Wednesday, May 4, 2016
The Day Mormons Started Praying for Hillary
Sooooooooooooo . . . where to start?
Today (May 4) is the day a majority of American Mormons have been dreading—the day Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee for president. Mark it on your calendar. It may go down in history as the day Utah began a sudden but long-overdue shift from the GOP to the Democratic Party their parents and grandparents called home.
Let’s talk about why. Yes, Mormons, by and large, detest Trump, cringe at the sort of campaign he has run, and dread the sort of president he would be. But Trump is more than just a crass demagogic bully. He is partly a product of what the Republican Party has become. His ascension in GOP politics is hardly a surprise to those who have been paying attention. He has tapped very effectively into the incoherent anger Republicans have been stoking for a good long time now. But he is also partly the GOP establishment’s worst nightmare, because he has exposed their duplicity.
For many years now, the GOP has been pulling a slick bait-and-switch on its own constituents. As Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson describes it, “Traditional Republican orthodoxy calls for small government, low taxation, tight money, deregulation, free trade, and cost-saving reforms to entitlement programs. If I were independently wealthy, that might seem an agreeable set of policies. Ditto if I were one of the ‘small-business owners’ to whom GOP candidates sing hymns of praise.
“But most working-class Republicans are, get ready for it, working-class. They are more Sam’s Club than country club. They don’t own the business, they earn wages or a salary; and trickle-down economics has not been kind to them. Their incomes have been stagnant for a good 20 years, they have seen manufacturing jobs move overseas and job security vanish, they have less in retirement savings and home equity than they had hoped, and they see their young-adult children struggling to get a start in life.”1
So while Republican politicians have been paying lip-service to these voters with banal slogans in order to get elected, once in office they have promoted policies that overwhelmingly favor the wealthy and harm the average citizen. But Trump has blown the lid off this scam. By offending women, immigrants, various ethnic and religious groups, and, ironically, politicians, he has played well the anger-and-paranoia card the party dealt him, but at the same time he has refused to toe the line on several key Republican orthodoxies. He opposes free trade, for instance, and not only refuses to cut entitlements but even hints at expanding them. He also shows no signs of wanting smaller government. He offers solutions to America’s problems that are “hugely” expensive, and yet he also offers to cut taxes on everyone, but mostly on the wealthy. So, by openly ignoring long-standing GOP priorities, he has exposed the great fallacy of Republican ideology, namely, that a large portion of the rank and file couldn’t care less about ideological purity. Frankly, they don’t understand the issues (or they wouldn’t support Trump), but they are indeed angry, and Trump is offering them an outlet for their anger, even if his policy pronouncements make no sense at all.
Basically, the Republican Party is disintegrating before our eyes. We knew something was terribly amiss when the two most popular options for president were The Donald and Ted Cruz, the most despised Republican Senator in years. And yet these two candidates actually represent two major thrusts of the GOP over at least the years of the Obama presidency. On one side is the senseless anger at government that the party has intentionally bred through Fox News and a host of inflammatory radio personalities. On the other is the extremist ideological purity that would quickly reject even Saint Ronald if he were to return from the dead.
Which leaves Mormon Republicans with a rather nasty predicament. The party’s little game has been exposed by a demagogue who has come in and usurped the position that makes him de facto party chief. So what do they do? Well, I would suggest they take a step back and look at what has led to today’s shocking development.
I would argue that for some time now the Republican Party has been living in la-la land. Even before Trump, look at what the GOP agenda had morphed into. This is a party that
• is devoted to supply-side economics, a misbegotten economic fantasy that never has worked and never will;
• denies human-caused global warming, rejecting a consensus among the scientific community;
• wants to deregulate Wall Street and other corporate behemoths, believing, apparently, that these greed-driven enterprises can be trusted to self-regulate;
• is unanimous in trying to once again drastically reduce taxes on the wealthy;
• refuses to enact much-needed immigration reform, preferring instead to demonize people who are seeking a better life;
• opposes sensible gun laws that a vast majority of Americans favor;
• wants to deny millions of Americans the health insurance they so desperately need;
• declines to invest sufficiently in our crumbling infrastructure;
• adamantly refuses to hold Senate hearings on a nominated Supreme Court justice, when a full two-thirds of Americans favor such action; and
• has presided over one of the ugliest presidential campaigns in history, eventually capitulating and embracing a completely unqualified and manipulative bigot.
Some sensible Republicans are probably of the opinion that this year’s electoral madness is an aberration and can be blamed on The Donald. But I think it is more accurate to say, rather, that Donald Trump is one logical result of where the GOP has been heading for some time now. Ted Cruz is another. In more muted tones, the party for some time has not just courted but has helped create a constituency that is angry, hateful, xenophobic, obstinate, and irrational. It is unlikely this will change in the near future, even if Trump loses spectacularly.
The Donald has done Mormon Republicans a favor, though. He has exposed GOP ideology for exactly what it is—a hoax. The party has preached tax cuts and smaller government, all the while knowing that nobody wants smaller government. Nobody. Not really. Republicans don’t want Social Security and Medicare slashed. Most of them will need these programs because trickle-down economics has left them without any retirement savings. They don’t really want to cut programs for the poor and the sick and the unemployed either. That would be, well, un-Christian. And they certainly don’t want to cut defense spending. They want to increase it. But when you take these items out of the federal budget, all you have left is pocket change. You’re not going to reduce government without severely cutting Social Security, Medicare, and defense. And tax cuts simply do not produce an increase in revenue, no matter how much voodoo you stir in. So, deep down inside, Republicans know that what we really need in this country is to tax like, well, like Eisenhower did. They just can’t bring themselves to admit they’ve been wrong for 35 years. But what is worse—embracing a bad idea for 35 years, or embracing it for 40?
Government, it turns out, isn’t the enemy. Yes, it’s often inefficient and annoying. But it’s the tool of the people to solve large-scale social problems and rein in out-of-control corporate capitalism. Often it is our only tool. So let’s not drown it in a bathtub.
The big question before Mormon Republicans today, and six months from today, is whether they will jump off the cliff with Trump or come to their senses and vote for Clinton. I know, I know, Hillary isn’t exactly the most appealing candidate the Democrats have ever fielded. But she does understand the issues, and on almost all of them she stands on the side of reason and common sense and moderate pragmatism.
What will be interesting to see is whether Utah will cast its collective vote this fall for a Democrat. Some have predicted this if Trump is the Republican nominee. But I have my doubts. I suspect that too many Mormons are actually more Republican than they are Mormon. They sincerely believe that you can’t be a good Mormon and vote Democrat. So, I’m going out on a limb here, and I’m predicting that in 2016 Utah will still vote Republican. But it will be close.
The winds are shifting, though. So pray for Hillary. I will be.
1. Eugene Robinson, “Trump Understood the Voters the GOP Forgot,” Washington Post, May 2, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-understood-the-voters-the-gop-forgot/2016/05/02/22011614-1088-11e6-81b4-581a5c4c42df_story.html.