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Stoking the Fire

Last Sunday was a busy and confusing day in Trumpland. That morning, Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani went on national television to warn that the Democratic Party would leverage its control of the “inner cities” in Chicago and Philly to commit large-scale voter fraud. Later in the day, Trump himself tweeted that “the election is absolutely being rigged by the dishonest and distorted media pushing Crooked Hillary--but also at many polling places--SAD.” And in a frankly remarkable article on the attitudes of Trump supporters in the runup to the election, one Trump backer matter-of-factly informed the Boston Globe that “[I]f Hillary wins, it’s rigged.”

Meanwhile, on the exact same day, Donald Trump’s running mate Mike Pence appeared on Meet the Press and assured viewers that “we will absolutely accept the result of the election.” Obviously, that doesn't square with what anyone else associated with his campaign is saying. Not that it matters. Pence has almost no control over what’s happening in his campaign right now. He’ll have absolutely none if he outs himself as a quisling by trying to concede independently. Hell, at this point, even Trump himself would have a hard time capitulating to Clinton without being seen by many of his ardent supporters as a traitor to his own cause. His backers are riled up now, and out for (at least) political blood. They will accept no concession. The only thing that can calm them down is time.

But Mike Pence is only one of many Republicans whom Trump’s uncompromising candidacy has placed in a difficult political position. Given how disruptive he's been for Republicans, you might think Trump's candidacy would prompt the GOP to reflect on this maelstrom of its own making, and perhaps to reconsider its 50-year strategy of stoking fear and anger against minorities, women, immigrants and political opponents to win elections. Trump’s candidacy is a logical result of that strategy, and it’s really not working very well.

Yet I cannot imagine a scenario in which today’s Republican Party won’t go right back to that same strategy, especially if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency. In fact, I’ll be surprised--should she win--if she’s not targeted by a serious impeachment attempt before the end of her first term. The Republican party leadership needs to do these things, because they can’t afford to allow the rage of their supporters to subside. Futile anger is the political energy that has sustained them, and they’ve always been able to control it before.

If Trump loses, establishment Republicans will likely dismiss his entire candidacy as a miscue and an aberration--an example of what happens when they let "their" nomination process get out of control. Next time, they will say to themselves, their party will nominate a more typically anodyne candidate--an insider who will take them back to the good old days when they could dog whistle messages of hatred and intolerance without paying a political price for it. Everything will go back to normal.

But that’s fantasy. For two decades now--from the ludicrous impeachment of Bill Clinton to the Senate's ongoing and unprecedented refusal to even consider Obama's Supreme Court nominee--the GOP has been arranging political conditions to make democratic self-governance unworkable. It stands to reason, then, that the GOP's own system of internal governance was the first to break down, uncaging this agent of political chaos and prophet of human misery. And unfortunately, Trump's loss in November will fix nothing; settle nothing. Not unless it forces the Republican Party to dial back the rage baiting, and to alter its fundamental approaches to both politics and governing. I’m not holding my breath.

Update: Well, that sure didn't take long. Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah has given us fair warning that as soon as Clinton takes office, his party will get back to the hard work of crippling the government again. Obviously, Chaffetz and the gang are going to have to bring some heavier lumber against Hillary than they've managed so far... The smart move would be to deputize Putin's FSB to help out with their many investigations. Mutual interests and all.

Eric Busch

2300 Red River Street, University of Texas at Austin, TX, 78712

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