A haunting realization looms over the remnant of the principled right. Perhaps the GOP was never a conservative party, and the movement behind Reagan was never animated by conservative values. As the entire project is boiled down to its essence, we are left not with smaller government, or judicial restraint, or constitutional principles, but with a nasty broth of racist rhetoric wielded by an aspiring petty tyrant. Watching the Reagan wave quietly release its last energy on the beach, conservatives have to consider this ugly possibility: Maybe this song was never about us.
How did sane Republicans acclimate themselves to a political environment constrained by insane demands? Through self-delusion and flight. In the decade after the takeover you could hear business Republicans, in private conversation, explain away the antics of anti-gay crusaders or bizarre abortion extremists as “harmless.” Religious fanatics welcomed into the party (and now occupying all major leadership positions) were “useful idiots” being manipulated toward the party’s wider business and commercial goals.
By the time that illusion became impossible to sustain, those who held it were either fully co-opted to the party’s new lunatic goals or had simply been pushed into irrelevance. As Orwell wrote in 1984, “We have always been at war with Eastasia.” When we abandon our attachment to empirical realities in pursuit of public calm, crazy takes over. Crazy, if tolerated, will in time create its own new normal, pushing reason to the margins before extinguishing it altogether.
In a move that channels the philosophy and tactics of the civil rights era, John Lewis this week openly denied the legitimacy of the incoming administration and refused to participate in the inauguration ceremonies. His stand is more than symbolic. Lewis is cutting through the subtleties and evasions, initiating a critical moral division likely to define and harden the fight against the Trump administration.
From chaos comes opportunity. Prepare to see new faces and hear new voices. As we begin what will likely be a long, painful struggle toward the Third Republic, these seven people may have interesting roles to play.
As Cheeto Hitler takes the reins of our government, we can expect political conditions to get ugly fast. Next spring is not the time to figure out how you plan to get engaged in politics. This is the time to get organized, while things are quiet and there are still some competent people in charge.
Here are a few steps I’m taking. If you’ll join me on these, particularly in gathering contact information for elected officials, we’ll plan on taking some actions together when the time comes.