In a recent New York Times column, David Brooks blasted Donald Trump and "the rise of a group of [Americans] who are against politics." Regrettably, Brooks failed to acknowledge that Trump is the direct descendant of Ronald Reagan.
The path from Reagan to Trump had five stages:
1. Blame Government: In his January 20, 1981, inaugural address, Ronald Reagan famously declared, "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." Republicans adopted "government is the problem" as their mantra and blamed the Federal government for all manner of problems (remember the "nanny state"). The GOP blithely ignored popular support for infrastructure improvements, old-age pensions, a robust military, and a host of other Federal programs.
2. Pay No Taxes: After blaming the government, the Republicans decided to pay no taxes. In 1985, at the request of President Reagan, Grover Norquist founded Americans for Tax Reform. This powerful conservative lobby pushed Republican political candidates to sign a pledge to oppose "any and all tax increases." As a result, America launched thirty years of deficit spending - the GOP replaced "tax and spend" with "spend and don't tax."
"Blame the government" and "pay no taxes" promoted a unique Republican lunacy: the belief Americans could enjoy the benefits of government without having to pay for them. Inevitably this led to the madness of George W. Bush's $2 trillion war in Iraq that was financed by writing I.O.U.'s rather than levying new taxes.
3. Encourage Absolutism: At the same time Ronald Reagan was blaming government, and slashing tax rates without considering the consequences, he was solidifying the GOP's hold on the South by bringing evangelical Christians into the fold. Reagan declared he was "born again" and invited the Moral Majority into the White House. Reagan "inaugurated what scholars David Domke and Kevin Coe have called the 'God strategy' in American presidential politics, as 'religious communications increased to levels never before seen in the modern presidency.'"
The consequence of Reagan's political strategy was to bring religious fanaticism into mainstream American politics. One of the reasons that George W. Bush invaded Iraq was that religious zealots in his Administration believed it would escalate Armageddon. Christianity became, de facto, the state religion of the United States. Previously private concerns such as access to birth control and sexual preference were escalated into matters of public policy. Republicans became moral absolutists.
This produced the ultimate GOP schizophrenia: the Republican Party deplored the Federal government and wanted it to disappear, yet believed that same government should dictate to women what their personal health care choices are. (Republicans believe government doesn't work in Washington, but does in the bedroom.)
4. Oppose all things Obama: Stung by the victory of a black, liberal Democrat, on January 20, 2009, Republican leaders adopted a scorched earth opposition strategy, "We've gotta challenge [the Obama Administration] on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign." The result was unprecedented obstructionism, little real legislation, and the widespread public perception that "Washington is broken."
The Republican plan succeeded. The GOP shut down the government, drove public sentiment for politicians to unprecedented lows, and polarized the electorate.
5. Celebrate Ignorance : 2009 saw the rise of the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party (in Congress referred to as the Freedom Caucus). David Brooks spoke of this as Americans who are "against politics."
[They] want to elect people who have no political experience. They want "outsiders." They delegitimize compromise and deal-making. They're willing to trample the customs and rules that give legitimacy to legislative decision-making if it helps them gain power.
At the beginning of the Reagan era, Republicans acknowledged the give and take of the American political process. (After all, President Reagan raised taxes and increased the size of the Federal government.) But over the past thirty years, we've seen the rise of a GOP "my way or the highway" attitude; one that eschews compromise. (As one example, the Republican Senate that refuses to vote on President Obama's judicial nominations, including the replacement for Supreme Court Justice Scalia.)
David Brooks wrote,
Trump is the culmination of the trends we have been seeing for the last 30 years: the desire for outsiders; the bashing style of rhetoric that makes conversation impossible; the decline of coherent political parties; the declining importance of policy; the tendency to fight cultural battles and identity wars through political means.
During the Reagan era, the Republican Party turned its back on democratic process and begun a dark slide into authoritarianism. Donald Trump is the culmination of this process. A no-nothing who flaunts his ignorance. A bully who resorts to insults rather than reason. A threat to democracy.