2017 has been a hell of a year.
America is stuck in a junk dog brawl with a crude, nasty bully.
Fueling the fracas is the infinite anger and grievance that drives Donald Trump. The man is rich. The man is powerful. The man controls a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying the planet many times over. Still, Trump goes to bed angry and wakes up angry.
Over 55% of Americans know the president is spiteful, rude, vulgar, and unable to tell the truth about, well, almost anything. Trump attacks anyone and everyone. He punches at his own party leaders. He insults immigrants, legal or not. He ridicules Democrats and harasses Hillary Clinton, Senator John McCain, Senator Jeff Flake, and Gold Star families. He attacks the FBI, questions the intelligence services, picks on anyone who doesn’t bow down before him.
He brags about skirting the norms of the presidency. Recently, he declared that he can do anything with “his” Justice Department. He brags he’s smarter than “his” generals. Through it all runs a terrifying strain of white supremacy and racial animus.
Our allies are horrified. Our enemies emboldened. Many Americans are exhausted. We want relief from the chaos. We want the man to stop tweeting, stop hating. Stop. Stop. Stop.
The man’s approval rating stinks. Independents and Democrats have no use for him. Women are leaping off the Trump train. College-educated white voters are turning away. Still, 90% of Republicans remain in Trump’s corner. They stomach the nastiness, overlook the meanness, and offer effusive praise, like that given to tin-pot dictators. Why?
The answer is both simple and sickening. While Trump tweets, insults, and attacks, the GOP is getting exactly what they’ve always wanted. This is their big chance.
Finally, after years of waiting, the Republican party, which has become a racial-right party, can do their dirty work: dismantle the safety net, cut Social Security and Medicare, give more money to rich people and stick the rest of us with the bill, and eliminate all government healthcare programs. Along the way, the GOP longs to cut 40% of the government’s budget.
Now that they’ve done their absolute worst with taxes and added a trillion to the deficit, they’ll produce a budget that slashes programs poor people and middle class people depend on. While all of this goes on, they’ll put a crop of right-wing lawyers on the courts. Those men will make it so much easier to end abortion, kill the unions, cripple voting laws. The dream of turning America into a libertarian “utopia” is finally doable.
I know this because I lived it. For decades, I was trapped in a radical right-wing family. I know how hate, anger, and fear fuel the radical right. I’m in a unique position to help Americans understand where today’s radicals came from and what they want. I can help connect the dots from the old radical right to today’s Donald Trump and his extremist Republican party.
I learned about the radical right from my radical father, a charter member and a national leader of the John Birch Society, one of the most extreme right-wing organizations in this country’s history. The Birch Society preached that government is essentially evil. In their view, almost everything the government does must be undone or turned over to private enterprise. That means the end of all safety net programs, all civil rights protections, all regulations on business. Federal land will be sold or given back to the states.
For right-wing radicals, the free market is God. Anything that interferes with a free market is evil. Rich people are good. Poor people, not so much.
I witnessed, first hand, the John Birch Society plans and schemes. I learned their worldview. I knew, by heart, all the conspiracies peddled by the Birchers. I knew that taxes were stealing from the good guys and that poor people were too lazy and ignorant to help themselves. I was taught about Martin Luther King, the communist, and his plan to use the civil rights movement to start a civil war in the US. For years, I believed that evil men deep within the government would take over the country, the right wing calls them the Insiders or the “Deep State.” I had nightmares that these men would kill my parents, destroy all religion, and turn the United States into a socialist hell. I survived in this environment for decades.
Step by step, with the help of teachers, friends, and piles of books, I discovered that government can be a force for good. I figured out that helping those in need, from seniors to children, made our country a better place, a stronger place, a more compassionate and equal place. I learned that immigrants were not alien invaders and that white people did not inherit this country from God. I understood that our Constitution separated church and state and that all men and women were entitled to a voice in our democracy.
When the John Birch Society was pushed out of the conservative movement for calling a beloved president a Communist, Americans assumed that Birchism and its radical nonsense were over and done. Birchers would never have an impact on the country. Anyone who said otherwise was ridiculed.
While Americans moved forward, right-wing radicals including the John Birch Society and scores of organizations with deep connections to them kept on recruiting, educating, and organizing. My mother told me for years that the Birchers and their friends would take over the country.
I ignored my mother.
Until the 1990s, I didn’t realize that the Birchers, the Koch Brothers, and a number of very wealthy right-wingers were spending enormous sums of tax-free money to convince Americans that government is bad and getting rid of it is good. Some of these folks are now part of the Trump administration: Wilbur Ross, Betsy DeVos, Ben Carson. Others brought their radical White Evangelical religion into the White House. Still others hooked up with climate deniers to derail hard-fought environmental protections.
These right-wingers have embraced religious zealots, racists, bigots, and haters of every stripe. Sprinkle in a disdain for the environment, a disregard for the rights of women and minorities, and a total blindness for those in need . . . add a fast-talking, big shot from reality TV and, PRESTO! You’ve got what we’re living through right now.
If we’re going to stop the radical juggernaut and save our democracy, it will take all of us. Luckily, America has not ignored the Trump threat. The resistance is strong, and growing stronger. Every day, more and more Americans realize that this is our moment. If we are ever going to stop Trump, the time is now.