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May 27th, 2018

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Why the Center Cannot Hold

Laura Hollis

By Laura Hollis

Published April 19, 2018

Why the Center Cannot Hold

For months, the American press, aghast at Donald Trump's presidency, has been predicting a "blue wave" — voters sweeping Republicans out office and instead electing a massive number of Democrats.

There's no question that Democrats and progressives despise Trump and are motivated to vote. But the left-wing media engages in what I call "progpaganda" — the promotion of things they want to be true, endeavoring to shape events, and not merely report on them. This is the same group predicting with "99 percent certainty" that Hillary Clinton was going to win the White House.

American voters appear to have gotten wise to the press' efforts. But for some inscrutable reason, Republican politicians haven't. Thus, true to form, the GOP is running with their tails tucked between their legs in an effort to escape the political tsunami that probably wouldn't occur if they didn't create it themselves. This year has an unusually high number of congressional Republicans retiring — at last count, more than 40 — including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who won his last election by nearly 35 percentage points.

The buzz is that those retiring see the writing on the wall, and are getting out while the getting's good. (Vox put it bluntly: "Republicans are screwed.") Some even speculate that establishment Republicans (who loathe Trump as much as the Democrats) are willing to lose Congress to thwart Trump and make a point.

Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Jennifer Rubin, a conservative writer for The Washington Post, explained in an interview with Politico that, having left the Republican Party, she does not see herself ever going back. Rubin — and plenty of others on the right — blame Trump for the GOP's implosion.

They have it exactly backwards. It is the GOP's self-destruction that made Trump's meteoric rise not only possible, but inevitable. The roots of Trump's triumph can be seen in the "shellacking" that voters gave Democrats in 2010, when they handed Republicans control of the House, and again in 2014 when Republicans took control of the Senate.

Then, as now, the GOP listened to the press, but not the people.

Republican and other conservative voters have been begging the GOP to represent their interests in Congress — to no avail. The people want reduced taxation, simplified regulation, and — critically — enforcement of our immigration laws. (Trump's popular bluster notwithstanding, we don't really need a wall on our southern border; we need to enforce the laws we have on the books.) They want an end to interminable foreign wars and to international agreements that penalize American companies and American workers.

How hard is any of this to understand?

When the GOP took control of the House in 2010, they told voters they couldn't do anything without the Senate. When voters gave them the Senate in 2014, the GOP complained that anything they passed would be vetoed by President Obama, a Democrat. In 2016, voters gave the GOP-controlled Congress a Republican president who would sign any remotely conservative legislation they sent across his desk — whereupon Congress proceeded to do nearly nothing legislatively, save for a tax overhaul.

It's almost as if, lacking any further excuses for political inertia, Republicans have thrown up their hands and are running for the exits. The predicted "blue wave" isn't the explanation. It isn't even their excuse. It's their reprieve.

Republicans who blame Trump for their current circumstances are fools or blinkered cowards. Trump is only in the White House because the public got fed up with the GOP's ambivalence, incompetence and incessant capitulation to a perennially hostile (and often frankly deceitful) media.

Compare the press' coverage of Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election with their complaints about Trump in 2016. Romney is steadfast, honorable, truthful, moral, faithful to his wife, dignified, polite and respectful to his political opponents. The press characterized him as evil incarnate; a soulless, grasping robber baron willing to see widows and orphans die to advance his fortune. In 2016, they suddenly purported to care about honor, dignity and "statesmanship."

Had Republicans displayed the courage of their convictions in the years leading up to 2016, instead of sucking their thumbs every time the press lied about them, voters would have had much greater confidence in the other GOP presidential candidates. As it was, having been sold down the river too many times, voters picked an outsider who clearly could stand up to the press and the left.

Those who bemoan the rise of populist politicians like Trump and the loss of the "political center" bring to mind "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," a song written by Joni Mitchell (and based upon the poem, "The Second Coming," by William Butler Yeats). Mitchell writes:

Things fall apart

The center cannot hold

And a blood-dimmed tide

Is loosed upon the world...

The best lack conviction

Given some time to think

And the worst are full of passion

Without mercy

When the best among us — our leaders — lack conviction, what arises in their place is often the product of frustration and resentment. From there, it is backlash after backlash.

The predicted "blue wave" may take place. If it does, it's worth asking what America will look like if progressives get control of the government. Because they will not suffer from the timidity and self-abasement that Republicans have shown.

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Laura Hirschfeld Hollis is on the faculty at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches courses in business law and entrepreneurship. She has received numerous awards for her teaching, research, community service and contributions to entrepreneurship education.

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