On July 6, 1854 the first meeting of the new Republican Party took place in Ripon, Wisconsin. Ten thousand people turned out. The party’s inaugural organizing convention was on February 22, 1856. Within four years of that date it would successfully run Abraham Lincoln for President and gain the White House.
America in the 1850’s was a nation torn apart by a single issue, slavery. A low-level guerilla war over the issue was ongoing in Kansas and Missouri. Abolitionists like John Brown were advocating arming slaves in the South and igniting a race war.
The two major parties of the day were the Democrats and the Whigs, the latter a name taken from that of a British anti-monarchist party. The Democrats took a clear position on slavery. They were for it, and they wanted it to remain a part of American life.
The Whigs took no clear position. As battle lines were drawn, and the nation moved ever closer to war, the Whigs remained focused on tariffs, the role of the Supreme Court and the power of the Presidency. They remained obsessed with issues from an earlier day, and ultimately, they made themselves irrelevant. Most of the people who joined the new Republican Party came from the Whig Party, which would soon cease to exist.
Almost one hundred and seventy years later, America again finds itself divided over the issue of “slavery.” A populist movement, championed by – but not defined by – Donald Trump, stands for individual liberty, personal freedom, limited government and an intense focus on the national interests of the United States and its citizens. Opposed to this movement is an immensely powerful cabal of corporate media outlets, Big Tech, multinational corporations, professional politicians, government Mandarins and far-left organizations.
Just as slave owners once professed to have a moral obligation to control and rule over the members of the “inferior” black race they held in bondage, these new elitist overlords believe it is their right and their duty to save the “great unwashed” and masses of “deplorables” from themselves. They increasingly take unto themselves the power to tell the vast majority of Americans – who are apparently lacking in sufficient sophistication to govern their own lives – how to live, what to believe and how to raise their children. For these members of the self-appointed ruling class, there are no inalienable rights there are only privileges given to those who conform and obey. And, like all privileges, these can be taken away or curtailed whenever the elite chooses to do so.
The Democrats have again taken a clear position. They are for slavery. They believe that they can close your business, take away your ability to travel and silence your voice anytime they want. Opinions that are judged “unenlightened” will not be tolerated. Your parental rights are contingent at best. If your son tells the counselor at school he thinks he is a girl, it will be the elitist masters in the school administration and the judicial system who will decide what happens next, not you.
Where the Republicans are as a party on all this remains unclear. The tens of millions of Americans who support the so-called MAGA movement seem laser-focused on regaining control over their government and their society. They seem crystal clear on their opposition to globalization and ever tighter government control. And, yet, the Republican establishment seems often to prefer to focus on other questions and attempt to wait out the moment. Like the Whigs, they seem determined to ignore the central issue of the day and focus instead on their own insular agenda.
In October, as the Presidential election loomed and the impact of the pandemic lockdown on the U.S. economy deepened, the U.S. Senate, under the control of Republicans voted to eliminate the per-country numerical limitation on the number of employment-based visas issued to foreigners seeking work in the United States. The Senate did so using a procedure, which allowed Senators to support the bill without having to take a vote recording their names. With unemployment at dangerously high levels, winter approaching and an eviction moratorium about to expire, Republican Senators thought it both a priority to give more jobs to foreigners and to prevent anyone from identifying them by name as having done so.
The Republican controlled Senate is now hashing out the basic structure of a new COVID-19 relief package. A draft of that package shows that it will not include any stimulus checks for average Americans. They will be left to fend for themselves as the carnage caused by misguided business lockdowns grows every greater. The package will include, however, a bailout for Defense Department contractors. Federal agencies will continue to be able to use taxpayer money to provide what amounts to paid leave to federal contractors sidelined by the pandemic.
Meanwhile, as the firestorm regarding widespread election irregularities rages on across the nation, the vast majority of Republican establishment politicians at both the national and the state level have remained silent, seemingly washing their hands of the controversy and awaiting a return to business as usual under a new Biden administration. A few hearings have been conducted. Nothing of consequence has been done.
The reality is that a great many of the “leaders” in the GOP have always been uncomfortable with the principles of the populist movement sweeping the nation. They have yearned for a return to the “good old days” when everyone wanted bigger, more expensive government, ever tighter ties to China, endless military adventures and global trade pacts. They did their best to conceal this reality as long as Donald Trump inhabited the White House. Sensing he is on his last legs; they conceal it no longer.
Like the Whigs, they have misjudged the moment.
Trump’s apparent defeat ends nothing. The movement he has headed is not defined by him or dependent on him. The tens of millions of Americans seething with anger at COVID lockdowns, social media” thought police” and dictatorial state governors are not going away. They have seen now the reality of the GOP establishment, and they will remember.
America’s populist movement is not fading away. The GOP may be. Already there is significant talk of a new party, one which is not irrelevant, one which addresses the issues of the day. This much is clear. There will be a reckoning, and any party which does not address the issues of the day is doomed to disappear.