Cardella: Backlash

Political experts seem to agree. The present outlook for Democrats in the midterm elections of 2022 is bleak. Democrats themselves are trying to figure out where they went wrong. President Biden’s approval ratings keep sinking. Where DID the President go wrong? But what if the Biden administration didn’t do anything wrong? What if the country isn’t on the wrong track, but the voters are? What if the voters who disastrously elected Donald Trump in 2016 were dead wrong? What if these same voters almost re-elected Trump in 2020 despite his attempt to overthrow a democratic election? And what if voters are hell-bent on returning Trump to the White House no matter what the Democrats do?

We might not want to think about it. Logic is drawing us to a frightening conclusion. In a democracy, there is no protection from voters making bad decisions. We like to think that in the end, truth always wins out. We like to think the arc of history always bends toward justice. But it doesn’t. Not without consequences. Not in the 1960s, when with Republican help, Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. At the time, LBJ said that by giving the vote to minorities, “We (meaning the Democrats) lost the South for a generation.”

Prior to the Civil Rights Act, the Democratic Party had made a pact with the devil. The devil was racism. So long as the Party accepted the suppression of the black vote in the South, Democrats were rewarded with southern votes — “the Solid South.” Fault lines had begun to crack as far back as 1948, when President Harry Truman ordered the end of segregation in the military. But since Johnson — a man of the South himself — signed the Civil Rights Act, his party has paid a stunning price every election day.

It wasn’t long afterward that the Party of Lincoln nodded to racism as part of its political strategy. Despite the moral courage of some Republicans such as Sen. Everett Dirksen, the GOP stood ready to embrace racism as a political strategy. Richard Nixon used the “Southern Strategy” of Lee Atwater. George H.W. Bush used the infamous Willie Horton ad to win the presidency. Suddenly, racism was mainstream and right of center. As comedian Bill Maher says, “All Republicans are NOT racists, but all racists are Republicans.”

In essence, the Democrats did the right thing and it cost them the White House. And so we have come full circle today in the post-Trump era. The Republican Party is now a minority party in America. But it has sold its soul to Donald J. Trump to become competitive in national elections. The GOP has learned that they don’t need to stand for anything positive to win the White House. In the 2020 presidential election, the Republican Party had NO policy platform. The first time ever. Yet 74 million voters cast ballots for the Republican candidate.

The Republican Party used to stand for something. Less spending. A strong national defense. Individual liberty. Cost-efficient government. Trump turned his back on most of what were standard Republican values. He mocked military service. Trump doesn’t deserve all the blame for reckless deficits. Yet, statistics show that contrary to popular belief, the economy has done better under Democrats than under Republicans. Republicans only seem to worry about deficits when they are out of power. Republicans stood silent while Trump ran up the deficit. On national security, Trump was an incredible Putin apologist, even when it came to believing Putin rather than our own intelligence agencies when it came to hacking our election. Trump put the flawed Afghanistan withdrawal in motion by not taking a hard line on the Taliban. His inaction practically ensured the mess that followed under Biden. Trump betrayed our Kurdish allies. He bastardized the definition of individual liberty by ranting against masks and vaccines. Then he himself got vaccinated. Secretly.  Trump’s failure to provide for an orderly distribution of the vaccine likely caused his defeat in 2020.

The Republican Party fought to overturn Obamacare, but never offered an alternative plan. Its plan to improve Social Security is to turn that agency over to the uncertainty of private markets. For four years, Trump wanted an even bigger infrastructure plan but did nothing to enact one. Trump’s lack of vision became the Republican Party’s lack of vision. When Democrats passed an infrastructure bill that, among other things, provided for repair of the nation’s roads and bridges and repair the electric grid, it did so with the help of only 13 Republican legislators — all of whom are being threatened with banishment from the party. The Democrats’ companion bill, which would address the social safety net, child care and more, has not gotten the support of a single Republican senator or House member, even though it would help many in Republican-controlled states.

In the meantime, Republicans have been busy hyping the return of Trump to the political scene. The majority of Republicans in office (and of those seeking office) have bought into the false and discredited notion that the election was stolen from Trump. And they’ve been busy at the state level under the phony guise of making elections more secure, but instead making it easier to overturn democratic elections.

The Republican Party is willing to restore a man to the White House who may have provoked an insurrection. With the notable exception of a few honorable Republicans, the party is doing everything in its power to prevent an investigation to find out what happened on Jan. 6 and who planned it. On the other side, no matter how flawed the path has been, Biden and the Democrats are trying alone without any Republican help, to address the nation’s problems.

If under these circumstances, there’s a backlash of voters against the Democrats, maybe it’s the voters, not the Democrats, who’ve failed the nation.