By almost every standard of traditional Republicans, President TrumpDonald TrumpCheney says a lot of GOP lawmakers have privately encouraged her fight against Trump Republicans criticizing Afghan refugees face risks DeVos says 'principles have been overtaken by personalities' in GOP MORE has been nothing short of a spectacular success. Many will disagree with this notion, but for the purposes here, the measure of his success is based on the views of his supporters. It is from this key perspective that I consider his victories. Indeed, if it were a traditional politician in the White House, Republicans of all stripes would applaud without condition.
It is in part because of his success that Trump has maintained a tight grip on the party. In his first term, he has cemented a conservative majority on the Supreme Court and appointed numerous federal judges that ensure a tilt toward Republican beliefs for decades to come. He has dismantled the administrative state by removing red tape and regulations, unleashing an economy that was stuck in the doldrums for nearly a decade.
Trump has backed religious freedom with executive orders which contain vital protections for faith organizations. He has led significant progress to preserve the sanctity of life for the unborn. If one looks at the scorecard in isolation, Trump has proven to be one incredibly effective chief executive but do the ends justify the means? That is the question some Republicans and independents may start to ask heading toward November.
For every benefit, there comes a cost. When one looks at the costs of his leadership, including dissent, division, political strife, and societal chaos, the luster of all his success starts to fade away. Trump is a crushing force that has turned the party upside down. Under his watch, Republicans no longer stand for conservatism, financial austerity, or limited government, but rather for bullying, intolerance, and shameful mendacity.
Yet Trump alone is not to blame for the rotten state of affairs. Republicans have allowed themselves to become divided and bought by favors. When reasonable minds within the party objected early on to his obvious flaws and the dangers inherent in them, many still placed power over principle, cynically believing that they could ride the popularity of Trump to victory and then control his worst instincts once he came into office.
It goes without saying that strategy has tragically failed. Republicans are now the party of Trump and have taken on all of his character flaws and his moral failings. As it stands, the party is not his tamer but his enabler, giving cover each time to his sentiments that are not only antithetical to conservatism, but antithetical to the foundations of America.
Unfortunately, Republicans are in an all or nothing position with Trump. You either fully endorse his methods and their increasingly dangerous consequences, or you are excommunicated from the sphere of power. Today, there is no longer the option of supporting some of his actions while objecting to others. Every issue marks a litmus test of allegiance, not to our great nation or even to our party, but just to Trump.
The country is divided and dissembling. We have a society where half the people have now suspended their own criticisms and concerns about the veracity of what Trump will say and his behavior in the name of ideology. However, such an acceptance is not consistent with conservatism, which cherishes tradition and the maintenance of our institutions and the value they bring in defining who we are. It is also antithetical to conservatism, which seeks to preserve the good that we have inherited because it has been understood that it is easier to destroy than it is to build.
How did we get here? It is because Republicans have placed operational expediency above moral leadership. We made an environment in which bad leaders, characterized by political scientist Jean Lipman Blumen as showing “destructive behaviors such as leaving their followers worse off than they found them, violating these basic human rights of others, and playing to their basest fears,” can thrive. Whenever a charismatic leader exhibits traits of arrogance, dysfunction, and reckless disregard for the consequences of their actions, we are left with demagoguery.
The rise of bad leaders is not possible without their followers. The first are conformers, who go along because of unmet needs and perceived threats to their livelihoods. The second are colluders, who desire every chance to carry out their agendas. Despite the risks and repercussions of supporting such leaders, conformers will follow leaders they perceive will stand up to existential threats, while colluders will do so out of greed and selfishness. Both groups give rise to and sustain these destructive leaders.
In order to extricate ourselves from this plague of toxic leaders, we must strengthen the courage of our convictions. We must avoid easy answers to complex problems. We must demand honesty and accountability. We must develop a better sense of empathy. Rather than viewing a political adversary as an enemy, we have to view others as allies in the journey to craft a more perfect union. We must see leadership as a sacred duty and not merely an open door to accrue power and wield authority.
Shermichael Singleton is a Republican strategist and a political analyst.