A (Non-Exhaustive) List of the People Who Paved the Way for Trump

He didn’t break our political system. He’s the culmination of a system that has long been broken.

The folks at Atlantic Studios have produced a video that demonstrates Trump’s lack of leadership on the coronavirus crisis by comparing him to the leaders of other Western democracies. It’s brutal.

Commenting on the video, Anne Applebaum writes this:

Americans, as a rule, rarely compare themselves with other countries, so convinced are we that our system is superior, that our politicians are better, that our democracy is the fairest and most robust in the world. But watch this video and ask yourself: Is this the kind of leadership you expect from a superpower? Does this make you feel confident in our future? Or is this man a warning signal, a blinking red light, a screaming siren telling all of us, and all of the world, that something about our political system has gone profoundly awry?

She is absolutely right. If we learn nothing else from Trump’s time in the Oval Office, it should be to heed the screaming siren telling us that “something about our political system has gone profoundly awry.” As so many others have pointed out, what is wrong with our political system didn’t start with Trump, but has been building for decades.

While certainly not an exhaustive list, I thought it would be helpful to briefly summarize some of the people who paved the way for where we are today.

Lee Atwater: Along with others in the Nixon White House, implemented the Republican’s Southern Strategy (the early 1970s).

Paul Weyrich: Formed a coalition between Goldwater conservatives and Christian nationalists that became the base of the Republican Party (1980).

Ronald Reagan: Proclaimed, “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem” (1981).

Newt Gingrich: Turned partisan battles into a bloodsport and wrecked Congress (the 1990s).

Rupert Murdoch: Launched Fox News (1996).

Grover Norquist: Not only invented the anti-tax pledge but became the father of obstruction when he forecast that if a Democrat won the White House, Republicans would make it so that they couldn’t govern as a Democrat (2003).

Mitch McConnell: Implemented Norquist’s plan of total obstruction and broke the Senate (2009-present).

Supreme Court: In the Citizens United case, ruled that corporations and other outside groups can spend unlimited money on elections (2010).

That is how the GOP became the party of racists and Christian nationalists funded by the one percent with the goal of undermining the government. It is also what eventually put Donald Trump in the White House.

Democrats haven’t been all that successful in combating these moves. As the party that embraces both pluralism and the role of government in solving problems, simply adopting these GOP strategies is not an option.

During Barack Obama’s second term, he gave an entire speech in Springfield, Illinois, focused on the steps we need to take as citizens to develop “a better politics.” His ideas are nothing new, but worth highlighting in this context.

1. “First is to take, or at least reduce, some of the corrosive influence of money in our politics.”

2. “The second step towards a better politics is rethinking the way that we draw our congressional districts.” On this one, the President made an interesting point about how this contributes to polarization.

You wonder why Congress doesn’t work? The House of Representatives there, there may be a handful — less than 10 percent — of districts that are even competitive at this point. So if you’re a Republican, all you’re worried about is what somebody to your right is saying about you, because you know you’re not going to lose a general election. Same is true for a lot of Democrats.

3. “… a third step towards a better politics is making voting easier, not harder; and modernizing it for the way that we live now.” He made an interesting point about how this one loops back to #1 and #2.

Now, the more Americans use their voice and participate, the less captive our politics will be to narrow constituencies. No matter how much undisclosed money is spent, no matter how many negative ads are run, no matter how unrepresentative a district is drawn, if everybody voted, if a far larger number of people voted, that would overcome in many ways some of these other institutional barriers.

Interestingly enough, all of those measures were included in the first bill passed by the House (H.R. 1) once Democrats gained a majority in the 2018 election. The self-avowed “Grim Reaper” not only refused to take up that bill, but he went to the floor of the Senate to call it a “Democratic power grab.” So it is clear that Republicans will fight any attempt to fix the ways that they have corrupted our political system.

Perhaps that’s why Obama took to Twitter to send out a simple one-word message.

Giving Democrats the power to fix our broken political system is just one more way that elections matter.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.