It’s Trump’s party now — and will be even after he’s gone
Discussing the risks of reopening his state last month on Fox News, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) declared, “There are more important things than living.” The comment was revealing. President Trump’s manic, malicious and mismanaged presidency constantly captures our attention, and he’s often treated as some kind of grotesque outlier. But while Trump emits his own unique forms of venom, he is a reflection of, not a contrast to, today’s Republican Party. On the central challenges facing the country, the Republican Party, like Trump, is unending in its cruelty.
With 34 million people filing for unemployment since mid-March, state budgets are cratering as expenses caused by the pandemic soar and every form of revenue collapses.
When Trump initially indicated his willingness to provide aid to states and localities, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) reined him in, dismissing the crisis as a “blue state” mismanagement problem. Trump immediately flipped and started echoing the majority leader.
Then McConnell announced his one priority for action: a complete legal shield for corporations in coronavirus cases, protecting even those who negligently expose workers or consumers to unsafe conditions. As reported in the American Prospect, one day after Utah Republicans passed immunity into state law, reports emerged of two separate businesses that had been telling staff to ignore quarantine guidelines. The result: 68 employees have contracted the virus.
What about the unemployed? A stunning proportion have still not received payment from state unemployment offices drowning under the huge demand. At the end of July, the expanded benefit provided in the Cares Act will expire, as will some state unemployment programs. The obvious answer would be for Congress to pass mortgage and rent moratoriums and extend unemployment benefits. This will happen, Republican Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) announced, “over our dead bodies.” With 40 percent of mothers with children under 13 reporting that they lack sufficient food, Republicans also have opposed any expansion of food stamps. Lawmakers like Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.) are apparently more worried about creating “a moral hazard for people to be on welfare” than the real hazard of children going hungry. If Graham and his party have their way, sadly, the dead bodies — from despair, drugs, disease — will be those of others.
The pandemic has also exposed the weaknesses of America’s health-care system and highlighted Republicans’ dearth of solutions. Millions lost their health insurance when they lost their jobs in the midst of a pandemic. Millions more never had health insurance in the first place. All of us have a stake in everyone having the confidence to go to the hospital if they have symptoms of the virus. But many are afraid to do so. Many can’t afford to leave their jobs, and Republican legislators have blocked efforts to extend paid sick leave to everyone. The unemployed who had insurance are forced either to pay the full tab of extending it — an unaffordable expense for many — or to go onto a plan offered through the Affordable Care Act. But Republicans refused to extend the sign-on period for the ACA, and Republican state attorneys general continue, with the Trump administration’s help, their lawsuit to have the courts declare the ACA unconstitutional. Somehow even a pandemic hasn’t dulled the Republican appetite for overturning President Barack Obama’s health-care plan, even though what Trump dubbed the “party of health care” still has offered no alternative to it.
And then there’s our democratic system itself. Trump’s tactics of lies, slanders and personal assaults get the attention, but Republicans across the country are systematically weakening our democracy. A minority party, they have perfected instruments to suppress or distort the vote: voter purges, gerrymandering, hurdles to registration, restrictions on early voting and more. Now, in the midst of the pandemic, many are intent on blocking vote by mail, on the assumption that their voters are more willing to risk their health to cast a ballot in person.
Or consider climate change, the greatest real and present threat to our security after the pandemic. Trump, of course, has boisterously scorned the very existence of climate change, eagerly withdrawing the country from the Paris climate accords. For years, the vast majority of Republicans echoed that. Now, with the oil companies conceding to reality, the right is finally putting forth its own climate change policies. But its plan is more subsidies to the fossil fuel industries to develop ways to capture the carbon they produce, planting more trees and cleaning up plastics. Missing is any mention of renewable energies like solar or wind, or of taxing emissions to reduce them. Republicans from the White House to the state houses are too in bed with the oil and gas companies to come even close to a rational response to climate change.
The problem isn’t Trump alone. The media reports that Republican legislators privately shake their heads and roll their eyes at Trump’s outrages. But with rare and noble exceptions, Republican politicians in general defend the indefensible and promote the problematic. On the emergency, the economy, our security, our democracy, they simply are wrongheaded. Whether because of tribalism, excessive partisanship, their money sources, the Fox News-Rush Limbaugh right-wing media frenzy or a combination of all those factors, the Republican Party of Eisenhower, much less Lincoln, is gone. Now it is Trump’s party and will be, even after he’s gone.