Two important opinion pieces recently from conservative pundits on the moral decay of the GOP under Donald Trump. People who approve of Trump do so *because* of his behavior in office, not despite it.

First, Michael Gerson of the Washington Post writes, Trump deepens the moral damage to the GOP:

Repetition is the enemy of maintaining proper distinctions. It is a short road from being serially outraged to being slightly bored to being completely inured.

Thus many are likely to find the pardon of former Arizona county sheriff Joe Arpaio to be just another . . . something. Just another public feeding of President Trump’s base; or just an additional shiny distraction from real issues; or just one more cause for head-shaking and shoulder-shrugging; or just further evidence of the tawdry political company kept by the president of the United States.

This would be a mistake. This presidential action is not “just” anything. Following his expression of sympathy for the “very fine people” attending a white- supremacist rally in Charlottesville — who were, he said, defending “our history and heritage” — Trump must have known his next move would be highly symbolic, either as a retreat from prejudice or as its affirmation. What followed with the Arpaio pardon constitutes the most forthright racist incitement of the Trump era.

Trump has called Arpaio a “great American patriot,” employing a definition of patriotism that includes extreme ethnic profiling, terror raids, and cruel and unusual punishment. A definition of patriotism that covers using internment camps in extreme heat, parading women and juvenile offenders for the cameras in chain gangs, and degrading inmates in creative acts of bullying. This is not patriotism; it is the abuse of power in the cause of bigotry.

Others have commented on the legal precedent of effectively pardoning someone for abusing the constitutional rights of an ethnic minority. Done in a manner that employs the pardon power as a reward for political loyalty. Resulting from a process that evidently did not involve the normal review and recommendation of the Justice Department’s pardon attorney.

* * *

Congressional Republicans have often taken a wait-and-see attitude toward the dishonoring and destruction of their party. Now they can hardly deny that Trump’s worst moments are his most authentic moments, or that his definition of loyalty requires defending the indefensible. A few voices — including both Arizona senators and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan — were critical of the pardon. But congressional hearings demanding an account of the pardon’s purpose and process would demonstrate seriousness in the only task — the only path of self-respect and self-preservation — left to Republican leaders: attempting to salvage a party identity separate from racism.

These legal and political ramifications are clear enough. But it is the moral damage that is deepest: the stoking of tribal hatreds; the reckless fracturing of national unity; and the statement made about human worth.

* * *

Arpaio made a career of dehumanizing prisoners in his charge. His pardon sends the signal that some people are less than human. In one sense, this is perfectly consistent. Trump has employed dehumanization as a political tool from the start — of refugees, of migrants, of Muslims. By his pardon of Arpaio, he has metaphorically pardoned his own cruel and divisive approach to politics. It is a further step in Trump’s normalization and entrenchment of bigotry in our public life.

This creates a personal dilemma for many Republicans. How do they explain to their neighbors, and to their own children, their involvement with an institution that has been allied with forces of exclusion (at least at the national level)? The answer is not for all people with pricked consciences to leave, lest only unpricked consciences remain. But complacency is permission. Resistance is required. Any party that swallows the Trump/Arpaio ethic will be poisoned. And gagging, in this case, is a sign of health.

Next, “Bobo” David Brooks writes at the New York Times, How Trump Kills the G.O.P.:

It’s ironic that race was the issue that created the Republican Party and that race could very well be the issue that destroys it.

The G.O.P. was founded to fight slavery, and through most of its history it had a decent record on civil rights. A greater percentage of congressional Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act than Democrats.

It’s become more of a white party in recent years, of course, and adopted some wrongheaded positions on civil rights enforcement, but it was still possible to be a Republican without feeling like you were violating basic decency on matters of race. Most of the Republican establishment, from the Bushes to McCain and Romney, fought bigotry, and racism was not a common feature in the conservative moment.

* * *

[T]he Republican Party has changed since 2005. It has become the vehicle for white identity politics. In 2005 only six percent of Republicans felt that whites faced “a great deal” of discrimination, the same number of Democrats who felt this. By 2016, the percentage of Republicans who felt this had tripled.

Recent surveys suggest that roughly 47 percent of Republicans are what you might call conservative universalists and maybe 40 percent are what you might call conservative white identitarians. White universalists believe in conservative principles and think they apply to all people and their white identity is not particularly salient to them. White identitarians are conservative, but their white identity is quite important to them, sometimes even more important than their conservatism.

These white identitarians have taken the multicultural worldview taught in schools, universities and the culture and, rightly or wrongly, have applied it to themselves. As Marxism saw history through the lens of class conflict, multiculturalism sees history through the lens of racial conflict and group oppression.

According to a survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, for example, about 48 percent of Republicans believe there is “a lot of discrimination” against Christians in America and about 43 percent believe there is a lot of discrimination against whites.

I’d love to see more research on the relationship between white identity politics and simple racism. There’s clear overlap, but I suspect they’re not quite the same thing. Racism is about feeling others are inferior. White identitarianism is about feeling downtrodden and aggrieved yourself.

In the P.R.R.I. survey, for example, roughly as many Republicans believe Muslims, immigrants and trans people face a lot of discrimination as believe whites and Christians do. According to a Quinnipiac poll, 59 percent of those in the white working class believe white supremacist groups are a threat to the country.

But three things are clear: First, identity politics on the right is at least as corrosive as identity politics on the left, probably more so. If you reduce the complex array of identities that make up a human being into one crude ethno-political category, you’re going to do violence to yourself and everything around you.

Second, it is wrong to try to make a parallel between Black Lives Matter and White Lives Matter. To pretend that these tendencies are somehow comparable is to ignore American history and current realities.

Third, white identity politics as it plays out in the political arena is completely noxious. Donald Trump is the maestro here. He established his political identity through birtherism, he won the Republican nomination on the Muslim ban, he campaigned on the Mexican wall, he governed by being neutral on Charlottesville and pardoning the racialist Joe Arpaio.

Each individual Republican is now compelled to embrace this garbage or not. The choice is unavoidable, and white resentment is bound to define Republicanism more and more in the months ahead. It’s what Trump cares about. The identity warriors on the left will deface statues or whatever and set up mutually beneficial confrontations with the identity warriors on the right. Things will get uglier.

And this is where the dissolution of the G.O.P. comes in. Conservative universalists are coming to realize their party has become a vehicle for white identity and racial conflict. This faction is prior to and deeper than Trump.

When you have an intraparty fight about foreign or domestic issues, you think your rivals are wrong. When you have an intraparty fight on race, you think your rivals are disgusting. That’s what’s happening. Friendships are now ending across the right. People who supported Trump for partisan reasons now feel locked in to support him on race, and they are making themselves repellent.

It may someday be possible to reduce the influence of white identity politics, but probably not while Trump is in office. As long as he is in power the G.O.P. is a house viciously divided against itself, and cannot stand.

Advertisement