It’s become something of a sport for liberal-minded political journalists to wax poetic on why the Conservative establishment, allegedly once a bastion of high minded principles and Burkean traditionalism, so readily jumped on the Trump train despite him being the very antithesis to the careful incrementalism and anti-radicalism of the old school Right.
And while it’s certainly true that Republican grassroots abandoned Edmund Burke long ago, it’s not an adequate explanation for why country club Republicans ceded the party to its most radical elements without putting up much of a fight, if any at all.
Obviously, one of the reasons traditionalist conservatives choose to look the other way on Trump’s autocratic tendencies, is the unique opportunity to radically transform the Judiciary for generations to come by stacking the courts with young right-wing ideologues. Something the Republican leadership, led by Mitch McConnell, laid the groundwork for through years of unprecedented obstruction and congressional sabotage during Obama’s presidency, post the 2010 midterm massacre.
But I suspect there’s another reason as well. What if the upper echelons of the conservative aristocracy is using Donald Trump’s presidency to carry out a vast social experiment in which to study just how far they can go, in terms of squeezing the American people and pushing the US Constitution to its limits and beyond? If that’s the case, what lessons have they learned so far?
Well they have learned that it’s possible for an American president to forcibly deport 11 million people, cage small children in concentration camps, appoint radical ideologues to lead every government agency, wipe out decades of regulatory precedence, hand themselves enormous unfunded tax cuts, openly enable and support white nationalism, attack and bully the free press, lie copiously and shamelessly engage in the most flagrant and brazen hypocrisies, politicize and abuse the powers of the DOJ, invite foreign interference in our elections, assault and corrupt intelligence agencies, call for insurrection against democratically elected US Governors, promote wild conspiracy theories, disclose highly sensitive classified information when it suits their political interests and transform the executive branch into a monstrous favor mill, populated with the surrogates of virtually every special interest known to man — and that despite all this, Democrats won’t obstruct them in Congress, and the American people (ever priding itself of its rugged individualism, anti-totalitarianism and love of freedom) will indeed NOT rise up, but instead bow its collective head and take it.
It’s long been a motif of American self-image that we more or less keep our political class in check through the implicit threat of revolution. After all, this very country was created through revolution against distant and unrepresentative aristocratic oppressors. Thomas Jefferson’s motto was “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” Second Amendment fanboys and girls routinely defend their love of guns by claiming we need them against the rise of tyrannical government. Talk of revolution is common on both Left and Right whenever we don’t like whoever occupies the Oval Office. But when push comes to shove, we do nothing. It’s all words. Sure we may have a protest here and a march there, but they eventually fade away or are brutally suppressed (at least when it comes to civil rights and environmentalism) and what we once considered extreme, gradually becomes the new normal. We conform. That’s the sad truth of American society.
And that’s also the truth Republicans no doubt are learning from the presidency of Donald Trump. Now, even as he is calling for opening the country, while his administration and medical experts know full well that casualties of COVID-19 will keep rising exponentially for many months to come, there’s little in the form of serious political warfare to shut him down.
Even though he has been spewing dangerous nonsense and misinformation from the bully pulpit on a daily basis, there are no institutional calls for his resignation or aggressive legislative opposition coming from the Democratic Party.
Despite the fact that the President of the United States is arguably advocating for genocide by virus, all so economic numbers might work in his favor come November 2020, Democrats are still negotiating with Republicans on corporate bailouts, with little to no oversight of how trillions of US tax dollars are spent.
Republicans are learning that the American people are essentially docile and easily manipulated creatures of comfort, and that there is no sleeping revolutionary giant ready to jump into action even as they plainly subvert democracy and funnel tax money into their own pockets.
They are learning that millions of Americans are yearning for a strong man leader and can easily be controlled and manipulated through right-wing media.
And they are learning that the opposing party doesn’t have the spinal fortitude or moral fiber to pose any kind of serious threat. Democrats are snoozing comfortably now that their guy Biden won the primaries, while the loyal foot soldiers of the MAGA base are out there in their SUVs with their guns, obeying Trump’s call for insurrection against state governments.
Even if Trump loses the next election, they’ve learned that once back in power they can essentially nullify the achievements of any future Democratic administration, without eliciting little more than a few toothless complaints from congressional Democrats and resignation and nihilism from the Democratic electorate.
The Trump presidency has revealed some uncomfortable truths about America. Most importantly, it has revealed to Republicans that nothing really stands in the way of plutocratic supremacy in the so-called “Land of the Free”. The checks and balances are a myth, as is the alleged American revolutionary spirit.
In this sense, the Trump Era has already been an extremely successful social experiment, if you look at it through the eyes of the Conservative establishment.