Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and lessons from the Whig Party, Part 2

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on December 11, 2017

This is my 28th installment to what has become an ongoing series of postings in which I seek to address politics in the United States as it has become, starting with the nominations process leading up to the 2016 presidential elections. See my series: Donald Trump and the Stress Testing of the American System of Government, as can be found at Social Networking and Business 2, posting 244 and loosely following.

I initially offered a brief early-stage discussion of the issues that I would address here, in Part 4 of this series when watching the Republican Party convulse its way, first through its presidential candidate nominations races and then through its presidential election campaign for 2016. And perhaps the most significant message that I sought to convey there was an assertion that the Republican Party as we have known it, and certainly as a voice of reasoned conservatism is now dead. The name of the party lives on but the substance of what it once stood for is now a largely distorted memory. And Donald Trump and his assent into becoming their party standard bearer simply serves to drive that message home, and in ways that any open acknowledgement of empirically reality would compel.

I wrote that earlier posting and added it to this blog in October, 2016 and I have shared its basic message in other contexts since then. But a part of me has always drawn back from completely, fully believing it even as I wrote and posted it; call that proof of wistful thinking on my part, or even of my being in denial until forced to abandon old hopes of the reasonable and rational. I am not a Republican and certainly not as that political party has become. And I find it impossible to believe that my father or his father or his or his could comfortably wear Republican affiliation or support as part of their identities or their belief systems either, and certainly as I see what was once their political party, for what it has become. But I come from a Republican Party family that goes back that far, and in fact to the very beginning at their founding convention on a farm outside of Ripon, Wisconsin in 1856.

The Republican Party was founded in large part out of the ashes of a then recently dead Whig Party. What will come out of the ashes of the Republican Party of today? I would not assay a guess as to how events to come will answer that. I wrote my similarly named to this, October, 2016 posting wondering if I was calling a time and place of death prematurely. The momentum of national history, and of family history does that; it creates that type of uncertainty. But seemingly every day since then, events have simply served to reinforce that 2016 message for its underlying validity. And I offer this posting as both an update on that, and as an assessment on my part of the Trump presidency as it has unfolded and on what he has done to both his country and to what is at least nominally his political party.

I begin this posting’s update with what I see as the fundamentals, and both for this particular narrative and for at least my understanding what American politics and political parties should be based upon, and certainly insofar as this nation seeks to become a more inclusive democracy as the fulfillment of an ideal. And I begin this by noting a point that should be obvious to anyone who has even briefly studied United States history. Our country has essentially always been divided politically and ideologically into two major competing camps at any given time, as supplemented by an array of changing but always present smaller third party alternatives, and usually several or even many of them at once. The two major parties hold governing influence and control between them and their smaller counterparts serve to widen the range of ideas and the range of issues that are nationally addressed. They in effect serve to keep the major parties honest, or at least more inclusive and broad based in what they address and in what they seek to accomplish.

The issues of the day have changed over the years and so have the names of those leading parties. And the basic tenor of the leading two parties have changed and evolved too. But historically one or the other of the two leading political parties here has always claimed the mantle of what would traditionally be called conservatism and the other, the mantle of what would traditionally be called liberalism. And however much they differed on the details as to their precise goals or priorities or agendas, the underlying intent of both was always basically the same. However they differed as to how to accomplish this, both parties sought to lead the nation as a whole and with all of its diversity, and to offer moral as well as governance leadership in doing so. Both sought in their own way to achieve a vision of the common good. Policy and the details of politics differed but both parties were shaped and guided by moral and ethical principles and sought to be just, and for the nation as a whole. They were grounded in underlying principles and on a vision of political and governmental leaders leading principled lives. This goal has been honored in the breach more than in the promise at times, and certainly for some in their ranks. But ultimately, both of the two leading political parties of any time in American history, have been willing to clean house when needed, and have seen that need when publically confronted by a need to do so.

Donald Trump did not begin the challenge to that ideal that we see so predominating now: a basic and fundamental challenge to civility and integrity and intellectual honesty that we see enacted around us every single day now. The foundational grounding that used to underlie both of the major political parties of the United States, and certainly their more conservative alternative began to unravel and certainly for the Republican Party, beginning at least as far back as the Nixon presidency and its aftermath, as party leaders sought to pick up the pieces of his and vice president Agnew’s being forced from office, with both facing likely impeachment trials and convictions. That, as I have noted elsewhere, is when and where the Republican Party and its spokespersons began their first campaigns to attempt to regain power by taking control of the political dialog in this country. And they sought to accomplish that by systematically changing and adulterating the meaning of the very core vocabulary terms that their opponents used to describe themselves and their values, gradually corrupting words like “compromise” as well as words such as “liberal.” It was inevitable that this would lead to the adulteration of meaning in their own core value words too, including but not limited to “conservative” itself.

When Henry Clay, a founder of the Whig Party and in many ways a true conservative in thought and action, was called the “great compromiser” that was deemed an all but supreme complement as he brought people together in working agreement despite significant and even fundamental differences of opinion. Clay was awarded that title by politicians on both sides for his ability and willingness to find workable middle grounds that they could all agree upon: workable compromises that would meet their core priorities and needs and serve the needs of the nation in doing so. With the way that words such as “compromise” have been compromised from anything like their original, traditional meanings, that label has became a pejorative and to the belittlement and loss of all of us. And with that I return to the first posting that I offered in this series too: Thinking Through the Words We Use in Our Political Monologs. And I cite how the more recent ratcheting up of the rhetoric that we all face as current political-speak, challenges all meaning and all evidence of any sort and in any context and regardless of source, in favor of ideological purity and opportunism. I cite here the emergence of alternative facts and of fake news as a thought and evidentiary proof-denying substitute for what should be thought and reason, political dialog and consensus building.

But my goal here in this posting is not to recapitulate the narrative of how we have arrived as a nation, where we are now. My goal here is to discuss how the leadership of the Republican Party has lost its bearings, and its moral and ethical compass, and certainly as we have all lost our tools and resources for speaking with each other across our differences, with short term expediency and ideological sloganeering allowed to replace all else. To be fair, I have to add here that this is not entirely and uniquely a Republican Party problem either. Donald Trump is rightly excoriated for his sexual predatory boasts and actions as women have stepped forward to claim that he had assaulted them; he even bragged that he acts this way, in his on-air interview with Billy Bush. Bill Clinton should have been, and should now be held to that same standard for his “escapades,” and certainly for when he acted out his disregard for women while actively serving in office as the president of the United States. My goal here, I add, is not to broaden this discussion and see how widely the mud of this can and does stick, either. It is to address the ills of what was once the Party of Lincoln, and the political party of a great many other men and women of principle too.

I will return to this complex of issues in future postings to this blog, and to this series. But to ground what I add to this narrative here, in a news and views context larger than my own individual understanding and perspective, I end this by offering some recent news and news analysis references. And I begin that by noting an in the news scandal that is playing forth before the world, as I write this, with what is arguably a serial sexual predator pedophile, Roy Moore, running for election to the United States Senate in a special election to fill a vacancy – and with the support of both president Trump and the Republican Party leadership in general. This man has all but publically admitted in detail to what he has done, even as he has renounced all claims against himself in general. And he has a publically visible record of having for example, been barred from entering at least one shopping mall for stalking high school girls as a man in this thirties. But as long as he claims to agree with the right ideological talking points, nothing can or will be done to in any way thwart his political ambitions from his Republican Party and its leadership.

And with that noted as background, I cite this David Brooks op-ed piece and two differently sourced but similarly concerning news pieces:

The G.O.P. Is Rotting.
Trump’s Endorsement of Roy Moore Points Up a G.O.P. Problem: Chaos and
Trump Throws GOP into Chaos.

I have increasingly found myself hearing similar sentiments from people who would associate themselves with conservatism as well as with a more liberal and progressive position in recent months, and with varying mixtures of contempt and concern tingeing their basic opinion as coming from both camps. But even so, there is and will remain a hard core seeming third of the country that comprises a faction what would, as then-candidate Trump proclaimed forgive and forget if he were to walk out in the middle of Fifth Avenue in the heart of New York City and shoot someone.

The Republican Party that we have before us now, is their party and it represents their values. And those values have taken over that political party, and the nation and for all of us. And even if the name still lives on, the moral and ethical core and the intellectual core of that party is gone.

Meanwhile, you can find this posting and related material at Social Networking and Business 2, posting 244 and loosely following.

Addendum, added soon after this piece first went live: I focused in this posting on just one of many disruptive and disturbing ways in which Donald Trump and Roy Moore are similar: their propensity toward being sexual predators. I did not forget as I wrote of that, of how both are also xenophobic, religiously intolerant bigots and I did not forget their grandiosity or their propensities to lie and often by all appearance, of their not knowing where fact gives way to hyperbole or when that gives way to complete fabrication and falsehood. None of these additional points, however, add to or detract from the basic message offered here, except insofar as they supplementally reconfirm the basis of my overriding concerns here. I add this closing note as an afterthought, in case a reader might wonder why I did not even mention any of these other shared traits in the body of this posting itself. I come back to acknowledge them now.

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