The Republican Party is building a wall. Not the one Donald Trump promised his supporters Mexico would pay for (and then American taxpayers would pay and now, apparently, the U.S. military). The GOP is desperately seeking to build a wall around its power, fearing its imminent erosion as a host of forces—demographic, cultural, and political—come barreling its way.
Last week’s historic March for Our Lives was a watershed moment. For more than four hours on a Saturday afternoon, the nation’s gaze was fixed on a group of teenaged heroes and heroines, led by the iconic girl from Parkland, Florida: 18-year-old, Cuban-American, bisexual, head-shaven and powerful Emma Gonzales, who literally stunned a nation with 6 minutes and 20 seconds of remembrance and tear-stained silence. The Parkland students are becoming household names. Cameron Kasky, David Hogg, Delaney Tarr, Ryan Deitsch, Jaclyn Corin, Sarah Chadwick, Aalayah Eastmond and their classmates have entered the public consciousness in incredibly personal ways. They have shown great skill in snatching wigs, careers, and advertisers when attacked. And as they have fearlessly swept aside the tired American stasis on gun reform they have brought with them an army of fellow young activists from around the country: Zion Kelly, who spoke so movingly of losing his twin brother Zaire to gun violence right there in the nation’s capital; Naomi Wadler, the tiny girl with the fierce, curly mane who spoke for women of color whose tragedies rarely make the front pages, and Yolanda Renee King, the 9-year-old sole grandchild of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who spoke of her dream of a gun-free world and proved that there is still magic and charisma in that epic surname.
By taking the power of their suffering, and frankly of their young, affluent, articulate whiteness, and metastasizing it to youth of color from urban centers and to the oldest of the Sandy Hook kids, some now in high school and three of whom spoke at the rally, and to Black Lives Matter (who amazingly, are now their elders), the Parkland kids are doing what white college students in the 1960s did for SNCC when they answered Bob Moses’ call and forced the media and the world to refocus its attention on civil rights by getting on those buses to face firebombing and murder with black students and local activists; and what white ministers did when they answered Dr. King and John Lewis’ call to face the dogs and batons of white sheriffs alongside black marchers on the Edmund Pettus bridge. In so doing, these young activists are shaking the foundations of America’s gun culture, sending the right wing into a full-fledged panic, and bringing the NRA to its knees.
The day after millions of Americans, mostly young but also middle aged and old marched against gun violence, Remington, the company that manufactures the AR-15 death machine preferred by mass shooters, filed for bankruptcy, fleeing to the rescue of banks, many of whom are too shamefaced to publicly comment on their association with the gun-maker.
In its bankruptcy filing, which was delayed by the Parkland massacre, Remington cited not just the glut of gun inventory it built up in anticipation of another Democrat in the White House to drive sales, but also a lawsuit by Sandy Hook parents that threatens to shatter the protective shield against litigation that federal law provides to gun makers alone.
To try and stem the accelerating tide toward gun reform, the NRA and its media apparatchiks have deployed gutter tactics, smearing the Parkland teens, trying to bully them and lying about them, and when that doesn’t work, whining that they are somehow “not allowed” to criticize them. It’s an admission of weakness that the kids can see, and that is prompting them to drive the stake in deeper.
Republicans are also desperate to stem another tide that was visible in the patina of last Saturday’s march. The multiracial future isn’t coming, it’s here. Millennials and post-millennials are the most diverse demographics in American history. Together, they number more than 95 million people (depending on how you count them, versus the 76 million baby boomers who were born, not all of whom still live, and the 55 million births for my generation, Generation X. These younger cohorts, in large part because they are chock full of people of color, are far more liberal than their parents or grandparents’ generation; more accepting of LGBT rights, less interested in where trans people go to the bathroom, more attuned to the realities of white privilege, police brutality and economic inequality, frankly, more moral and less relativistic, and now, thanks to Parkland, more determined than ever to vote out the politicians who serve corporate masters rather than the popular will. Republicans ignore teenage voters and pre-voters at their peril. If they don’t get you in 2018, wait till 2020.
In response, some Republicans are throwing out democracy itself in an all-out bid to cling to power. Pennsylvania Republicans are seeking to impeach the state supreme court justices who ruled their partisan gerrymandering illegal. In Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker had refused to hold special elections that his party fears will go Democrats’ way and even backed legislation to overrule a court order to do so before finally backing down this week. In Alabama, after Doug Jones won a surprise U.S. Senate election, the Republican-controlled legislature decreed an end to special elections at all.
Other Republicans, led by the president of the United States, are seeking the South African solution to their coming super-minority status. Having already tried to use a phony electoral integrity commission to delete the votes of millions of non-white Americans, the Trump administration announced this week that it will seek to game the Census by adding a citizenship question, with the clear goal of producing an undercount in states with heavy immigrant populations, and disproportionate power for states that are mostly rural and white.
Republicans attempted to produce a cover story, first by lying, with the White House spokeswoman claiming the Census has included a citizenship question in all but one year, when in fact it hasn’t included such a question on the main survey since 1950. And then, even more outrageously, they sought to cloak themselves in the mantle of protecting the Voting Rights Act, which their Supreme Court majority and their governors and secretaries of state have been busy gutting since the Obama era, and which Jeff Sessions, the apparent architect of the Census gambit who Coretta King warned off the federal bench for his hatred of voting rights, is leading his Justice Department to fight against in court. Already at least a dozen states, led by New York and California, have announced their attention to sue.
Republicans from the president on down are attacking sanctuary cities, with some California sheriffs making inmate release information public to try and help ICE snatch undocumented people in contravention to the state’s sanctuary law. Already, ICE has become Trump’s mass deportation force, scouring the country for errant, brown math teachers, baseball dads, soldiers, and grandmothers to drive out of the country. Prime targets include immigration activists, and any undocumented person who dares show their face at a public protest.
All over America, you can almost feel the sense of panic. The Republican Party, which now almost exclusively represents a handful of uber-wealthy, ideologically extreme donors like the Mercers, the Kochs, the Adelsons and the Bradley Foundation plus conservative white Christian men and about half of white women, is fighting to maintain control of a country that will soon be majority non-white, that is already majority urban, and that is increasingly secular. Rather than seek an accommodation with the future, they are laying the groundwork for minority rule. Their aim has become so blatant, their mouthpieces like Fox News host Tucker Carlson are outright admitting that they cannot abide any changes to the racial and cultural uniformity of their neighborhoods, which sounds a lot like a genteel version of the anti-“block-busting” picketers of the 1950s and ’60s.
They’re hoarding wealth. The Republican tax cut rammed through by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell blatantly seized a trillion dollars from the treasury and handed it over to the wealthiest Americans and to corporations. The resulting deficits are being used as the excuse to push for a balanced budget amendment that would decimate spending on the working class and on the poor, who many in the GOP base perceive as almost solely black, brown and immigrant. Meanwhile the Trump administration, having handed China global leadership on trade (and diplomacy with North Korea) while potentially devastating its own core states with chest-puffing tariffs that only hurt American workers, is quietly seeking to get back into the TPP. As if China or anyone else would bother letting us back in.
With Trump in office, Republican religious leaders are living openly as power and wealth-grabbing Pharisees, pretending not to notice the porn stars and Playboy bunnies littering their heaven-sent president’s mentions. Do their sermons explain how exactly married-for-the-third-time Trump getting spanked with a magazine cover of him and his children makes him the modern day Paul?
And the right’s greatest villains, from defeated apparent serial pedophile Roy Moore to criminal ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio to coal magnate Don Blankenship, who went to prison for overseeing the deaths of his own miners due to a wanton refusal to safeguard their lives over his profits, are boldly seeking direct rule over their credulous victims through election to the United States Senate.
If the Obama economy wasn’t so sound, there might be a full-on popular vote.
Against the increasingly authoritarian and morally shallow backdrop of Trumpism, the Republican Party is scrambling to find ways to stifle the democratic process before November, spewing at its cultural opponents and rushing to erect an American feudalism that locks in the plutocratic status quo. They are building a wall around the roughly 4 in 10 voters who endorse this funhouse mirror version of America. It’s a wall that could wind up closing them in.