, or just plain unintelligible.
His focus on women’s looks and bodies is a reminder that we not only continue to have a race problem, we have a gender problem in the United States. We also seem to have a problem understanding how destructive words and actions can be and we also have a problem realizing that words can be equal to an assault if they cause someone to change their physical or psychic behavior. The latest right wing defense of his words seems to rely on the fact that he didn’t act on them, and that those women who said that he did act on them should have reported them contemporaneously. But that’s not how power relationships and bullying work. Plus, in some ways, it’s easier to let it go if that person, and Trump certainly is one of those people, might have control over your financial or personal future.
And his incessant talk about physical appearance is beyond any locker room I’ve been in. Men joke, men comment, men wish, men hope, men beg, but decent men do not talk about grabbing, groping, or physically assaulting women, and if they do, most of the time they get called on it. Trump’s comments saying that he would not have tried anything with the women who’ve accused him of lewd behavior because they aren’t attractive enough for him is far beyond the bounds of respectable behavior. Forget about disqualifying him to be president; that behavior should disqualify him from being an employee at any corporation with a functioning Human Relations department.
It’s a good thing that he’s going to lose badly, but the terrible part is that he’s going to drag down our political culture over the next three weeks. he will not discuss issues and he won’t allow Hillary Clinton to say much about policy in the final debate this Wednesday. He will likely challenge the results of the election and I’m assuming he won’t concede in the traditional manner. What we as decent citizens of this country need to do is to explain to our young people that this election is an anomaly, and that it should wake us up to the danger of any candidate who objectifies groups of people, shames them or speaks dismissively of them.
This quote never gets old: “Have you no decency, sir?”0