The Republican Catastrophe Continues

The danger of the Republican Party’s fateful decision, back in 2016, to hold onto its traditional voter base by playing along with Donald Trump, was never primarily that he would promote or embark upon explicitly anti-republican policies (although he has certainly done that), or that he would convert the GOP into a populist apologist faction for tyranny on the global stage (although he has certainly done that), or even that he would directly seek to violate the U.S. Constitution with outright lies and demagoguery for the sake of protecting his own fragile ego (although he has certainly done that too). No, the greatest threat that the Republican Party invited upon itself by permitting Trump to become its figurehead was that the most important and reasonable planks of its party platform would become inseparably linked, or even identified, in the public’s imagination, with “Trumpism,” meaning with the vulgar irrationality of Trump and his most avid followers, i.e., with un-American populist lunacy.

The latest case in point: Trump has now promised that if he is elected president, he will never allow a central bank digital currency (CBDC) in The United States, which he declares as his stand against “government tyranny.” (Is there another kind?) Opposition to the institution of a CBDC is the most sensible and liberty-friendly policy position in the world. But by allowing this winning side of the fight to be spearheaded within the GOP by an unprincipled, anti-constitutional, tyranny-promoting cult leader — and one who never met a promise he didn’t like and wouldn’t break — the party establishment effectively gives credibility to progressive attempts to defend this perfect instrument of social manipulation as a moderate, forward-looking technological enhancement, while portraying the opponents of this “more modern currency for the digital age” as fearmongering conspiracy theorists pushing economic “misinformation” for mere electoral advantage. 

How many of the most sensible elements of traditional Republican Party conservatism have already been undermined and marginalized in popular perceptions this way, after seven years of identification with the Trump cult? The cultists’ defensive reply to this concern — “Who cares about popular perceptions promoted by progressive liars?” — falls flat here on at least two fronts. First, if you are the least bit concerned about the maintenance or revival of a representative republic, then popular perceptions do unqualifiedly matter, since elections, the institutional mechanisms of legislative change or resistance, are largely won and lost on such perceptions. Second, and perhaps more important, it is much more difficult to counteract the mainstream progressive branding of conservative positions as mere “hateful extremism” when those positions themselves really are being reframed and represented in the public discussion by an ignorant demagogue and his devoted surrogates. Evidence of this demeaned and diminished version of American conservatism may be seen in this fact itself, namely the rapidity with which the GOP voter base has allowed itself to be reduced from its previous reliance on the persuasive presentation of rational arguments by principled statesmen or thinkers, to the absurdity of relying entirely on the mob force of crude nicknames and angry chanting.

In the midst of the urgent political argument facing the advanced world today regarding the legitimacy or illegitimacy of digitized money, and especially the ominous potential (already being realized in China and advocated in international policy think tanks) of a centrally-controlled digital currency as a means of achieving a social credit system of public coercion and moral manipulation, it is essential for any influential faction seeking to represent the side of freedom to present and justify itself as the voice of reason, the heart of righteousness, and the soul of civilized common sense. To allow the popular case for practical freedom to be co-opted and fronted by vainglorious rabble-rousers and angry crowds, particularly in such menacing times, is to hand the schemers for tyranny the one weapon they could never earn and must never be allowed to steal, namely the rhetorical mantra of moderation and public-spiritedness.

This liberty-undermining effect is what current GOP figures either foolishly ignore or duplicitously embrace when they sidle up to Trump yet again, whether for reasons of cowardly careerism, as in the case of Mike Lee, or of cynical anti-conservatism, as in the GOP establishment edifice that sought to use Trump for precisely this grassroots-belittling purpose in 2016, and seems poised to continue its subtle crusade in 2024. 

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