Reflections On the End of the GOP

All hat, no cattle.

All hat, no cattle.

The Republican Party is coming apart, and if this disintegration wasn’t endangering our country and the world, it would be amusing. Much has already been said and written about this, so I am aware that this rant may add nothing to the conversation. But I think this political event was more predictable and is easier to understand than most people realize. And I think that Donald Trump himself has far less to do with the fall of the GOP than the GOP itself.

The end of the modern GOP should come as no surprise to anyone who was paying attention. Because from the point of view of the typical GOP voter — their 99% — the modern Republican Party has been one of the most epic failures of all time.

The modern GOP as a political construct has principally been an alliance between two interest groups: urban economic elites and rural social conservatives. The reason the party is disintegrating is that it has over-delivered to the former, and completely failed the latter.

If there is one thing the Republican Party stands for and has effectively delivered on, it is trickle down economics. Trickle down economics has three major elements — tax cuts for the rich, deregulation of the powerful, and wage suppression for everyone else — all in the name of “growth.” And the Republican Party (with unfortunate cooperation from some Democrats), has been extraordinarily effective in the promulgation of these ideas. Over the last 35 years, middle-class voters from both parties bought this scam hook, line, and sinker.

Meantime, the Republican Party has theoretically represented the interests of social conservatives, fundamentalist religious types, and racists. And for this coalition, despite the rhetoric, the party has completely and utterly failed. Across any social issue, the country has lurched towards inclusion and liberalism, from LGBT rights to drug legalization, women’s rights, minority rights, and worst of all, the election of a black president named Barack Hussein Obama. From the perspective of these Republican voters, it is the end of days.

But to the GOP’s one percent — the secular, more socially centrist, urban economic elites who have controlled the party — the last 35 years have been a bonanza. They have been the recipients of an immense concentration of wealth and power, without the inconvenience of having to deliver on the backwards and often bigoted social demands of what the GOP elite dismiss as their hillbilly, bible-thumping brethren.

Which brings us to the unresolvable challenge facing the modern GOP.

From the point of view of their 99%, the median Republican voter, the last 35 years have been a disaster, and their party has caused it. Because if you are a working- or middle-class white Republican-leaning man, your party has completely and totally screwed you.

They screwed you by holding down the minimum wage.

They screwed you by almost completely eliminating overtime pay.

They screwed the union that used to defend your interests.

The screwed you out of the pension on which the middle-class once retired.

They screwed you a thousand ways on trade, and exported your job.

They screwed you on tax policy by lowering taxes on the rich.

They screwed you on infrastructure and education investment.

They screwed you by deregulating the banks.

They screwed you out of your home during the housing bubble and subsequent collapse.

They screwed you on health care costs.

They screwed you on the cost of college and on student debt.

They screwed you (and sent your kids to die) in the Iraq war.

And then they also screwed you on abortion, and gay marriage, and the “War on Drugs,” and women’s rights, and minority rights, and Obamacare repeal, and all the other things you culturally care about, by delivering absolutely nothing.

Since 1980, 95 percent of the benefits of growth have accrued to the top one percent of earners.  The share of income for the top one percent has tripled, from about eight percent of national income to about 22 percent over this time. The minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, or $2.13 plus tips, is at historically low levels; if it had tracked the wages of the top 1 percent, the minimum wage would be over $28 per hour today. Overtime pay, which used to apply to about 70 percent of salaried workers, now applies to only 9 percent. Union membership, and the middle-class wages and benefits that comes with it, has fallen from a third of American workers in 1964 to only 10 percent today — and just 7 percent in the private sector. Consequently, wages as a percent of GDP have fallen about a trillion dollars, while corporate profits have increased by the same amount. Add in the ridiculous increases in compensation and other income for the very rich and you are talking about close to a two trillion dollar-per-year scam perpetuated on the American middle and working class. Over thirty years, that shit adds up.

If you are a rural social conservative, your Republican party has enacted economic policies that destroyed your communities and sucked the life out of your small towns. And then to add insult to injury, they could not stop people like me from winning on all of the social and cultural issues that you care so much about.

So it should come as no surprise that a candidate like Donald Trump, who appeals to the nativist, racist, and nationalist tendencies of some right-leaning voters, despite his flaws, could take the GOP by storm. Who couldn’t? Seriously. Daffy Duck with a nationalist message would be winning today. I do not agree with a lot of the policies preferred by rural right-wing voters. I think they are wrong and misguided. But I do emphatically agree with their anger. They should be angry. They deserve to be angry. And the focus of their anger should be on the GOP elites like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio and the rest of the trickle-down clown car.  These people have screwed, and want to continue to screw, the median Republican voter. And typical Republicans are finally beginning to notice.

I wish the answer to all of this was simply that more people should become Democrats. And indeed in this election cycle, given what is at stake, that would be my preference. But long-term, that isn’t what our country needs. Instead, America needs a Republican party that isn’t simply a vehicle for the already very rich to increase their wealth and power. Our country needs a Republican Party that vigorously and honestly competes with the Democratic Party to actually increase the welfare of the typical American family. Not with a scam like trickle down economics that simply makes the rich richer, but with actual ideas that might improve the life of the typical family.

Thus, the Republican Party’s greatest challenge is how to ditch the economic program of their donor elite. Because embracing a new economic narrative that actually delivers the goods to regular folks is what it will take to compete in a meaningful way again. Paul Ryan is against raising the minimum wage because he is paid to oppose increases in the minimum wage. So, too, are Marco Rubio and the rest of these clowns. Claiming that “raising wages kills jobs” is really just saying the Koch brothers prefer wages low and profits high. It’s the GOP elite declaring that “we matter, and you don’t.”

I do not believe a Republican Party that works to ensure a more inclusive capitalism will eliminate the racism in the party. Prosperity does not end racism—but it is one hell of a distraction. When most citizens feel like they are winning, it’s not so important to them that others lose. Shared prosperity creates the conditions whereby few reasonable people are angry enough to take a clown like Trump seriously.

Let’s all hope that the current crisis in the Republican Party will bring the fundamental change necessary to allow it to reconstitute itself in a new and more constructive way—one that we may not all agree with, but at least that we won’t be embarrassed or appalled by. America needs a Republican Party that actually represents the true interests of regular Republicans, and not the exclusive interests of the Republican elite.

Nick Hanauer

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