TUESDAY, AUGUST 9, 2022
Dana Milbank remembers: This past Sunday, the Washington Post offered an essay which was adapted from—what else?—a new book.
The essay was written by Dana Milbank. At one point, he correctly said this:
MILBANK (8/7/22): It is crucial to understand that Donald Trump didn’t create this noxious environment. He isn’t some hideous, orange Venus emerging from the half-shell. Rather, he is a brilliant opportunist; he saw the direction the Republican Party was taking and the appetites it was stoking. The onetime pro-choice advocate of universal health care reinvented himself to give Republicans what they wanted. Because Trump is merely a reflection of the sickness in the GOP, the problem won’t go away when he does.
Each person will have to judge the claim that Donald J. Trump actually isn't "some hideous, orange Venus emerging from the half-shell."
That said, it's true that Trump didn't create the noxious environment which currently rules our politics and pervades our national discourse.
Other performers started the fire. At one point, for example, Milbank remembers an event from September 27, 1994, the day when Rep. Bob Michel stepped aside, allowing Newt Gingrich to become the Republican Party's leader in the House:
MILBANK: Gingrich had avoided service in Vietnam and regarded Democrats as the enemy, impugning their patriotism and otherwise savaging them nightly on the House floor for the benefit of C-SPAN viewers.
“Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt!” the candidates and lawmakers chanted. A pudgy 51-year-old with a helmet of gray hair approached the lectern. “The fact is that America is in trouble,” Gingrich declared. “It is impossible to maintain American civilization with 12-year-olds having babies, 15-year-olds killing each other, 17-year-olds dying of AIDS and 18-year-olds getting diplomas they can’t even read.” The pejoratives piled up in Gingrich’s shouted, finger-wagging harangue: “Collapsing … Failed so totally … Worried about their jobs … Worried about their safety … Trust broke down … Out of touch … Wasteful … Dumb … Ineffective … Out of balance … Malaise … Drug dealers … Pimps … Prostitution … Crime … Barbarism … Devastation … Human tragedy … Chaos and poverty.” “Recognize that if America fails, our children will live on a dark and bloody planet,” Gingrich told them.
Whatever a person might think of the views which Gingrich expressed that day, such presentations were clearly the start of "American carnage."
Had Gingrich "avoided service in Vietnam?" So had a wide array of major figures from both political parties. For the record, we've never heard an account of Milbank's military service after emerging from Yale.
That said, did Gingrich "regard Democrats as the enemy?" In our view, Milbank frequently puts his thumbs on the scale in Sunday's essay, but it's very hard to disagree with that assessment of the attitude Gingrich brought to the party.
Forget the words which rained down from Gingrich that day in September 1994. Long before the address which Milbank quotes, Gingrich had been schooling Republicans in the best ways to describe Democrats.
All the way back in 1990, a conservative entity named GOPAC had been circulating a list of 133 words assembled by Gingrich—a list of words conservatives should use to characterize themselves and Others.
What words should conservatives use in describing Democrats? You can peruse the full list here, but such words as "sick, pathetic, traitors, destructive" appear early on the long list.
In Gingrich's view, that was the way one of our two political tribes should describe the members of the other. This advice was already being aggressively pushed as far back as 1990—and not by Donald J. Trump.
For whatever reason, Milbank has chosen an awkward title for his book. The title is a bit of a mouthful. It goes exactly like this:
The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party
"Destructionists"—is that a word? If Milbank has his way, it will become one now.
On balance, we aren't fans of Milbank's work for the Post. That said, we were thrilled to see one major thrust of his new book.
For the record, many people will agree with the approach Newt Gingrich suggested. On balance, tens of millions of voters agree with the type of rhetoric, and the type of politics, performed today by Donald J. Trump.
Those people are our fellow citizens, and they have a right to their views. That said:
As of 1990, were Democratic office-holders "sick, pathetic, traitors, destructive?" ("Corrupt, intolerant, selfish, insensitive?")
Such questions are always a matter of judgment. That said, a modern nation can't hope to survive the harsh, unyielding tribal warfare Gingrich recommended.
("We must not be enemies," Lincoln advised. "We are not enemies, but friends.")
Milbank is right when he says that Donald J. Trump didn't invent the type of rhetoric, and the brand of politics, which is now widespread within the GOP.
The Others were "sick, pathetic, traitors, destructive!" Gingrich was saying that way back when, and he was telling other conservatives that they should speak the same way.
Other aspects of our modern Crazy were also taking form at that time. For today, we'll offer this closing thought:
Milbank describes the problems among the Republican Party, and among no one else. He fails to discuss the ways his own guild, the mainstream press, has contributed to this plainly "destructive" societal decline.
Tomorrow: Trump didn't invent The Crazy
An extra credit assignment: In September 1990, the New York Times published a Political Memo about the 133 words.
That was 32 years ago! To peruse it, just click here.