May 10, 2017
The moments after House Republicans narrowly passed a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a hornet’s nest of tax cuts for the über-rich and salvos for the Evangelicals who want to Make America Gilead again—a bill that would strip protections away from people with pre-existing conditions, effectively gouging Americans off their plans and condemning them to “high-risk pools” (which are more like a series of kiddie pools crammed with tens of millions of people); defund Planned Parenthood and reinstate an insurer’s ability to raise premiums for anyone who has sought medical care after an assault; and inflate out-of-pocket costs even for people on employer-sponsored insurance—were a pornography of frat-boy grotesquerie. Paul Ryan and Donald Trump, those exemplars of determinist cruelty and louche monomania, stand in the rose garden, flanked by a gaggle of wealthy white men, laughing and back-clapping at their apparent “success” in ramming through a plan that would, quite literally, be the death of the sickest, most vulnerable people (and, likely, the bankruptcy of their families). As the mainstream media proclaims a “win” for Team Trump (here’s looking at you, CNN), new, and more stomach-shriveling details emerge—including the fact that these Republicans listened to the theme from Rocky before they cast their “yeas” on a bill that would kill at estimated 43,000 Americans a year.
Congressmen, we watched Rocky Balboa (many times, on repeat, whenever it airs on TNT); Rocky Balboa was a friend of ours; and you, Republicans, are no Rocky Balboa. The idea of these spoiled, sour men, who have been insulated by their wealth, relating to a scrappy underdog from the streets (an underdog, who, coincidentally, uses his brawn to protect the smaller, weaker folks in the neighborhood) is ludicrous enough to bend time and space. However, there is another film that better encapsulates the predicament that the Republican party—with its legislative terrorism on behalf of the one-percent; its radioactively retrogressive social policies; and its clay-footed hypocrisy when it comes to investigating collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, which, unlike Benghazi or emails, is actual treason—emulates more clearly: Marie Antoinette. Queen Marie and Louie XIV lounge in their gilded home and stumble through governance, bungling the country into war and leaving the populace to starve—until, inevitably, the roar of burning torches and the unified cries of the aggrieved breach castle walls.
Though Republicans are well-fortified by Congressional majorities (for now) and the presidency (for now)—fully able to try and grind a nation that has, however haltingly (and however incompletely), advanced toward greater equality for more people, under the boot-heel of nostalgia for an America that never existed for anyone who didn’t have XY chromosomes and a decided lack of melanin (and a certain number of zeroes in his checking account)—this power may prove short-lived, since it was, after all, obtained through a mix of raw-knuckled obstructionism and Russofied flim-flam, and not the popularity of their policies; indeed, less than a third of all Americans support the AHCA, while Obamacare is historically popular. The roar of torches is now the roar of the crowds who jam GOP town halls, screaming “do your job” at the Representatives who have wasted millions of tax dollars on frivolous investigations, and threatening to “fucking crawl door-to-door to make sure you lose.” In the hours after the AHCA was first passed, and those images of the frat party in the rose garden, or of Utah rep Jason Chaffetz (he of the infinite subpoenas) gleefully wheeling back to the Capitol after foot surgery (stemming from an injury that could—wait for it—technically considered a pre-existing condition), Swing Left raised over $800,000 in a war chest for Democratic general election challengers and the Daily Kos racked up $900,000 in just one day.
Though this Tea Party-steeped incarnation of the Republican Party may have been carried into office by a populist fervor, they have turned Reagan’s workin’ man brio into something darker, and more barbed. “The Republican party of Reagan was embedded in the belief that too much government control of our everyday lives tended to stifle productivity and innovation,” explains Mario Almonte, a public relations professional and political commentator. (Though Huey Freeman would disagree). “But Republicans lost this vision along the way,” he adds. One could disagree with Reagan’s vision of “morning in America,” or with the principles of limited government, but the GOP did at least have some vision, some principles—instead of the modern-day Republicans’ nihilistic drive for power, one that manages to shock even old-school Hill staffers, like the W. Bush-era employee who told me, under the condition of anonymity, that he was “shocked … Health care is very important to every American. I thought we would have saw a well refined bill with even some Democratic support later this summer … We got a completely partisan form of legislation that actually didn’t take into account all of the parts of the ACA that citizens actually like.”
The parts that citizens actually like—protecting people with pre-existing conditions; letting young adults stay on their parents’ health-care plans; and eliminating maximum caps in coverage—aren’t just popular, they are deeply humane. The Republican assault on the ACA, and the party’s legislative attempts to turn the country into a theocracy where civil rights are mere suggestions for a select few, and not codified into the national consciousness, are driving moderates out of the party (Planned Parenthood, for instance, consistently polls as more popular than Trump, or the Congressional GOP). Monika McDermott, a PhD, professor of political science at Fordham University, says that if the overarching narrative around Trumpcare “becomes about millions of American losing health care … Republicans will suffer losses in whatever election comes after things start to shake out.” This is where the ongoing resistance has been so effective—in shaping that narrative via carefully coordinated awareness campaigns that humanize the legislation in ways that Republicans, of course, simply can’t.
The Republicans’ reputation as “the party of no” may have galvanized their base during the Obama years; however, with no veto pen to quash their vicious whims, the party has effectively rebranded itself as one of avarice and cruelty—one that found its orange-skinned avatar in Trump. Though Cheetolini has inspired the devotion of the malignant dunderheads of this nation, he did not receive a mandate—in fact, his margins of victory in battleground states were smaller than Jill Stein’s percentage of the vote (how’s your conscience treating you these days, Steiners?). It’s an old political chestnut that the president’s party loses out in the midterms, particularly if the president is unpopular, and while 2018 is, well, over a year away, the GOP is already losing its more rational members. And despite what all the winsome dispatches from “Trump country” will tell you, the avid Trumpsters-gonna-Trump crowd is still a minority
Katherine, 49, was one of the many moderate Republicans who didn’t just get off the Trump Train in 2016, but left the GOP entirely. She was initially drawn to what she saw as the party’s fiscal pragmatism and commitment to the Constitution; her early heroes were Republican stalwarts like Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower. However, around the mid-90s, she noticed a shift away from the more secular values of balancing budgets when “Christian extremists (especially anti-abortion fanatics) highjacked the party to promote their own vision of a right-wing Christian theocracy—imposing their distorted interpretation of what that religion stood for and making the absurdly named ‘family values’ the cornerstone of the party's platforms.” Katherine was especially disturbed by “the influence of big oil and big business,” which was anathema to the limited government and strict Constitutionalism she’d initially admired. “The relentless pursuit of tax cuts for the well-off began to undermine any meaningful legislative agenda,” she says. The Trump campaign’s naked appeals to the baser, more bigoted elements of the Joe Lunchpail set finally drove her to change her registration to Democrat, and she proudly volunteered for the Clinton campaign.
She’s hardly the only Republican to break ranks, even permanently, with the party—George Will famously changed his voter registration to unaffiliated; David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush and editor for The Atlantic, has become a rather unorthodox figure in the resistance, penning columns about the moral imperative of voting for HRC and the ways that repealing Obamacare will become the GOP’s Waterloo (assuming, of course, that the Russia scandal doesn’t become Trump’s Watergate); and Business Insider columnist Josh Barro, who called the many, many Republicans who refused to denounce candidate Trump (here’s looking at you, Paul Ryan) “cowards and scoundrels.”
Now, in the wake of Donald Trump’s decision to fire FBI director James Comey, the man who was spearheading the investigation into his campaign’s collusion with Russia (and in a way that would’ve made even Tony Soprano wince at the pointless machismo of it all) the GOP is not simply the party that would’ve killed Jimmy Kimmel’s baby—they are carrying water for a president who has thoroughly poisoned the well. Weeks before this oh-so-curiously timed firing, and the petulant Tweetstorm that preceded former acting attorney general (and total khaleesi) Sally Yates’ testimony that she’d repeatedly warned the White House that then-national security director Michael Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians, a vast majority of Americans supported appointing a special prosecutor. One can only imagine that majority swelling. Within days of Trump’s supposed “victory” on health care (which entailed squeaking one desperately unpopular bill through one chamber of Congress), the hashtags trending on Twitter were #SallyYates; #Comey; #Flynn; and #Russia—and though it’s tempting to dismiss this as ancillary, as digital frivolity, our social media does reflect our national consciousness. And we the people are pissed.
Many of us, in 140 characters or less, are asking what David Frum does: “The question has to be asked searchingly of the Republican members of Congress: Will you allow a president of your party to attack the integrity of the FBI? You impeached Bill Clinton for lying about sex. Will you now condone and protect a Republican administration lying about espionage? Where are you? Who are you?” In the hours after Comey’s firing, prominent Democrats were out front-and-center, speaking on the sanctity of the Republic, calling this out as Trump’s most recent dictatorial turn. With a few exceptions (and even then, save for an errant Tweet), the Republicans were conspicuously, hypocritically absent. Five days ago, they may have been cracking jokes in the rose garden, whooping up their electoral coup. But now, unless they take steps to censure their own figurehead, they have lost the rights to call themselves patriots—and if the public furor holds, they’ll lose the rights to call themselves Congresspeople.