Politics & Policy

The Republican Parties

(Scott Olson/Getty)
The Resentment Republicans have their day.

Jonah Goldberg argues persuasively that no matter what happens with Donald Trump’s presidential aspirations, his campaign spells the end of the Republican party as we know it, the GOP’s two main camps disunited by Trump’s illiterate populism. Divorce indeed seems imminent, which suggests another question: What ever kept them together in the first place?

There are policy fissures, class fissures, and social fissures in the Republican party, but the fundamental divide is one of mood: Aspiration Republican vs. Resentment Republicans.

Aspiration Republicans are familiar enough: They are deeply rooted in the classical-liberal principles of the American founding, they are in the main happy warriors in the Reagan-Kemp-Buckley tradition, they tend to see domestic social problems such as the recent race riots as bumps on the road to a more perfect union, and they tend to extend a fair amount of leeway to a decent guy making a buck. Their vices are a tendency to indulge Whig history and naïve universalism, believing that “the desire for freedom resides in every human heart,” as George W. Bush once put it. In reality, there are hearts of darkness.

And some of those hearts of darkness beat in notionally conservative chests. The Resentment Republicans are familiar enough, too. They may not be the progressive cartoon character (Headline: “How to shut down your right-wing uncle at Thanksgiving dinner!”), but there is a little of that in them. They tend to reject the classical liberalism of the American founding in favor of a more Continental, blood-and-soil/throne-and-altar nationalism. And that nationalism often isn’t quite national: Often it is merely tribal (“We the People vs. the Establishment,” as the talk-radio ranters have it), and often enough it is simply racial, a tendency that has been dramatically (even shockingly, for me, at least) revealed by the rallying of the white-nationalist element behind Trump, and Trump’s predictable footsie-playing with it.

The Resentment Republicans are not happy warriors; instead, they are apocalyptic. For them, Black Lives Matters isn’t a destructive and sometimes thuggish protest movement but the announcement of a pending race war; so is La Raza; so is the fact that East Podunk State U. offers an undergraduate degree in African-American studies. (“Where’s the white-studies degree? Huh? HUH!” You can hear it.) When somebody makes a buck — or a few more bucks than they have — they see conspiracy, favoritism, the hand of the wily Oriental, the sweaty Mexican, or the nefarious Jewish banker at work, depending on how far down that sorry road they’ve gone.

Resentment is a very powerful force. Every reasonably knowledgeable conservative has had that discussion about balancing the budget during which someone insists that foreign aid (a minuscule part of federal spending that is largely laundered back into the American economy through defense contracting) is what ails us. Or maybe it’s food stamps, or maybe it’s all the blacks and illegals on welfare. It doesn’t matter what the subject is, these explanations can serve any purpose. Social Security insolvent? “Cut off foreign aid and kick all those dusky malingerers off of welfare.” Federal employees sit around watching porn all day? “Yeah, but what about foreign-aid spending and all those job-stealing illegals on welfare?” Can’t figure out what to do about Syria? “Kick all those lazy blacks off welfare and Assad will take care of himself, and why are we worried about these goddamned rag-heads in the first place?”

(Sure, but I’m not exaggerating by much.)

#share#The dispositional differences produce policy differences of course. Not only on the matter of trade, which Resentment Republicans regard as a scam, but also on things like criminal-justice reform. Hardline conservatives such as Rick Perry have come around to the view that a lot of what we are doing in the so-called war on drugs is destructive, and that we’d be better off pushing some offenders into treatment and other non-incarceration options. Resentment Republicans hate the idea of spending one thin dime on these degenerate drug addicts; remind them that keeping them in prison isn’t exactly cheap, either, and it’s back to foreign aid and the blacks on welfare.

Even when the two sides agree, they disagree: A great many Aspiration Republicans oppose gay marriage or permitting homosexual couples to adopt children because they believe that traditional family is a natural part of human life and that traditional families produce happier, healthier children and societies. Resentment Republicans oppose gay marriage because those perverts are disgusting. For them, the political is very, very personal.

The GOP of 2016 is what happens when the Party of F. A. Hayek joins up with the Party of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

The GOP of 2016 is what happens when the Party of F. A. Hayek joins up with the Party of Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Communism, crime, and a 70 percent income-tax rate were enough to keep them together in the post-war era, but now the Soviet Union is gone, violent crime has been reduced by half or more in most American cities, and the top income-tax rate is 39.6 percent — a rate hit by a married couple once their income brushes up against a half-million dollars a year. Which is to say, the Republican party has been a victim of conservatives’ success, halting and partial as those successes inevitably have been.

#related#My own attitude toward the Republican party has been for some time like Winston Churchill’s attitude toward the Church of England: not a pillar by any means but a buttress, supporting it from the outside. The Republican party of Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan was a party of peace, prosperity, and purpose. It thrived in the California sunshine that marked Reagan’s political disposition. It was born of a country with the confidence to issue the great challenge of the latter half of the 20th century: “Tear Down This Wall!” The Republican party of Donald Trump is something else, something that grows in darker, danker places where they dream of ever-taller walls, literal and metaphorical, behind which to cower. And if that is what the Republican party intends to be, I for one want no part of it.

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