It is better for society to have ideas debated openly, rather than in the shadows, Greg Camp writes.
First published in September 2019. | Updated in September 2019.
The Republican Party as a serious political force totters at the moment on the edge of a precipice, its future in doubt. Donald Trump is the fool at the head of the parade going over the rim, but he is not alone, and this march is not originally of his creation. And despite however tempting it is for those of us on the left to celebrate, what may follow would not be good for the country.
Trump has suggested nuclear weapons as hurricane repellent, and the response from right-wing media is to say that he now calls this “fake news” and to remind us that this idea was on the table back in the 50s when nuclear explosives were considered for road construction through mountains. He contemplates buying Greenland, and U.S. Representative Peter King goes on the radio to explain that Truman tried the same thing and that those of us who are troubled by Russian interference in our elections ought to agree that the purchase of an Arctic island would somehow change Putin’s mind. Trump starts trade wars with friends and rivals, and Senator Lindsey Graham tells the country to eat cake — that is, to accept the pain.
And this is just the insanity of the last week. If it were a film, the producers might be sued over copyright infringement for creating a McDonald’s eating villain along the lines of Richmond Valentine in Kingsman: The Secret Service. Trump’s time in office has been a continuation of his reality TV career, a genre that requires endless squabbling while dodging any need for a plan.
The desire to pass out popcorn and watch the disaster play itself out is strong, but this, like Trump, must be resisted. There is the obvious fact that Trump and his supporters are not only harming themselves but are instead dragging the country and the world along with them. Another aspect of this needs to be addressed, however. If the Republican Party disappears as a viable entity in American politics, becoming nothing more than a debating forum for libertarians and a platform for white supremacists, we could effectively be a one-party nation.
In an era in which the Republican Party is determined to create an enforced dichotomy between evil and good, the defeat of the former feels like a guarantee of the latter, but unchallenged power rarely stays beneficent for long, and attempts at big tents work only so long as everyone inside feels represented.
I am working here with the assumption that many Republican voters are not insane and are not committed bigots — that as a group, they have been led astray by a pouty piper who committed himself to solving more grievances than he could rectify and more than his voters would have felt on their own.
The Republican Party holds large majority support across the south and in Wyoming, while much of the middle of the country tilts their way. We can debate which party would best represent their real interests — as suggested by authors like Thomas Frank in What’s The Matter with Kansas — but that can look smug to the people we are trying to reach, and there will remain some people who are not going to fit into the Democratic program.
For example, in the fights between labor and management, we presume that there are two sides with competing interests. Laborers want better working conditions and more pay, while the managers and stockholders want higher profits. The Republican Party for decades has represented the interests of the latter. If the debate is between environmentalists and ranchers, the same is true, as Wyoming illustrates. And if we are working out a balance between gun control and gun rights, once more, Republicans represent a side.
What I am getting at here is that we need an opposition — and I make that statement regarding all interest groups. As I said above, unchallenged power quickly turns into the promotion of the interests of the people who possess that power. But more than that, unchallenged ideas drift away from reality in a hurry. The history of philosophy is littered with thinkers who talked only to themselves and came away from the internal discussion impressed with what was said. Having honest opponents who will confront us, who will insist that our arguments must be tested is essential to intellectual and political progress.
In a similar vein, it is better for society to have ideas debated openly, rather than in the shadows. Even if the right wing were entirely composed of fascists — and I do not believe that this is the case — I would want to see what they believe presented to the public so as to allow good people to know what needs to be opposed.
I freely allow myself to be accused of being a Marxist here, but I take the position that a dialectic is essential to healthy political life. Donald Trump as a prepubescent Sauron in an apocalyptic fight between evil and good not only endangers the nation if his side wins. We are also at risk if what he represents loses and pulls down any viable opposition in the mundane arguments over policy.🔷
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