“Hypocrisy,” François de La Rochefoucauld so memorably quipped, “is the homage vice pays to virtue.” That pithy notion floated back into my mind after I read accounts of so many Republican luminaries writhing in response to Donald Trump’s likely nomination. They are a bunch of hypocrites, scrambling to separate themselves from Trump rather than apologizing for their part in creating him.
That George H. W. Bush will not attend the convention seems sensible for a man of his years. But the announcement of his absence implies that he is sitting it out as a matter of principle. Ditto George W. Ditto Mitt Romney.
For a generation, the Republican strategy has been to create a benign façade for its candidates and keep the blood and guts in the back room.
I grant you that these three men at least had relevant experience when they set out to govern. However, their eleventh hour righteousness seeks to distance them from taking any responsibility for their own actions and for their positions that misled and exploited the white working class whose lot they claimed they would improve.
Worse, their righteousness attempts to apply a layer of varnish to their own veneer of respectability. For a generation, the Republican strategy has been to create a benign façade for its candidates and keep the blood and guts in the back room. I do not forgive George H. W. Bush for giving the thumbs up to the absolutely vicious, dishonest and racist Willie Horton ad that did so much to help him win. I do not forgive George W. Bush for stealing the election at least once — and, possibly, twice — by allowing his party to pursue appalling forms of voter suppression. Nor do I forgive Romney for dismissing the 47 percent of Americans without wealth who are "...dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it."
And while I do not forgive these three men for their secret knavery, they do not forgive Trump for ripping away their genteel cover, for bashing down the wall between the backroom and the microphones. Trump, in his comments about Mexicans, Muslims, undocumented immigrants and women, has shouted the corroding racist notions what his predecessors and peers in the party have long insinuated and implied. As Thomas Frank asserted in "What’s the Matter with Kansas?," for decades now, the Republicans have played shamelessly to a downwardly mobile white base while undermining the very social institutions that might have offered them a safety net. Recall Richard Nixon’s divisive Southern Strategy. Or Ronald Reagan's decision, in 1980, to launch his bid for the White House at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi, a "vicious white-supremacist stronghold" where, in 1964, the Ku Klux Klan murdered three white civil rights workers, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney.
Rather than helping to heal the nation, the standard-bearers of the Republican party<strong> </strong>have worked to fragment it for their own interests.
George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush and Romney should attend the Republican convention. There, they should apologize to the American people for so cynically and divisively seeking to keep the white working class at odds with others -- particularly their Latino and African-American peers — with whom they share a great deal in common. Rather than helping to heal the nation, the standard-bearers of the Republican party have worked to fragment it for their own interests. Now, their deviousness has come back to bite them in the form of an orange-tinted bigot, and they don’t have the integrity to own up. If the Republican party wants to restore itself, it needs to change what's in the package, not just the wrapping.
Looking to the party future, I take issue with Paul Ryan’s response that he “...is not yet ready to endorse” Trump. The “not yet” is at once disingenuous and filled to the brim with disavowal. Ryan may well be genuinely offended by Trump, but his remarks sound more strategic than authentic. He, like his party brethren, has been so vociferously against Trump that he’s backed himself into a tight corner. He cannot pivot instantly without losing face. Yet he desperately needs the party to do well so he can hold the Congress. So step one is to delay. Let time pass. Count on the fact that public memory is about five seconds long.
Instead of so much hypocrisy, how about Republican party leaders own what they have wrought and then make a serious pivot that demonstrates that they have, at long last, taken to heart the needs of those they claim to serve?