William Steele: Once, my party had principles
The other day a friend in Austria wrote: “We are so saddened by the scenes coming out of Washington. Was it Antifa? What has happened to America?”
I replied as follows:
Donald Trump came to office in 2016 as a newcomer to politics. His background as a socialite, a New York businessman and a television star gave him little understanding of how government works and little appreciation of its history and norms. He saw the presidency only as the ultimate position of power.
By 2016 America, like much of the industrialized world, had been experiencing a disastrous and growing gap between the wealthy and the poor. This, together with other economic and social reasons, has resulted in a group of people who feel the system has failed them and are alienated. They are Trump’s loyal base. He has been masterful in exploiting this base, and it is the source of his political power.
Domestically, his administration was a disaster: he appointed incompetent people to important posts; his family members were in key positions; he demands allegiance to himself rather than to the government; he used the justice system to reward friends and punish enemies; he purged key departments of expert long-term employees.
The result has been a diminished, failed and highly politicized government. It’s made all the worse by Trump’s lies, a constant stream of unnecessary, provable lies that nearly all recognize as lies, and uttered without shame.
As bad as the domestic situation is, many believe the effect of Trump’s presidency on our relations with the rest of the world is even worse. For the past 75 years, America has played a vital role in helping to build institutions which promote peace and solve disputes through negotiation. This is not to say that we have not made mistakes, serious mistakes such as Iraq. But institutions are people and people are imperfect, and on balance I believe our contribution has been for the good.
He has admired Putin, Kim Jung-Un and Xi Jinpeng, and insulted our allies and friends. He has unilaterally withdrawn from treaties and initiated trade wars. He has devastated the international structures that have prevented major wars since World War II, and it will take years to repair the damage.
A measure of the state of our relationships is that recently the Belgian foreign minister and the secretary general of the European Union both declined a meeting with the U.S. secretary of state. This would have been absolutely unimaginable in the past.
Now for a word about the election. The results were as accurate as any human endeavor could be and reflected the will of the majority of Americans by a large margin.
Elections here are the responsibility of the individual 50 states. Extra precautions were taken because of the cries by the Trump campaign that “The election will be stolen!”
Recounts were taken in close states. The Trump team brought more than 60 legal actions to the courts. Not one prevailed, and many were rejected for consideration as completely baseless. All of this against a backdrop of cries of “The Election Was Stolen!” by our now-former president. The fact is Joe Biden is our legitimate new president.
The sad result of these four years of chaos was the event in Washington on Jan. 6. After days of watching replays, I find it difficult to accept, but the images are there: his strident voice urging the crowd to march down to the Capitol and fight, the hysterical mob. And then the scenes at the Capitol and the realization that this is America and this is really bad and could easily get worse.
It was a close thing. The mob was comprised of more than the regular core of Trump believers. It included different groups of crazies from the far right fringes of the internet.
As usual, the Trump defenders deflected the blame to Antifa, but let’s remember that Antifa is a contraction for anti-fascist. It is the equally disgraceful far left. It is inconceivable that they could be there to overthrow the Biden election for Trump, and there is zero evidence of that.
Donald Trump left Washington with his second impeachment hanging over him, still supported by a reduced core of believers but disgraced in the eyes of a large majority of Americans.
Thousands of troops guarding the city, much of his Cabinet long-since resigned, the country in the grip of a pandemic made much worse by his mismanagement, and yet he requested a final 21 gun honor salute.
He leaves a Republican Party in tatters because almost all its leaders displayed a complete lack of moral courage to resist this nonsense. Americans hold their breath, hoping that we can avoid further catastrophe.
I feel I have some grounds to write this as I spent more than 60 years as a Republican — an active Republican, working to elect them, believing in their principles at a time when they had principles. No more.
William Steele lives in Nevada City.
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