By Lee A. Daniels
Citizens of America: While you were distracted last week by, among other things, the Republican Party’s marathon, second primary debate, the U.S. military, acting on orders from President Obama, completed its takeover of the American Southwest – suspending the Constitution and imposing martial law, taking residents’ guns, and throwing those who resisted into secret detention centers.
Oh, wait: that’s the bizarro-world version of the military’s Jade Helm 15 “war games” exercise the conservative echo chamber hysterically claimed this spring was part of the president’s plan to ultimately take over the country, dissolve Congress and declare himself president for Life.
In the real world the rest of us live in, the two-month exercise ended September 15th as quietly as it had begun. Military officials pronounced themselves satisfied that it had given members of the military’s various special operations forces war-games training in an environment whose terrain approximated that of the world’s Middle Eastern and African hotspots.
It’s worth recalling the fierce controversy that engulfed the Jade Helm 15 exercise for months before it began for two reasons. One is to understand how similar the tone of the lunatic claims made about it were to such other right-wing-generated Obama-era scares as: the supposed “death panels” of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare); the claims last fall that the death of one individual in Dallas who had been infected with the Ebola virus while in Liberia was the harbinger of an Obama-created epidemic about to sweep over America; and, my personal favorite, that President Obama’s September 2009 nationwide speech to be piped to public school students in their classrooms was really his attempt to indoctrinate them in the tenets of socialism, or communism, or Islam – or all three simultaneously.
Adding up the mix of right-wing extremism, pathological idiocy and cynical fear-mongering in those conspiracy theories provides an excellent framework for analyzing the GOP’s behavior in Congress and on the campaign trail today – be it Congressional Republicans’ plans to force another shutdown of the federal government or their staging purely symbolic votes against the Iran nuclear deal.
The “Gang of 16” Republican presidential primary candidates have left no doubt they’re committed to this lunacy, too. Sampling the comments the contenders’ made on such issues as immigration, foreign affairs and vaccinations for children during the debate at the Reagan presidential library, the New York Times editorial of September 17 described them as “a collection of assertions so untrue, so bizarre that they form a vision as surreal as the Ronald Reagan jet looming behind the candidates’ lecterns.” The editorial’s title: “Crazy Talk at the Republican Debate.”
Unfortunately for the country, “crazy talk” has become a chief requirement of Republican Party politics – the result of the GOP having so debased the honor of the practice of politics and having so denigrated “Washington” all these decades, and especially once the nation’s first Black president took office. The great irony is that, in part because of Obama’s skill at out-maneuvering Republican attempts to undermine him, those chickens have come home to roost most sharply within the GOP itself: None of its current leading contenders for the nomination – Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina – have ever held elective or appointive office; while the GOP Base is ignoring or punishing those contenders who have.
This is what happens when you debase the honor of politics – which, after all, is the art of the possible, of compromise, of trying to work through opposing, or just complicated, points of view, of tolerating difference. When you debase “politics,” you open wide the door of the cesspool of intolerance.
Fittingly, Donald Trump, whose callousness and racism have propelled him to the top of the Republican pile, has now shown in the most dramatic way the moral swamp that is the demagogue’s true character. For all his promises to, as president, stare down this and that world leader to get what he wants, the cowardly Mr. Trump couldn’t even stand up to a two-bit bigot in New Hampshire who demeaned the Office of the Presidency and called for the ethnic cleansing of all Muslim Americans.
What made Trump’s cowardice stand out even more was its coming just days after the shameful ordeal endured by 14-year-old Texas high schooler and technology whiz Ahmed Mohamed served to underscore the vast potential for “making American great again” that undoubtedly lies within America’s newest immigrant groups – and a vast number of native-born children who now stand outside the gates of opportunity.
So, while we all calculate which of the Republican candidates won or lost from last week’s debate, the broader question we should also be considering is how long will American society be living with the virus of right-wing extremism let loose by the moral collapse of the Republican Party.
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His essay, “Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Great Provocateur,” appears in Africa’s Peacemakers: Nobel Peace Laureates of African Descent (2014), published by Zed Books. His new collection of columns, Race Forward: Facing America’s Racial Divide in 2014, is available at www.amazon.com.