Whom among us, upon hearing of the grave and perhaps existential threats now facing the Republican Party, is entirely immune to the siren song of schadenfreude? Who from the liberal classes can entirely resist the temptation, when reading about the bitter divisions now rending the GOP, to mutter, "Now that's a god damn shame," and then issue forth with a soft and mordant chuckle?
And as Donald Trump spirals down ever further, his descent into humiliation propelled by his own pheromonal and lubricious self-regard, what right-thinking human being can resist whispering a quaint saying of yesteryear? You know the one:
It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
Any description of today's Republican right needs a trigger warning, and this one's no exception. We keep getting additional revelations of Trump abuses, each more shocking than the last. As of this writing, the latest involve new charges of sexual assault and the backstage ogling of half-dressed (or less) teenaged girls.
And as Trump dominated the airwaves, an unexplained rash of scary-clown sightings was reported across the United States. These are strange times indeed for the American psyche.
As the nation learned more about the GOP nominee, his poll numbers fell faster than the revenue projections in a Trump bankruptcy proceeding. Republicans began falling all over themselves to repudiate their leader’s behavior – even though many still endorsed his candidacy. Their motto? “Hate the sin, love the candidate.”
Their professed outrage mustn’t become a "get out of jail free" card for their own misogyny and bigotry. Trump is not an aberration in the Republican Party’s history. He is its culmination, the poisonous fruit of a foul plant. He is his party’s sniffling, lascivious id.
Parties, like people, eventually get the face they deserve. The Republicans deserve Trump’s – a face that took on so many hostile expressions in the last debate that they could have illustrated the Big Book of American Scowls. His is the face of the true GOP, the red, angry, babylike yowling face of the American right.
They’re Dorian Gray, and Trump is their picture.
Some Republican donors who contributed to the Trump campaign are now reportedly asking for their money back. They’ve forgotten the old capitalist maxim: You break it, you buy it.
Meanwhile, many of the male Republican politicians rejecting Trump said his behavior offended them as “the fathers of daughters,” a posture that’s patriarchal and possessive – not to mention hypocritical.
Where was their concern for America’s women – their daughters or anyone else’s – when their Republican colleagues in Virginia were trying to force women to undergo the invasive procedure known as a transvaginal ultrasound as punishment for behavior they didn’t like? Trump may have spoken of grabbing women’s bodies, but they tried to do the same thing with their legislative authority, rather than their hands.
Where was their concern for the women of America when the Republican attorney general in Kansas was attempting to pry open women’s most private medical records?
Where were they when the Republican economic agenda began disproportionately harming women?
New York Times columnist David Brooks, who expresses horror at Trump’s deeds, nevertheless says he’s “experiencing feelings of deep sadness and pity” toward him. He imagines Trump in a lonely life, longing for human connection. But I suspect Trump dwells contentedly in a solipsistic black hole, blind to empathy and unable to truly comprehend the existence of others.
He's not the first Republican to fit that description.
Brooks also broods over right-wing anti-Trump commentator Erick Erickson. Erickson writes that he and his wife are ill, and that his family has been subjected to terrible expressions of hatred from Trump supporters. That's awful. I’m truly sorry to hear it.
But there is a through line between Trump’s bigotry and misogyny and that of right-wing commentators like Erickson. Erickson called Texas State Senator Wendy Davis “Abortion Barbie,” said the First Lady of the United States was a “Marxist harpy wife,” and described women seeking medical care as “pregnant female animals.” Erickson defended a club that refused entry to a woman and described the first night of the 2012 Democratic convention as “the vagina monologues.”
Women weren’t his only targets. Erickson described a retiring Supreme Court Justice as a “goat f**king child molester,” threatened to pull “his wife’s shotgun” on a minor government functionary, and celebrated the thought of violence against peaceful protestors. He called LGBT activists “terrorists.” Even after a mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility, Erickson inflamed emotions by calling Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards “America’s own version of Josef Mengele,” falsely claiming that the organization “chops up children and harvests their body parts for sale."
In other words, Erickson's a typical right-wing pundit. His vitriol was celebrated, not condemned, among conservatives.
Erickson’s comments, like those of so many other right-wingers, were so hateful and vulgar they could have come from Trump himself. Erickson says he regrets not speaking out sooner against Trump. Perhaps he could atone instead for contributing to the climate that made Trump possible.
As for the GOP, how did it wind up in a civil war? The Los Angeles Times’ Lisa Mascaro explains that gerrymandering is a major factor. Republican House members, safely ensconced in right-leaning white districts, have become increasingly extremist, indulging in ever-escalating Ericksonian rhetoric.
GOP Senate members face a more diverse electorate. It is these Republicans, along with national figures like House Speaker Paul Ryan, who find themselves struggling with the orange-faced specter who leads their party.
Trump-Republican misogyny reached new heights when FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver reported that Trump would win the election with 350 electoral votes – if women weren't allowed to vote. Trump leads by 11 points among men, but is losing by 33 points among women. That spurred a number of Trump supporters to create a #Repealthe19th hasthtag on Twitter. (The 19th Amendment gave women the vote.)
More traditional Republicans are horrified by such overt misogyny and bigotry. They prefer theirs slightly more discrete, or wrapped in Erickson's flimsy veneer of faux irony. And they're willing to stand up against their own nominee - if only symbolically - to say so.
But then, we all live in a house divided. Silver's statistics show that we're divided by gender. We're also divided by age. More young Americans voted for Bernie Sanders in the primaries than voted for Clinton and Trump combined – considerably more, in fact.
“There is a war between the young and old,” sang Leonard Cohen, “there is a war between the men and the women.”
Racial and religious divisions also haunt us. African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, Jews, and other groups are far more heavily Democratic that white Christian males.
What should Democrats do? Should she win the presidency, there is the very real risk that Hillary Clinton and her party will view it as a mandate to govern from the political “center” – that is to say, from the consensus viewpoint of elites from both parties.
That would be a mistake. Bipartisan revulsion for Mr. Trump, should it win the day, must not be mistaken for an embrace of the bipartisan elite’s austerity agenda.
The WikiLeaks emails released last week show that, at least a few years ago, Hillary Clinton and her advisors were sympathetic to the deficit hysteria, Social Security cuts, and other budget-reduction fixations in the “Simpson Bowles” plan.
Hopefully they’ve evolved, as the party's platform suggests, because that’s not the way to unite our divided nation. According to polls, Americans across the political spectrum could embrace an agenda that expands, rather than cuts, Social Security; creates jobs, rather than cuts spending; and restores the shredded social contract by raising wages, strengthening benefits, and blocking bad trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Victorious Democrats will need to look across our generational, racial, and gender divides, toward the concerns and causes that unite us. They won’t find them in the old elite, patriarchal consensus.
Yes, the Republicans are fighting a civil war. But so are we all. If the Democrats are to forge a lasting coalition, they’ll have to find a way to end our civil war and heal its wounds.
That is, if they win. If they lose, we may all have some pretty scary clowns in our future.