It is troubling that Republicans insist on projecting: making their problems a liberal or progressive problem. Like being blamed for Trump when it is beyond question that they built that without any help from us. All Donald Trump did was make even deplorable an already crude message.
Yet Daniel Payne writes at National Review that it is progressives who have a “tendency to sentimentalize Republicans from years past.” As opposed to the conservative tendency to lift them to sainthood, like Ronald Reagan.
Payne tells us that Dana Milbank writing at The Washington Post in March that “Donald Trump makes me miss George W. Bush,” is an example of this progressive tendency to sentimentalize. But Milbank isn’t sentimentalizing; he is measuring a degree of awful. Bad as Bush was, Trump is worse.
By the same token, yes, at the time, Mitt Romney was the worst. And if we miss Romney now, it is only because Romney can’t hold a candle to Trump’s deplorable rhetoric. Payne is adept at making strawmen. He claims “this year” Romney is “up for sainthood in the Church of Progressivism,” but saying “a candidate bragging about” his imaginary “search for competent women” is preferable to a candidate who assaults them is not sentimentalizing.
It is a measure of how much worse the GOP’s rhetoric – and candidates – get every year. It is conservatives who use past Republicans as a yardstick, particularly now that they’ve gotten what they asked for in Trump. But there isn’t a lot to measure up to. Ronald Reagan was no prize, in many ways more like Joe McCarthy than the “Saint” Ronald they’ve conjured.
In fact, back at the start of the “Commie” scare of the late ’40s, Reagan testified as a “friendly” witness before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC),
“Sir, I detest, I abhor their [alleged Communists in the Screen Actors Guild] philosophy, but I detest more than that their tactics, which are those of the fifth column, and are dishonest, but at the same time I never as a citizen want to see our country become urged, by either fear or resentment of this group that we ever compromise with any of our democratic principles through that fear or resentment. I still think that democracy can do it.”
Reagan worried that “this group” would cause us to compromise with our democratic principles because of fear and resentment. We have a couple problems here for Republicans. Not only does Reagan seem to be condemning the Trump “movement” from the grave, given his place in Vladimir Putin’s pocket.
The future president also said,
“I would hesitate to see any political party outlawed on the basis of its political ideology…However, if it is proven that an organization is an agent of a foreign power, or in any way not a legitimate political party…then that is another matter.”
Talk about “legitimate” political parties was then, and is now, a slap at Democrats, who were considered then to be no different than communists and today no better than Islamic terrorists. The same can be said of the conservative attempt to delegitimize Islam as a religion, as though only Islam has a political component.
After all, the Religious Right made public their goal of taking over the Republican Party and have never failed to gloat at every success they’ve enjoyed. They love the idea of banning Muslims, just like the conservative base of the 50’s loved the idea of banning Communists.
The GOP has been working to delegitimize Democrats since the New Deal, and they’ve tried to delegitimize those Christians who didn’t go along with the Religious Right’s foray into politics.
As Dara Lind wrote at Vox recently,
“Then, in the 1980s, the Reagan administration caused “a bit of an uproar” (in Cox’s words) when Congress found out it had been denying visas to communists on the grounds that it would hurt US foreign policy. In 1990, Congress passed an immigration law that significantly narrowed the reasons the US could deny a visa on ideological grounds. Furthermore, it declared the US couldn’t use “foreign policy” as a reason to keep someone out simply based on his beliefs or associations.”
Just substitute “religious” for “ideological” and Donald Trump sounds more like Saint Ronald than Trump’s Republican detractors would care to admit. Ideological tests? Bring them on.
Believe me when I say this, that no Democratic sentimentalizes anything about the Republican Party since Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.
Conservatism’s skewed view of the past, exemplified here by Payne, unravels when taken out of its fantasy context: he says “liberals in 2012 claimed that Romney would be a ‘disaster’ for women,” and he would have been; but that was before we met Donald Trump as a candidate. Saying that one candidate is worse than another does not sentimentalize the other.
Payne protests that “President Barack Obama accused Romney of wanting to take the United States back to ‘policies more suited to the 1950s,’” but it was true then and it remains true now, notwithstanding Trump’s despicable misogyny.
Conservatism is and has always been about maintenance of the status quo, of the “good old days,” while for liberals and progressives it is about change for the better. Trump is feeding on the desire of the Republican base to turn the clock back to 1950s style white privilege. Nothing has changed, except by degree.
In fact, Payne sounds a lot like Trump when he projects reactionary conservative behavior onto liberals, claiming liberal political philosophy “exists less as a coherent and workable set of political and public-policy beliefs and more as a fanatical, oppositional vehicle for hysterics who shriek and faint whenever a new Republican walks onto the scene.”
If that doesn’t describe modern Republican politics to a tee, nothing does.
No, let’s be clear here: Democrats Don’t “sentimentalize Republicans from years past.” It’s just that bad as past Republicans were, Republicans of today are even worse.