Dead Trees Standing: The Republican Party on the Edge of Catastrophe

My backyard has about a dozen ash trees planted about 60 years ago. They are magnificent trees, tall and straight, dominating their environment.

They are also, in all likelihood, doomed by the ash borer. In their first pass through upstate NY, the borers seem to have missed our trees. The ash borers are still out there, however, and in all likelihood will eventually kill our trees. There is no affordable cure, at least not by us.

After they die, the trees will stand there magnificent in death as in life; still reaching for the sky, still seemingly dominating their world.

Then someday they will fall. Maybe it will be a storm. Even more likely, we will pay someone a $1,000 a tree to cut them down and protect our house and that of our neighbors.

Our ash trees are not that different from today’s Republican Party. Today, the Republican Party dominates our politics, controlling all four branches of the Federal government and the preponderance of state houses, not to mention local governments.

Yet, the Republican Party as it is today surely as doomed as our ash trees. Demographically, of course, it rests on a declining segment of the American population. A large enough segment, still, that with the help of natural and political gerrymandering it can still win many local and state elections and with freakishly close events even a presidential election. Each year, however, it gets harder and the system rigging needs to be increased just to stay even (North Carolina).

More importantly, the core ideology of the Republican Party, is infested with as deadly a disease as the ash borer: policy irrelevance. On issue after issue, both foreign and domestic, the party either substitutes bluster (North Korea and Iran) for substantive policy coherence and strategy or simply puts its head in the sand (climate change).

Ignoring hundreds of years of history and the experience of other industrialized countries and other conservative parties, the Republican Party adheres to two competing and equally inadequate ideologies: laissez-faire capitalism, on the one hand, and religiously infused nationalism on the other. Historically, neither has much of a claim to being the successful basis of democratic politics or policy.

Just as the ash borer does its deadly work from inside the tree, barely revealing itself to the onlooker until the tree dies, so these fatal problems are destroying the Republican Party. The rot has set in.

For now, we proceed as if this isn’t so. And of course there is no choice to proceed as if it isn’t so. Just as an ash tree does everything it can to resist borers, so today’s Republicans will do everything they can to put off the day of reckoning.

Someday the electoral rot will reveal itself for all to see. Perhaps it will be a recession or a failed war that triggers it, or, maybe, just the insistent and steady boring away of demographic change finally becomes too strong to overcome.

Every day I go into our backyard and wonder: is this the day that the trees have died? So far they are hanging in there. And it fills me with awe and amazement and a bit of dread at the reckoning ahead (and the bills I will have to pay). So too it is with the Republican party.

There is one difference. I will miss our trees. I will not miss this version of the Republican party.

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