Donald Trump: The Inevitable Republican

[Content note: privilege, racism, anti-gay slur]

In October 2016, Melissa wrote a piece discussing how Donald Trump is not an anomalous Republican politician, but an inevitable one. Specifically:
"Over decades, [Republicans] developed and fine-tuned a strategy based on appealing to bigotry, to othering and scapegoating and victim-blaming. And then they dressed it up in cynical language about morality, patriotism, and nostalgia.

Long before Donald Trump had the chutzpah to make it his actual campaign slogan, the Republican Party was promising to Make America Great Again."
This promise, of course, was and continues to be made by appealing to the days of yore in which straight white cis people, especially men, didn't have to leave their bubbles of privilege and care about people not like themselves.

In the lead-up to Election 2016, this rejection of empathy for others was widely expressed by Donald Trump's "Fuck Your Feelings*" brigade of supporters (*this was an actual t-shirt some Trump supporters wore). This rejection of what's commonly called "political correctness" is not new, but is a continuation of the long-time Republican strategy of using support for civil rights, affirmative action, LGBT rights, and other so-called "identity politics" as wedge issues to get people to vote against their own economic interests, against an "other" to be feared, and in support of continued white (cis, male, hetero) supremacy.

As being labeled a bigot has become something that many people fear more than actually being bigoted, Republicans have also long employed dog-whistle politics. These are the coded appeals to bigotry that serve as a wink-and-a-nod that allow the base and politicians alike plausible deniability to feign outrage when "oversensitive" offended parties "uncharitably" call out bigotry.

For instance, think of the way many Republicans referred to President Obama as Barack Hussein Obama. What? they'd say. That's his full name, what's the big deal? The defense is stripped of the context in which there's an entire birther movement, predicated in part on his middle name, to deny President Obama's religious beliefs and US citizenship. Or, think of the way some anti-gay people call gay rights "fashionable" or "decadent." Because, get it, gay men are fashion queens and equality is a trivial matter, like the latest trends. What's the big deal? they'd say. It's not like we're saying fag?

And, on top of the dog whistles are layers of tone respectability. That is, the notion that as long as any number of bigoted statements are whistled in a sufficiently polite manner—no cursing, no vulgarity, no obvious slurs—then the substance itself is polite. Think of the massive fawning over Trump for appearing "disciplined" and "presidential" for giving a speech without, say, referencing the size of his genitals.

And now, here we are.

For those keeping score at home, Republicans currently hold 52 seats in the US Senate.

If Trump were an outlier with respect to Republican values, an anomaly so to speak, Republican Senators could exercise their powers to stop him on matters over which they had diverging opinions and had authority to do so.

Thus far, they have shown little inclination to do so.

The Senate has now held 18 confirmation votes on Trump's Cabinet nominees. Per The New York Times' ongoing tally, 45 Republicans have voted "yes" on every nominee. Three Republicans have voted "no" once. Only one Republican has voted "no" twice.

Notable confirmed Cabinet members include Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price who has repeatedly sought to repeal the ACA, Attorney General Jeff Sessions whose nomination was celebrated by white supremacist David Duke and who was deemed too racist to serve on the federal bench in the 1980s, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt who believes the debate on climate change is "far from settled" and has advocated against the EPA, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a billionaire political donor who seems to have no clear plan on how to improve public schools.

Republican Senator John McCain, whom the media often breathlessly reports as being variations of "mad as hell" about Trump, only voted "no" on one of Trump's Cabinet picks.

Republicans have also indicated their support for Trump's Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch, whom they see as "the intellectual heir to the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia." Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has even referred to the evening Trump announced his pick of Gorsuch as "one of the happiest of [his] Senate career," coming as it did after McConnell led the Republican stonewalling of President Obama's pick, Merrick Garland, for a year.

It is no surprise, particularly to those on the receiving end of Republican retrograde policies, that Republicans would widely support Trump's Cabinet picks or a deeply-conservative jurist. What can be a surprise is when the mask of respectability slips.  Remember, if you will, a couple of weeks ago when Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell referred to those protesting outside of his office as "losers."

To witness a leader of one of the major political parties in the US refer to people exercising their constitutional rights as "losers" is to witness language that is Trumpian in both tone and substance.

It's within the realm of possibility that McConnell has long thought of those who don't support him as "losers," but to hear him say it .... welp!  I'll just say that I don't view this apparent contempt with which McConnell holds the populace as something that Trump has uniquely ushered in. Rather, Trump's electoral college win has demonstrated that open contempt, rather than dog-whistle contempt, is a winning strategy.

Trump is not transforming the Republican Party into something it was not before. He is revealing what it has long been. And so, I would call Trump a mainstream Republican, not because he is not extremely regressive. But rather, because the Republican party widely is. Trump fits into it as a retrograde inevitability. He says out loud what cowardly Republicans think but don't dare say. To his fans, he represents what they want: to speak bigotry without consequence.

Meanwhile, many unanswered questions about Trump's ties to Russia, and his own potential collusion with both Putin and Wikileaks in helping secure his electoral college win, continue to linger. These questions have deep implications for the integrity of our electoral process, our political system, and our sovereignty.

Also meanwhile, Republican politicians appear to have the back of this man, a man who treats 60-some-million of us as "losers" and "enemies." Republicans have long marketed themselves as Team Real America and yet how on Earth can we trust any of them to support a fair, independent investigation, especially when their own political interests so clearly converge with Trump's?

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