Updated: Nov 20, 2021
When Stephen Sondheim wrote what became his most popular song, “Send in the Clowns,” for the 1973 musical “A Little Night Music,” he didn’t have a circus in mind. The “clowns” he was referring to were lovers who played the part of fools in failed love affairs.
Unlike Sondheim’s lovers, the Republican Party today resembles a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey enterprise. The party’s big tent is really a circus tent where clownish politicians can frolic freely. The most visible faces in the party are doing a bang-up job of impersonating costumed Bozos.
It began with Sarah Palin’s nomination to be John McCain’s running mate in 2008. The McCain/Palin ticket lost, but not before the governor of Alaska demonstrated an appalling ignorance of history and geography that foreshadowed the party’s embrace of an even more ignorant presidential nominee eight years later. Among her more outrageous remarks were claims that Paul Revere warned the British, the Founding Fathers said the Pledge of Allegiance, Susan B. Anthony opposed abortion and Afghanistan and the U.S. are neighboring countries.
Palin represented the Republicans’ first attempt to reach an untapped underbelly of an emerging GOP electorate who felt displaced by a global economy and threatened by the changing racial and cultural demographics taking place in the country. She was also the first of many GOP figures to gain national recognition by flippantly distorting facts and trafficking in disinformation.
After Barack Obama was elected president, the grievance-driven voters attracted to Palin crystallized into the Tea Party movement, a motley crew of pseudo patriotic doofuses running around in Revolutionary War costumes and holding up crudely-drawn racist images of Obama.
In 2010, Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell, who admitted to “dabbling in witchcraft,” won the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate from Delaware. The fact that she lost in the general election should not overshadow the fact that her party thought that a person whose “first date with a witch was on a satanic altar” would make an outstanding U.S. Senator.
Trump’s rise to power and the infantile immaturity he displayed during his four years in office was no aberration, but quite fitting for a party that had gone completely bananas in its drive to make the cultural class divide the cornerstone of its politics. The party which is now entirely controlled by Trump and Trumpism has lost all interest in governance and the enactment of legislation.
Aside from appointing as many conservative judges to the federal judiciary to cater to voters who care mostly about a paranoid protection of Second Amendment rights, overturning Roe v. Wade and relitigating gay marriage, Republicans are perfectly content to ignore the nation’s pressing problems related to climate change, voting rights, immigration, health care, prescription drug prices, domestic terrorism, police reform, cybersecurity and homelessness.
Republicans have gone from the party of No Taxes to a party of Know Nothings when it comes to seriously tackling what are generational defining challenges. Relying on phony distractions like unfounded claims of voter fraud is a perfect way to avoid being blamed for a terrible track record when it comes to legislative accomplishments.
The “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was stolen and that Joe Biden’s presidency is illegitimate signifies a dangerous escalation in the party’s ongoing war against truth.The worry now is that by discrediting the results of the 2020 election, the legitimacy of future election outcomes will be called into doubt. The peaceful transition of power from election to election becomes problematic when a significant segment of the electorate live in an alternative reality and don’t view violence in the same way the rest of us do.
Half of Republicans think that the Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol was “largely a non-violent protest” and only 3 in 10 blame Trump for the attack. Evidence that many of them are ready to use physical force can be found in a survey conducted by the Economist in which two-thirds of Trump voters agreed with the statement that “our lives are threatened by terrorists, criminals, and illegal immigrants, and our priority should be to protect ourselves.”
The party which once proudly proclaimed Lincoln as its standard-bearer is now led by circus royalty. At the top of the list are two laughable prince governors, Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, locked in a fierce competition to see who succeeds as the bigger bungler in mishandling the pandemic. Close on their heels are the Senate’s royal jesters, Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, and not far behind the comical princesses of the House, the QAnon sisters, Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene.
The Republican Party I have opposed for the past 60 years was not until recently characterized by a broken moral compass and a penchant for denial. Barry Goldwater, Everett Dirksen, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Alan Simpson, Bob Dole and John McCain were politicians whose view of government’s role in society greatly differed from mine. But never did I think of them as men whose actions were a disgrace to their party and the country. Who among today’s Republicans are like them. Liz Cheney? Adam Kinzinger? That’s about it.
Circus clowns are funny. Politicians masquerading as clowns when they should be doing the people’s business is no laughing matter.
Jay Wissot is a guest contributor to Eagle County Dems, resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.