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Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Republican reckoning

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From the time it was clear that Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee for president in 2016, I have warned my GOP friends — publicly and privately — that their party would eventually pay a steep price for his brand of politics. Some chose to ignore his tiresome, vitriolic, insipid, intemperate, bigoted and even dangerous antics. Some chose to rationalize or even normalize them. And, most ashamedly, some actively championed them. In the end, all of them are complicit in the disgrace that is the Trump presidency. 

Attorney General William Barr’s confirmation that there is no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election will — hopefully — be the death knell of the tortuous and tragic saga that his boss launched even as votes were still being counted. Indeed, now that Donald Trump’s defeat is certain, Republican leaders have belatedly begun to cast their gaze introspectively. They’re trying to determine what kind of post-Trump party should emerge.

Of course, one major challenge for Republicans is that Trump is likely to be around for the foreseeable future. Rather than disappear gracefully, as former presidents of both parties tend to do, he’ll be looking — lurking — over their shoulders. Some will welcome his dour and disruptive presence, at least until they commit some unforgiveable “transgression” (such as telling the truth). Others will, no doubt privately, lament that he won’t simply ride off into the sunset in a Trump-branded limousine. It’s not simply that Trump will cast a long shadow; it’s that his falling star will likely burn up everything in its wake. (Those who will be vying for the 2024 GOP nomination have to be ticked off about Trump’s teasing another run.)

Even with Trump out of the White House, “Trumpism” will continue unabated. The fact that more than 70 million Americans voted for him is a sobering reality. As I’ve repeatedly shared with my liberal friends, Trump voters (regardless of their eventual party label) are not going anywhere; the results of the 2020 congressional elections should confirm that. (And, yes, I’m aware that Republican-led voter suppression efforts in several states play a role.) 

This leads me back to my original point. The question is whether Republicans will fundamentally change — and I’m not solely talking about their support for Donald Trump. Will they continue to tolerate, and even tacitly endorse, the racism that routinely prevents roughly 90% of Black voters (and roughly 70-75% of other voters of color) from supporting them? Will they continue to embrace incumbents and candidates who openly peddle insane conspiracy theories? 

These questions are separate from the equally important — and inveterately sad — likelihood that they will continue to champion tax policies that substantially increase our national debt, burden the middle class, and disregard the poor and working class. Equally as likely, Republicans will continue to perpetuate the false dichotomy that we must choose between so-called “job-killing regulations” and a strong economy.

As the saying goes, Black folk don’t have permanent political allies; we have permanent political interests. In the not-too-distant past, Republicans had a legitimate opportunity to secure 25% or more of Black votes. Unfortunately, they chose to double down on Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” (which hasn’t been confined to the South). In short, for the past five decades the GOP has increasingly appealed to white supremacy, which is an increasingly shaky strategy as our nation’s demographics change. (Unfortunately, given this year’s election results, there is a distinct possibility that at least half of Hispanic voters might not care as much about racism as the overwhelming majority of Black voters do.)

Finally, the “steep price” to which I referred earlier is not confined to the voting booth. Republicans must decide the extent to which they care about character and morality — far beyond the core issue of abortion. What does their party actually stand for, as opposed to what they stand against? What will historians say about them? How do they want their descendants to view them? Only time will tell.

Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at larry@leaf-llc.com.

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