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Trump: How did we get to this point?

February 20, 2016

Sheila Suess KennedyIs Donald Trump the elephant in the elephant’s room?

It’s easy enough to catalog the multiple ways in which this classless narcissist is unfit for any public office, let alone the highest office in the land, and I for one have enough confidence in the American public to sleep at night secure that he will never occupy that office.

The real question posed by his success thus far is: How did we get to this point? How did a major political party produce not only “The Donald” but a whole crop of presidential candidates unable to do anything but ape him?

Ross Douthat, probably the most conservative columnist writing for the New York Times, considered that question in a recent op-ed. His penultimate paragraph is telling: “Should we begin to root for Donald Trump—not as a candidate actually to champion, now or in the fall, but as an agent of divine retribution for a corrupt and stumbling party, a pillaging-and-torching Babylonian invasion of which it must be said: The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

I don’t know about divine retribution, but I do know that one of the most troubling aspects of political campaigns over the past couple of decades has been their devolution into no-holds-barred team sports, where whatever it takes to win is fair game, and the boring details of policy and governing are incidental to the excitement of the game.

Do both parties do this? Yes. But the GOP is better at it—and that’s not a compliment.

Recently, the Tasnim News Agency, a semi-official Iranian news outlet, relayed a revelation by an Iranian official that should shock and trouble us all. According to that official, “Republican rivals of the current U.S. administration” attempted to stall last month’s Iranian-U.S. prisoner swap until the eve of the U.S. presidential election.

According to the News Agency, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, made the claims during a speech at a rally in Yazd, Iran.

“In the course of the talks for exchanging prisoners, the Republican rivals of the current U.S. administration who claim to be humanitarians and advocates of human rights sent a message telling us not to release these people [American prisoners] and continue this process [of talks] until the eve of U.S. presidential elections,” Shamkhani said, according to Tasnim.

Think about that. Partisans seeking electoral advantage were willing to keep American citizens behind bars in Iran for many months after they could have been released in order to give them campaign fodder.

Shocking as such behavior is, it is only incrementally worse than the dogged obstruction practiced by congressional Republicans who have been willing to block policies supported by large majorities of Americans—including policies they themselves once championed—if by doing so they could deny President Obama a victory.

When your sole political ambition is to win, when the only criterion for acceptable behavior is that it gives your “team” an advantage, is it any wonder that your party’s base chooses a self-described “winner”? When you have created a political culture that sneers at nuance and paints every policy dispute as a stark contest between “makers” and “takers,” is it any wonder that your voters see wealth as evidence of superiority? When you have countered even the mildest criticism of U.S. policy with exaltations of “American exceptionalism,” is it any wonder that your base embraces a xenophobic blowhard?

Divine vengeance or no, Trump is today’s Republican id.•

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Kennedy is a professor of law and public policy at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI. She blogs regularly at www.sheilakennedy.net. She can be reached at skennedy@ibj.com. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.
 

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