Christopher Smart: Republicans, a messiah and winning at any cost

(Chuck Robinson | AP file photo) In this Oct. 7, 1984, photo President Ronald Reagan debates Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Walter Mondale in Louisville, Ky.

I could never understand Republicans or what it is they espouse.

Ronald Reagan won by a landslide in 1980 and was popular through two terms because he came across as a warmhearted, all-American Gipper who stood for freedom, hated communism and promised a bright future.

That part I get, but when I listened closely to his campaign speeches and debates, it became clear he was using racial dog whistles: “Welfare queens in Cadillacs.” He famously said, “Government is the problem, not the solution.” And not least was his promotion of “trickle-down economics,” which George H.W. Bush labeled as “voodoo economics.”

Today, as Donald Trump and his Republican stalwarts undermine our democracy, we should recognize that the shadow of Reagan still looms large across the land: tax cuts for the rich; renewed vocalization of racism; hatred of the government; and cutting social welfare programs like food stamps that feed impoverished children. As Reagan said, “Ketchup is a vegetable.”

It was in the Reagan-era that Republican strategist Lee Atwater helped put us on the road to where we are today with a new level of disinformation and skullduggery that helped Reagan in 1984 and George H.W. Bush in 1988. Remember Willie Horton, the black murderer set free to kill again by Democrat Michael Dukakis?

One of Atwater’s acolytes, Karl Rove, helped the son, George W. Bush, win the governor’s seat in Texas in 1994 and the presidency in 2000 and 2004.

Bush Junior beat Gov. Ann Richards in Texas after she was branded a lesbian in a whisper campaign. Bush prevailed over John McCain in the 2000 primary race in South Carolina after a whisper campaign claimed that McCain had fathered a black child. And Bush won in 2004 after his opponent, Sen. John Kerry, was labeled again and again as a coward for his service in Vietnam even though he was decorated for combat bravery.

And let’s not forget Newt Gingrich, who brought a scorched earth policy to Congress and helped transform it from congeniality and compromise to the mean-spirited pit it is today. Not surprisingly, Gingrich’s accomplishments include “welfare reform” and the capital gains tax cut.

Along with their “conservatism,” Republicans juiced up the “culture wars,” to use abortion, gun rights, gay marriage and immigration as weapons to persuade Democratic voters to switch because the GOP is the moral, Christian party, despite its policies that hurt working people.

Since 1980, the overall wealth of the country, measured as gross domestic product, has tripled. But during that period, wages and benefits for middle-class workers have remained flat or even dipped. The Reaganomics that have been woven into our economy has for decades been leading to the destruction of the middle class.

The stage was set for the messiah. Donald Trump was nasty and untruthful but said he felt the pain of the working class. He would speak up for those with no voice and browbeat the elites who shipped their jobs overseas. He was someone they could follow without a second thought because he was their savior — end of story.

Democracy is a fragile thing. Witness Spain, Italy and Germany in the 1930s. Today we see democracies teetering and failing in Eastern Europe. Yet Republicans continue to gird up Trump’s presidency, despite a resounding defeat at the polls, that surely will weaken our democracy. If elections don’t count, what does?

So I come back to the question: What do Republicans stand for? Tax cuts for the rich? Deregulation for corporations? Freedom from government overreach? Or is it simply the desire for raw power and winning at any cost?

Christopher Smart

Christopher Smart, a former Salt Lake Tribune reporter, is a freelance journalist in Salt Lake City and author of Smart Bomb, which appears in City Weekly.