Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, right, with his vice presidential running mate, Gov. Mike Pence (Ind.), in New York on July 16. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)
With the horror in France and attempted military coup in Turkey, the turbulent days leading up to the Republican convention were marked by political violence around the globe. Yet, as the Republican Party convenes in Cleveland amid escalating threats to democracy abroad, it is important to also understand the looming threat to our democracy in the United States.
Last week, Esquire magazine’s Charles P. Pierce penned a powerful response to presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump’s latest big lie, the totally unsubstantiated claim that, in the aftermath of the slaughter of police officers in Dallas, “some people” called for a moment of silence for the shooter. Trump also painted a frightening picture of the peaceful Black Lives Matter protests nationwide, saying — without a shred of evidence — “you had 11 cities potentially in a blow-up stage.”
Trump’s statement was shameless racial demagoguery, a violent fantasy that Trump invented, as Pierce wrote, “so his followers can stay afraid and angry at the people he wants them to fear and hate.” Lamenting the moral cowardice of Republican leaders such as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) who have cynically legitimized Trump’s authoritarian ways, Pierce added, “This lie was a marching order and the Party of Lincoln is right in step with him, straight into the burning Reichstag of this man’s mind.”
It is against this backdrop that Trump, after a characteristically erratic search for a running mate, named Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his pick for vice president. The conventional wisdom is that Pence was chosen in large part to placate establishment Republicans such as Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), both of whom enthusiastically praised the selection. Even Jeb Bush, who reaffirmed his opposition to Trump in a Post op-ed this week, called Pence a “good man” who “will add value to the ticket.” Indeed, as Jonathan Chait writes, Trump’s choice “is a sign of his increasing normalization. Trump has aligned himself with the party, and the party with him.”
Like his new boss, however, Pence holds views far outside of the American mainstream. In Congress, Pence led the Republican Party’s war on Planned Parenthood, unsuccessfully fighting to shut down the government over federal funding for the women’s health-care provider. And as governor, his crusade against the organization led to the closure of five clinics across Indiana, fueling a statewide outbreak of HIV . Pence is also a longtime enemy of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality who championed Indiana’s controversial “religious freedom” law, which legalized anti-LGBT discrimination and provoked a backlash from major businesses across the country.
Pence’s extremism is not limited to his social conservatism. He is also a longtime and close ally of Charles and David Koch, the billionaire conservative donors who have declined so far to support Trump’s candidacy. He has consistently supported cuts to Social Security and tax cuts for the rich. He denies man-made climate change and once argued that “smoking doesn’t kill.” He supported the Iraq War from the outset and continued to defend the war long after it became indefensible. He is, in other words, a right-wing dream candidate.
But while Trump and Pence represent an unprecedented mix of demagoguery and dogmatism, it would be a mistake to focus only on the men leading the Republican ticket at the expense of the party that is set to nominate them. Though it was quickly overshadowed by other events, GOP delegates last week approved a draft of the party platform so retrograde it seems to come from another century — and not necessarily the 20th.
The draft platform takes a particularly odious stance on social issues. The document proclaims that children of same-sex parents are more likely to become drug addicts and supports harmful “conversion therapy,” prompting the Log Cabin Republicans to declare it “the most anti-LGBT platform in the party’s 162-year history.” It also describes pornography as a “public health crisis” and calls for teaching the Bible in public schools. Meanwhile, it labels undocumented immigrants as “illegal aliens” and endorses Trump’s signature proposal, building a wall along the Mexican border.
Political candidates are, of course, not bound by their party’s platform. But as a measure of where the party as a whole stands — and a marker of the direction in which they are headed — platforms still matter. What the Republican platform says is that the party stands in proud opposition to equal rights and inclusion. Worse yet, it signals clearly that the party not only is committed to impeding progress but also, compared with four years ago, is actively moving backward.
This week in Cleveland, Trump will be the center of attention as usual. But it’s critical to remember that a candidate such as Trump can only flourish because of the mind-set, driven by fear and hate, that is so pervasive in the Republican Party and is embodied by its platform. And in order to protect our democracy from future Trumps, it is this mind-set, in addition to the Republican ticket, that we must defeat.