A few weeks back, I wrote a piece on the lack of ideas and a unifying ideology in Republicans in Congress. In it, I implied a strong dislike for our new President-elect, Donald Trump. I know I am not alone in feeling this way, but I can’t help but feel as if I were in the minority, and I have to ask myself: why? And, more importantly, what’s happening to us Republicans?
I know a significant amount of the President’s support comes from blue-collar workers and out-of-workers who feel left out and left behind by the modern economy. I can understand why they would vote for a candidate who promised something other than more of the status quo. I know politicians, especially those in the primaries from both parties, offered ideas virtually no different than what has been on offer for twenty-or-more years. Their desire for a new kind of President is not mysterious to me. What is a mystery, however, is the attraction to him felt by known politicos and Republican activists and loyalists. Some attraction, again, I can understand - once he was nominated as the Republican candidate (admittedly another oddity), loyalty to the party perhaps demanded some loyalty to the new Republican standard-bearer.
Even by then, however, problems had arisen around his relationship with the truth. Questions about his true net worth, the extent of his business holdings, his relationships with foreign national leaders, and a number of unverified claims (even then) had long since eroded his reliability in my own eyes.
Yet, despite his many lies, half-truths, broken promises (he has yet to release his tax returns, despite his promise to do so once he won the election), and utter lack of a Presidential demeanor, many of my fellow Republicans have risen together and provided President Trump with a collective silence. A free pass. A get-out-of-jail-free card. No Republicans in power are calling on him to release his tax forms. No Republicans in power are calling him out on his outrageous lies. Republicans do not want to investigate any ties he or his campaign may have or did have to the Russian government.
On the contrary, what I see now are Republicans who would walk over themselves to berate Obama for not saluting a soldier (an act he has no obligation to do, being commander-in-chief), but are willing to look the other way when Trump equates the CIA with the oppressive police state in “Nazi Germany” (then says the media made it all up a day later). Critics on the right routinely called on Obama to answer for failed military operations, but offer silence at best and indignation at worst when the subject of the recent Yemeni raid is mentioned. Republicans claim a love for the military, those who serve and their families, but only seem to show sympathy when they blame nobody or a Democrat. When a SEAL’s father, slain in a questionable operation on Trump’s order, demands an investigation into the action that killed his son, there is yet more silence. But if a different family wants an investigation into a tragedy that happened under a Democratic administration, then I can reasonably expect calls for more investigations to happen five years after the fact - as in, five years after an official investigation released its findings.
This hypocrisy is only half of what makes me wonder about my life-long party affiliation. I also must ask… what are we reading? Perhaps my sample size is low and biased, but it generally matches what is happening nationally, and even globally. Leading up to the election, I began to see both new and established websites popping up more and more in my Facebook feed and being mentioned in news sources I trust. More and more they appeared as shares by my conservative friends, and I grew more and more concerned. As a rule, I dismiss sensationalist headlines from online sources that have not proven themselves trustworthy, which is a shockingly low standard that a distressing number of sites fail to meet. But pieces from these sites are shared anyway, claiming they have proof that Obama was a secret Muslim, or that Hillary’s confirmed hit man is coming clean, or that Obama had a secret plan to implement martial/Sharia law across the nation by the fall of whatever year it was. It’s enough to make a person wonder if sensationalist websites have never met an incredible nonsense story about former President Obama that they didn’t rush to publish.
Headlines like these are easy to filter out as garbage, but the websites responsible for them have, lately, become much better at branding and toning down their extremism into something that sounds far more mainstream than it already is. This is how trash websites like Breitbart and Dailymail have surged in popularity. Noting that conservatives have long felt under fire from traditional media sources, a feeling that is both not incorrect and something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, it is not hard to see why conservatives would crave news sources that don’t attack conservatives and Republicans even when they might be in the wrong. As extremist websites have started sounding more mainstream, they have increasingly become favorites of conservatives - Breitbart itself has turned the idea of telling people what they want to hear into an art form, truth be damned.
By shunning traditional news sources, many conservatives have boxed themselves into echo chambers, leaving them incapable of believing anything that does not fit with their preconceived world-view.
Trump, for all his other failings, has managed to combine this hypocrisy and selective denial and use them to lock conservatives in those chambers, to while he controls the key. He can say that God made the rain stop for his inauguration speech (he really did say this), and these echo chamber sites will write anything to make him sound like he’s being honest. Anyone that can refute it (which is hardly difficult) is shot down, called a liar, a proponent of the liberal agenda or part of the “lame-stream media”, or flatly ignored. Thus, anything that could possibly challenge an established viewpoint is dismissed.
I am concerned in no small part because I do not see a way to break this cycle. These sites are becoming more popular than ever - Breitbart is expanding to Europe, where they hope to upset the upcoming French elections and put into power Marine Le Pen, a woman who could single-handedly end the European Union.
Republicans used to have the power of thoughtful economists behind them. We used to reason with science and logic. Now, all I see is a party descending into chaos, willingly eating and destroying itself without any real goal or objective but to preserve the narrative that is sustaining it. The real question I should be asking is not “What is happening to us Republicans?”, but rather, “Why are we doing this to ourselves?”