Trump's Leninist midterm pitch

The GOP is not functioning like a small-d democratic party. Instead, they're embracing the tactics of a Leninist vanguard party.

President Trump.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Mark Wilson/Getty Images, Lebrecht Music & Arts/Alamy Stock Photo)

The president of the United States is making his closing argument for next Tuesday's midterm elections: Vote for the GOP because the Democratic Party places the good of illegal immigrants, many of whom are cop-killing sociopaths, ahead of the good of the country and the American people.

This is an almost comically tendentious and radioactively nativist message. But that's where President Trump has taken the GOP: away from acting like a small-d democratic party and instead embracing the tactics of a Leninist vanguard party.

A genuinely democratic political party responds to public opinion with policy proposals designed to advance the common good as the party and its voters construe it. A vanguard party, by contrast, seeks to yank public opinion to a radically new position, first by leaping out ahead of current views, and then by using flagrantly demagogic appeals rooted in fear-mongering to get voters to rally around the revision.

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For an example of the GOP acting like a vanguard party, one need only look at this week's announcement that the president plans to sign an executive order ending birthright citizenship in the United States. Critics of the move misunderstand the purpose of the proposal. Yes, it would be a tyrannical act to suppose the president can summarily negate the first section of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution with an executive order. But that's not what the White House is really after.

The administration understands perfectly well that a federal judge will block any such order about 10 seconds after it is publicly issued — or, if it is instead privately circulated throughout the relevant executive branch agencies and departments, about 10 seconds after it begins to change the way the federal government treats claims to birthright citizenship.

So what's the real goal? Thankfully, the Trump team has already told us.

The man most closely associated with the effort to eliminate birthright citizenship is former member of the Trump administration's National Security Council Michael Anton. He originally floated the idea of the president summarily abolishing birthright citizenship with an executive order in an op-ed for The Washington Post in July. In a subsequent statement written in response to his critics, Anton clarified the aim of issuing such an order — not actually to end birthright citizenship immediately, but to inject the issue forcefully into the federal court system, and in so doing to spark a debate that nativist Republicans would win:

Polling shows that a sizable number of Americans — though not a majority — support ending birthright citizenship. Were the nation to hold an honest debate, those numbers might rise (indeed, I'm confident they would). Of course, that's precisely what the liberals and their allies on the "conservative left" fear. It's not only their legal arguments that are weak; their political arguments are even weaker. [Claremont Review of Books]

Raising an issue for public debate is perfectly legitimate. If Trump and his party really wanted to have a reasonable discussion about whether, for the first time in its history, the U.S. should shift its understanding of citizenship from one based on place of birth (jus soli) to one based on blood descent (jus sanguines), then we could have that discussion. But there is nothing reasonable about how the president and his party want to conduct such a national conversation. On the contrary, they are willing and eager to prevail by deploying highly inflammatory rhetoric, brazen lies and exaggeration, racist fear-mongering and manipulation of facts, highly unorthodox legal arguments, and the giddy encouragement of outright hysteria.

That's exactly what we see in Trump's absurd and obsessive focus on the migrant caravan a few thousand strong that's slowly making its way through Mexico on foot to the U.S. border, including his assertion that 15,000 American troops will be sent to defend the world's lone superpower against this mighty invasion of the unarmed and impoverished. We also see it on Fox News, the Republican Party's unofficial propaganda network, which echoes and amplifies Trump's xenophobic message every evening in precise lock step with the White House. And we see it in the GOP's closing message, which portrays the entire Democratic Party as more loyal to would-be cop killers from abroad than it is to the country and its people.

If you wonder what the Democratic Party would sound like if it adopted a similarly Leninist approach to politics, imagine a future Democratic president announcing eight days before an election that he will soon be abolishing by fiat the individual right to bear arms (which, incidentally, was established by the Supreme Court just 10 years ago) and then making numerous speeches, promoting ads, and setting a media agenda asserting that every American faces an imminent threat of dying in a mass shooting — all capped off by the implication that Republicans actually want such atrocities to happen.

Maybe the disgraceful way President Trump has led his party through this midterm election season gives us a glimpse of what politics is going to become in the United States. But for the moment, America has just one party leading the way into Leninism: the Republican Party.

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