Today’s Republican Party opposes big government. It’s culturally conservative. Its demographic support is strongest among white voters, and it usually dominates elections in the South. And its 2016 presidential nominee has been heavily criticized for inciting racial tensions. But things weren’t always this way. Over the past 160 or so years, the party has undergone a remarkable transformation from the party of Abraham Lincoln… to the party of Donald Trump.
People who read this column know my political ideology: I’m a Whig. If progressives generally believe in expanding government to enhance equality, and libertarians try to reduce government to expand freedom, Whigs seek to use limited but energetic government to enhance social mobility.
Back in the 19th century, during their heyday, Whigs promoted infrastructure projects, public education, public-private investments and character-building programs to create dynamic, capitalist communities in which poor boys and girls could rise and succeed.
Whigs admired people and places that are enterprising, emotionally balanced and spiritually ardent. They had a great historic run — inspired by Alexander Hamilton, led by Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, embodied most brilliantly in the minds of Abraham Lincoln and the early Theodore Roosevelt.
a survey of 2000 voters that shows public faith in 27 key democratic principles — ranging from the independence of the judiciary to constitutional limits on executive power — has declined across the board.
.. from September 2017 to January 2018, voters’ assessments of the ability of the courts, Congress and the Constitution to “effectively check executive power dropped by 7-8 percentage points.”
.. If scholars are right that erosion proceeds on a piecemeal basis, and that the first steps often entail targeting democracy’s “referees,” then our results regarding declines in judicial independence and support for a free press are especially disturbing.
.. On Monday, he charged that Democratic members of the House and Senate were treasonous in their failure to applaud him during his State of the Union address. In a speech in Blue Ash, Ohio, Trump described how he saw it:
You’re up there, you’ve got half the room going totally crazy, wild — they loved everything, they want to do something great for our country. And you have the other side, even on positive news — really positive news, like that — they were like death and un-American. Un-American. Somebody said, “treasonous.” I mean, yeah, I guess, why not? Can we call that treason? Why not?
.. Iyengar posed the following hypothetical:
Let’s assume that Mueller uncovers evidence of collusion and close associates of the Prez are implicated. Republicans are likely to deny the validity of the charges on the grounds that the investigators are biased and Republicans in Congress, as they’ve repeatedly demonstrated, will stick by Trump since the base is with him. Trump, of course, will continue with the ‘hoax’ narrative, and his surrogates in the media will be only too happy to back him up. At that point, we will have a very real threat to the rule of law.
.. Trump’s attacks on the F.B.I. are a case study in his polarization strategy. Since its founding in 1908, the F.B.I. has had substantial popular support, especially among Republicans.
.. Polarization by party identity is so powerful at the moment that most voters see the world through thick red and blue lenses. Almost everything is politicized. And, in almost every study I have run, I find that Republicans are more intense partisans than Democrats on average. We’ve seen partisanship color Republican evaluations of the FBI (negatively) and Russia and Putin (positively).
.. Trump has a negative 40-55 percent approval rating, but it’s “his best overall score in seven months.”
.. Seventy percent of voters described the economy as excellent or good, the highest since 2001
.. in politics, “what matters in the economy is real disposable income over the 6-12 months before an election.”
.. the future of democracy in America during the Trump administration depends as much or more on unemployment, take home pay, the Dow Jones industrial average, tax rates and the gross domestic product as on principled support for the rule of law.
.. as the investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, continues to pursue lines of inquiry reaching deep into the White House, Trump will have plenty of opportunities in the near future to push the envelope on the rule of law.
.. I see the Democrats poised right now to make net gains of about 10 to 14 seats. They need 25 or so depending on vacancies.
.. Franklin Roosevelt’s seeking of a third (and then a fourth) term is among the most important norm violations in American political history. He hadn’t been dead for two years before both chambers of Congress proposed the 22nd amendment to limit presidents to two terms.
.. After Lincoln’s use of emergency powers to flex presidential power in ways not previously seen, Congress fought back against his successor, Andrew Johnson. More of his vetoes were overridden (15) than for any other president and Congress limited presidential influence over executive branch employment by passing the Tenure of Office Act (1867).
.. Trump won the Republican nomination and the presidency by conducting a campaign directly challenging the notion that the electorate will punish a politician for “violating accepted constitutional arrangements.”
.. If Republicans retain control of both branches of Congress in 2018 — even if by just one vote in the House and a 50-50 split (with Vice President Pence the tiebreaker) in the Senate — Trump will claim vindication. His assault on the pillars of democracy will continue unabated, with increasingly insidious effect.
We need a new national narrative.
One way to identify one is to go back to one of the odd features of our history. We are good to our enemies after wartime. After the revolution, we quickly became allies with Britain. After World War I, Woodrow Wilson was humane to our European enemies. After World War II, America generously rebuilt Germany and Japan.
Elsewhere, enmities last for centuries. But not here. Why? Because we have a national predilection for fresh starts. Coming to this country is for many people a new beginning. We turn every new presidential administration, every new sports season, every graduation ceremony into a new beginning. It’s said Americans don’t settle arguments, we just leave them behind.
The story of America, then, can be interpreted as a series of redemptions, of injury, suffering and healing fresh starts.
- .. In the 18th century divisions between the colonists were partially healed.
- In the 19th century divisions between the free and enslaved were partially healed.
- In the 20th, America partially healed the divisions between democracy and totalitarianism.
.. The great sermon of redemption and reconciliation is Lincoln’s Second Inaugural.
.. This is a speech of great moral humility. Slavery, Lincoln says, was not a Southern institution, it was an American institution, weaving through our common history for 250 years. The scourge of war, which purges this sin, falls on both sides. Lincoln fought any sense of self-righteous superiority the Northerners might harbor. He rejected any thought that God is a tribal God. He put us all into the same category of ambiguity and fallenness.
.. The final prayer heralds a new beginning: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds…to achieve lasting peace among all nations.”
.. He combines Christian redemption with the multiculturalist’s love of diversity. In one brilliant stroke, Lincoln deprives Christian politics of the chauvinism and white identitarianism that we see now on the evangelical right