Republicans these days tend to complain about “woke” culture, referring pejoratively to an increasing attention to, awareness of, and concern about abiding injustices and inequities that have long structured American society.
Apparently, advocating for Black lives, believing transgender people deserve civil rights, or decrying and resisting assaults on American democracy in favor of minority rule somehow constitute unwelcome assaults on what Senator Marco Rubio (R-FLA) calls “traditional values.” Indeed, Rubio went so far as to pen recently an open letter to “woke corporate America,” threatening them with the elimination of corporate tax cuts if they didn’t stop meddling in politics by expressing opposition to the scads of voter suppression bills on state legislative dockets around the nation.
No doubt Donald Trump’s brash racism and unapologetic authoritarianism have emboldened Republicans in voicing such brazen and overt complaints about people and entities wielding power to participate in democracy and to advocate for the protection of civil rights for all, the cornerstone of democracy.
It would be wrong, however, to see Trump as the source or chief promoter of this autocratic assault on democracy and civil rights.
He may have emboldened and enabled Republicans to speak more loudly, but we should be clear that Republicans have embraced Trump and in many ways used him to attempt to advance their long-standing master plan of implementing a permanent Republican majority, which translates to an anti-democratic minority rule that in no way represents the will of the American people.
At least as far back as 1994, members of the Republican Party gave voice to their ambitious desire for a permanent majority. In that year, then-Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX) foresaw a re-alignment that made possible this permanent majority, as did Tom DeLay in 2004. Republican operative Karl Rove, of course, fantasized that George W. Bush’s election to president would usher in such a majority.
In 2014, after another Republican election wave, Rep. Greg Walden proclaimed with similar delusions of grandeur, “We’re as back to a majority as any of us have seen in our lifetimes. It may be a hundred-year majority.”
And let’s be clear: Republicans weren’t achieving these majorities because they represented the will of a majority of the American electorate. George W. Bush, of course, was elected with a minority of the popular vote. They were even then, as I wrote recently in the pages of PoliticusUsa, gaining seats through gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts that positioned them to win a majority of seats with a minority of votes.
Steve Benen’s analysis of what he calls Walden’s “hubris” back in 2014, really underscores the similarities between the characters of the Republican Party before Trump and what it reeks of now.
Responding to Walden’s delusion of a “hundred-year majority,” Benen writes:
Got that? The Republican Party may be unpopular, and its ideas may lack public support, and it may not have a real policy agenda to speak of, but its leaders are nevertheless comfortable remaining in the majority — until 2114.
Benen’s compelling analysis suggests that today’s GOP is more identical to, rather than a distortion of, the supposedly sane pre-Trump GOP we hear some commentators and so-called establishment Republicans pine for. Today we see the GOP refuse to support policy proposals of the Biden administration that polls indicate are very popular with Americans. But the GOP was not listening to or caring about the majority of Americans then either.
Paul Abrams, in a 2011 piece in the Huffington Post, argues that the GOP’s tendency to work against the interests and health of Americans far precedes Trumpism. Let’s take his analysis of Karl Rove, which begins looking at Rove’s role in American life before entering politics proper, raising the question:
What about Karl Rove, a man who had an early career job with Brown & Williamson tobacco company, learning how to sell something that no one, rationally, would buy, and being comfortable knowing that he was helping recruit 5000 children per week to start a life habit of smoking?
Similarly, in Abrams’ analysis, Rove’s goal was to finagle a Republican majority that had little to do with respecting the rules of a democratic system that operated to represent the interests of the people, as he writes:
Rove’s vision for a permanent Republican majority had little to do with winning properly run elections for the simple reason that there IS no Republican majority in free elections, and Rove knows that. To get a Republican majority and make it permanent, therefore, he had to 1) gain power; and 2) destroy the vitality of democratic institutions. He accomplished (1).
Rove’s game plan, as Abrams identified it then, is precisely what’s being played out today. Republican state legislatures are actively engaged in suppressing the vote and trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
The difference now is Trump’s dangerous psychology that combines a severely narcissistic personality with clearly deep-seated insecurities that make him require constant adulation and make it impossible for him to admit he did not win an election.
In other words, Trump’s overwhelming psychological disturbances, which make him a mean and small person, so self-centered as to have a personality disorder that makes him grossly incompatible with democracy itself.
His particular psychology made him the perfect candidate to attempt to realize the Republican will of anti-democratic minority rule.
Previously, Republicans, their actual practices aside, seemed constrained the by the need to show some deference for democratic norms.
Trump’s narcissism and his obvious belief that rules don’t apply to him have exploded that fragile constraint.
His psychological profile, and his smallness, have meshed perfectly with the grandiose historical agenda of the Republican Party.
His belief that he is still president, or entitled to the presidency, is simply the most honest and overt expression Republican ideology.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.