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The Endangered RINO and the Fate of Democracy in America

“How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?” Bob Dylan once asked. We now know the precise answer for a certain Rusty Bowers, Republican Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives: until his wife and his terminally ill daughter are called whores and threatened with death.

The Reagan-Bush people, now taunted as “Republicans In Name Only” by the MAGA fascists, still don’t know what hit them. You could see the bewildered hurt in Bowers’s eyes when he testified before the January 6 Committee yesterday. Had he not carried water for Trump, doggedly campaigning at his side in the apocalyptic election year 2020, swallowing whatever unease he may have felt about the vulgar, demagogic bully who refused to fake geniality as Saint Ronnie of the Blessed Eye-Twinkle once did so masterfully? Had he not spent years looking away, just as Liz Cheney did, from the Very Stable Genius’s endless cruelty and cornucopia of lies and continued to back his party’s man through thick and thin? Unfortunately for them both, it turned out that they did have a principle even more solid than Low Taxes for the Rich and Government Is The Problem, and it was a belief in democracy and a refusal to resort to crime to hold onto power. Thus, they became RINOs—traitors to Trump and MAGA—and they are now paying the price for this “treason,” which loyal Americans would rather call patriotism.

The January 6 Committee hearings are shaping up to be the swan song, the last moment of glory, for these former masters of the Republican Party, the so-called RINOs now being driven to extinction by Donald Trump’s MAGA fascist movement.

Like most terms of abuse in the upside-down MAGA world, their “Republican In Name Only” slur applies better to themselves than to their targets. Trump’s Republican label is a mere term of convenience, and he has brought the party countless voters who never would have considered supporting it before, or at best did so only reluctantly, in the process transforming it into something unrecognizable. He’s stopped threatening to bolt and form his own party because his “hostile takeover” of the GOP is just about complete.

In one sense, this is not nearly as shocking a development as it might appear. America’s bizarre “two-party system” has concealed numerous upheavals since it congealed in the wake of the Civil War. Essentially, the “Democratic Party” and the “Republican Party” are empty buckets that can be filled with almost anything. Today’s Democratic Party is an almost perfect inversion of the post-Civil War party, having lost the White, Southern racist “Dixiecrats” in exchange for African Americans and northern White liberals and moderates. By the beginning of this century, the Republicans had likewise become an almost perfect photo negative of their old selves. You can see this even in the electoral map geography: Democrat Woodrow Wilson was re-elected in 1916 and Republican Shrub Bush was re-elected in 2004 with almost the same constellation of states.

But as thorough as the transformation of the Democratic and Republican Parties was by 2008, the latter has undergone another dramatic upheaval since then. Whatever else may be said about it, the key factor was racial: the election of America’s first Black president and the backlash to it, which began with the rise of the ephemeral “Tea Party” and “birther” movements in 2009, and has been consuming the country since Trump’s ride down the fools’ gold escalator to the paid cheers of actors in 2015, after which he deemed Mexicans rapists and his campaign took off like a rocket.

And the Reagan RINOs? Stripped of all power, taunted, subjected to death threats of a sort previously reserved for people like Bowers’s fellow victim-witness, African American Georgia election worker Shay Moss. Like her, Bowers and Cheney are now subjected to the ultimate humiliation: to become the object of the liberals’ compassion.

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