During the 1988 election season’s presidential debates, George H. W. Bush described his opponent, Michael Dukakis, as ‘a card-carrying member of the ACLU.’ This was supposed to be a zinger, a devastating put-down line that would show up his opponent as a radical, a wanna-be hippie, an out-of-touch member of the East Coast elite, an un-American, unrepentant, defender of–civil liberties. You know, those things enumerated in the Bill of Rights and enshrined in the American Constitution, which every patriot, suitably armed with his Second Amendment-protected guns, is sworn to protecting against the ravages of commies and pinkos and terrorists everywhere. The line worked; it went down famously with the Republican ‘faithful’ and the ‘base.’ The continued strategy of painting Dukakis as an effete pointyhead disconnected from broader American realities worked; Republican pollsters knew their party, and the folks who voted them in power.
We should keep this in mind every time we come across an instance of the ludicrous ‘Republicans were so much better, so much more moderate and balanced in the good old days’ line. The latest deposit of this bovine excreta may be found in Jon Meacham‘s ‘Nostalgia for The Grace of George H. W. Bush‘ the tagline for which reads: “The Journey from Bush to Trump disproves Darwin.”
That tagline gives the game away. The journey from Bush to Trump does not ‘disprove Darwin.’ Rather, it does the exact opposite. The journey from Bush to Trump shows that the American political environment furnished adaptive niches for political creatures like racists; their traits were suited for flourishing in it. That environment was set up by Republicans, their base and their party; it was sustained by the actions of supposedly genteel folks like the Bushes and the Reagans. They fostered racism and chauvinism and xenophobia and, surprise!, a ‘survival-of-the-fittest’ view of society in which the poor and the unfortunate and the systematically oppressed and disenfranchised were to be kicked to the curb by those in power. And God help those who, like the ACLU, spoke up on their behalf.
This environment was fertile breeding ground for those possessed of the traits with which to exploit it. Enter Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Alex Jones, Sarah Palin, and Donald Trump. The line of progression is clear and visible; it is clear too which political creatures’ offspring flourished in the environment created and sustained by the Republican Party. Along the way, America committed mass murder in Iraq; it tortured; it refused to punish those who had committed those supposedly un-American crimes. It should not be surprised that Donald Trump has shown up on its doorsteps demanding to be let in; he’s been on the inside, and he’s seen what works.
Meacham’s invocation of Darwin here shows two things: 1) He does not understand Darwin and 2) He has not been paying attention the last twenty-eight years. The former might be forgivable; after all, many people don’t. The latter is not. Meacham thinks he is offering a diagnosis; unfortunately, he is part of the problem.