Prior to 2016, the Republicans were steered by a man who sold himself to elect kings and build a party. That deal with the devil did not survive Donald Trump.
To the rest of the world, the United States has always been a conundrum. It’s perennially unclear whether it should be admired or condemned, loved or hated, or all of the above. Even for those of us who live in it, America’s now become one big, fat and lethal riddle. A microscopic virus has put America under the microscope, exposed an advanced, wealthy, and resourceful society as a helpless behemoth, even downright self-destructive.
Why? How? It makes no sense. And, here in the U.S., it’s driving us all nuts.
There probably are as many answers to this mystery as there are threads to a sweater. But here’s one: Oscar Wilde said of America that it’s the only country that’s gone from barbarism to decadence without passing through civilization. Or, to put it more succinctly if less elegantly, America is suffering the consequences of a political, even a moral, rot. It’s what happens when core values are betrayed and abandoned; when you make a deal with the devil and the deal turns rancid.
To get at the big picture, one particular thread to pull on is Arthur Jay Finkelstein. Arthur was (he died three years ago) a top-level, Republican political consultant and strategist. His heyday ranged from the late ’60s right up through the end of the George W. Bush presidency. One of his biggest successes was as the architect of the Potemkin village known as the Ronald Reagan presidential campaign. Wickedly smart, urbane, flamboyant, and blessed with a great sense of humor – even the Democrats liked him – Finkelstein was a popular get on the Washington cocktail party circuit. But, truth is, he counseled and got elected some of the foulest, most egregious right-wing bigots the U.S. has ever seen; Jesse Helms stands in as a good “exhibit A.”
The one Democrat he did stoop to work for was George Wallace – and that hardly counts as sleeping with the enemy. However, what had most people scratching their heads was that Arthur was homosexual. In his circle of clients, friends, and confidants, this was a well-known fact.
A less well-known fact is that in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s you were more likely to run into a homosexual among the political staffs and strategists of the Republican Party than you were even in Hollywood. Which means Finkelstein, and many of his cohorts, actively sweated to elect men that wanted not only to block any legislative measures on sexual rights and equality, but to ban homosexuality and criminalize the behavior altogether, lock them up!
When people ask, “What’s going on in America?” One good answer is to echo Arthur Finkelstein: “We just elect ’em; after that, we are all on our own.”
Finkelstein’s is a true tale of moral rot; of the abandonment and betrayal of essentials, a selling of the soul. He threw over an essence of who and what he was simply for the immediate gratification of winning an election. What would be done with that winning, with the power gained, was moot. It was an actual, real-life Faustian bargain.
From the late 1920s right up until 2016, the bedrock values of Republicanism were: self-reliance, personal responsibility, free trade, alliances against authoritarianism (meaning mainly, Russia), fiscal restraint and balanced budgets, small government, and the devolution of power down to local levels. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, that, in leadership, character matters. This was the essence, the very core of the Republican soul.
Enter Trump, the Republican Mephistopheles.
Here is the ultimate un-self-made man, one who never, ever takes responsibility, an isolationist on trade and international relations, a budget buster of drunken sailor proportions, cozy with the Russians even at the expense of traditional alliances, a character profile that would make a low-level Mafioso blush (and a racist to boot), a centralizer of power, a constant and habitual liar. And this is who the Republican Party fell for? This was the deal? And, why? The answer is depressingly simple: to win control, gain power. Not, however, for what might be done with that power. On policy grounds, there is no policy beyond Trump’s own personal aggrandizement.
Sadly, this Mephistopheles put in control never could hold up his end of any bargain. Meanwhile, by association, the whole country is left “soulless” in the face of one of the biggest crises to hit in over a century. The Republicans chose him and the nation elected him.
So, when people ask, “What’s going on in America?” One good answer is to echo Arthur Finkelstein: “We just elect ’em; after that, we are all on our own.”