That Donald Trump is a misogynist and a bigot who has routinely mistreated his workers, undermined unions, engaged in trade practices hostile to American industry and workers and overall cultivated the worst and most divisive instincts in Americans is without dispute. His behavior and demeanor have inspired debate as to whether the term “fascist” can be fairly applied to him, and more than a few pundits have agreed that Trump’s political ways do deserve the label.
If you argue he needs to be stopped, you’ll get no argument from this author.
The facts are, though, that he is likely to lose the election and that he does not occupy a political office from which to inflict his extreme, possibly even fascist, political program that would surely wreak great damage on U.S. society in terms of undermining democracy and turning back the clock on progress the country has made in crawling toward a more economically, socially, environmentally, and politically just and humane nation.
But while so much energy in this political season goes to keeping Trump out of office and focusing on his extremism, as if it’s anomalous and unusual, the real GOP extremist agenda rolls on across the country.
Trump has effectively functioned as a smoke screen, or as cloud cover, for the remarkably consistent orchestration of a Republican scorched earth policy at the state level. The Trump effect has succeeded in distracting us from this reality. Some Republican politicians have nimbly and strategically tried to distance themselves from Trump or walked a tightrope, making that fine distinction between voting for him and endorsing him. Paul Ryan has been chief among these political gymnasts, and yet as I write on November 5, he is campaigning with Mike Pence in Wisconsin trying to turn the state for Trump.
This is because the GOP establishment is not different from Trump in terms of many of the extremist policies he supports and certainly in terms of the agenda of undermining unions, making life harder for the working classes in America, furthering the interests of the already wealthy and corporations, making healthcare less accessible, slashing taxes which will result in cutting funding for vital and basic services and schools, and no doubt fostering bigotry. The difference is that GOP leaders like Bruce Rauner, Rick Snyder, Scott Walker, Sam Brownback, and Paul Ryan, among many others, are actually in office, in positions of political power, carrying out or trying to carry out the Trump agenda in actuality. Former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal also once held this office and, according to even conservative political observers, similarly scorched the earth of Louisiana before he left office, leaving the state in shambles because of the excessive tax cuts he implemented.
When is the last time you heard about Flint, Michigan in the news? Exactly.
Governor Rick Snyder must be loving Trump’s cloud cover. Do you hear much about the scorched earth Sam Brownback has left in Kansas by implementing economic policies similar to those Trump supports? His state would be the perfect prognosticator for assessing the prospects of Trump’s basically cookie-cutter Republican agenda. And it’s not good—schools are underfunded and ending school years early, seniors are seeing services cut, and cuts to healthcare and other social services have been devastating. Brownback must be loving all the smoke Trump blows.
Indeed, when it comes to contemporary Republican policies, which are remarkably unified and consistent at the state and national levels, we don’t need a crystal ball to foretell the dystopian world ahead if Trump is elected. We need only look at current conditions of states like Illinois, Wisconsin, Louisiana, and Kansas to see the damage that their governors have inflicted on taxpaying citizens through policies which provide tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, undermine the rights of working people, devastate public education at all levels, and overall erode the public sphere and services state agencies provide to serve the public good and help create a healthy quality of life and economy. Keep in mind, too, that the services of this public sphere, including the education of our children, are not hand-outs or unpaid-for “entitlements,” as so often represented, but paid for by taxes ordinary citizens pay.
The point here is not just that down ballot races are incredibly important this election but that we must not be fooled by all the rhetoric that paints Trump as somehow unusually extreme or more dangerous for American than your average Republican. As has been pointed out, the GOP establishment created Trump, so we must identify the extremist politics that are doing great damage to American lives and the lives of peoples across the globe where they are. GOP extremism is and has been underway. It’s not just Trump who needs to be stopped; it’s the otherwise polite GOP establishment. Just because they don’t tell you they’re preying on you, as Trump does, doesn’t mean they’re not. And they’re actually doing it.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture. He lives in Chicago with his two sons.