A decade ago Mitch McConnell vowed to make President Barack Obama a “one-term president.” It embodied everything that’s repellent about our two-party, partisan politics. But at least they were both considered “parties.” Now the GOP is a tribe. Libertarians? Tea Partiers? How ideologically quaint. Rockefeller Republicans? How nostalgic.
No, this is about Donald Trump passing around the Kool Aid of animus that targets, scapegoats and demonizes. The other side isn’t the opposition; it’s the “enemy of the people.” Trump’s unhinged, uninformed, unethical, immoral, misogynistic ascent came amid the complementary perfect storm of Fox News, self-validating digital media and smoldering, white resentment. Demographics weren’t Democrats’ destiny; they were the impetus for over-reactive GOP game-changers. The issues–from race, immigration, liberal elites and voting to COVID mask-wearing, a cancel culture and an insurrection–were visceral. Racist George Wallace, it turns out, was ahead of his time. But at least he was disingenuously civil enough to call it states’ rights.
Should we have seen faux patriotism coming? We know about those Nazi-friendly, “America First” rallies at Madison Square Garden in the 1930s and a Confederate-Dixiecrat legacy. But look as recently as 2008. That’s when an embarrassingly inept, unprepared Sarah Palin was propped up for vice president. This wasn’t traditional ticket balancing. This was unconscionable, “hopey-changey” bar lowering. And then the election of an African-American president was more than the white-grievance crowd could handle. When you rationalize your life by looking down on others—and now the “others” have one of their own as president, you have nowhere to go but to a “birther” cult figure who sounds like the guy picking up the bar tab at last call. We’re not #AloneTogether. We’re #SeparatedByTribes.