The monster that the Republican Party has been building for decades—it’s alive and it’s gonna be yuuuuuuge, I tell ya. We won’t call it a Frankenstein monster; let’s call it Trumpenstein.
The Origins of Trumpenstein
Just like the original Frankenstein monster, Trumpenstein was cobbled together from putrid, rotten bits and pieces that the GOP gathered over time. The first piece was acquired back in the 60’s when the Republicans decided that a great way to attract the white, southern, conservative voting demographic away from the Democrats would be the “Southern Strategy,” a plan that invoked a pre-Civil War-era argument for states’ rights. (At the time, “states’ rights” was a not-so-veiled code word for states having the ability to legally discriminate against black Americans.) And thus, the first part of the Trumpenstein monster was placed on the lab table…where it began to fester and grow more powerful.
*Insert evil, foreboding laughter, as well as ominous organ music and a few claps of thunder and some lighting strikes*
The next important piece was haphazardly stitched into place in the late 80’s, when George H. W. Bush realized that he could use far-right evangelical Christians in his bid for the White House. Having previously railed against people like Pat Robertson (Bush called them “snake handlers and swindlers”), H. W. suddenly recruited Doug Wead to advise him on how to best court the evangelical vote. Wead created a strategy that included a staunch pro-life position and the term “compassionate conservative.” (The first part of this strategy is still going strong, but the second part has been long-abandoned by many of today’s so-called “Christian” conservatives, whose stunning lack of compassion is anything but Christ-like.) At this point, the Republican Party was not only blindingly white, but it was proudly wielding a cross. And so the grand experiment continued.
(Ivana and then Marla and then) Melania and Trumpenstein; not Adam and Steve!
Code words are a fantastic way for Republican politicians to say exactly how they feel in an acceptable, “politically correct” sort of way. In the early days of the Bush Jr. presidency, the code word du jour was “activist judges.” Meaning, of course, judges who recognized that refusing legal marriage protection to gay and lesbian couples was unconstitutional. When a Massachusetts judge ruled that same-sex couples who lived in the state should be allowed to legally marry, “activist judges” became the next of many code words the Republican Party used to stir up fear among its voters and unite them against yet another common enemy—the gay!!!
*insert more ominous music—music that is ominous to anti-gay conservative Christians, because gays are icky and terrifying to them, as well as music that is ominous to the rest of us, because it’s scary that anti-gay conservative Christians actually think they should be able to make laws based on their opinion that gays are icky and terrifying. Ominous music for everyone!*
I have to hand it to them; they’ve gotten A LOT of mileage out of this one. Here we are, over ten years after the Massachusetts court decision, and Republicans have shifted through a variety of anti-gay code words; we’ve gone from “activist judges” to revisit one of their greatest hits—“states’ rights.” We’ve talked about “protecting traditional marriage” and are currently concerned with “protecting religious freedom.” I’d actually like to digress for a moment and provide a handy translation guide for those who might be from more progressive countries and are confused by this terminology; here’s what it really means:
A BRIEF DICTIONARY FOR THOSE WHO ARE FROM PLACES WHERE THE GOVERNMENT IS WORRIED ABOUT ISSUES MORE PRESSING THAN STAN AND JOHN GETTING MARRIED, OWNING A HOME TOGETHER, RAISING TWO KIDS, AS WELL AS BEING ABLE TO LEAVE ASSETS TO ONE ANOTHER WITHOUT THOSE ASSETS BEING TAXED
“Activist judge”— Any judge who rules in favor of allowing a gay person to secure legal protections for their family, such as the 1,130 federal rights and protections granted by a marriage license, the ability to be the legal parent/guardian of their children, or the right to not be refused service or be physically/verbally abused because of their sexual orientation. A judge that rules against any of these civil rights is simply “upholding the Constitution” or “protecting religious freedom” (a phrase that we’ll get to shortly).
“Protecting Traditional Marriage”— Strangely, those who speak the loudest about the value of a strong, healthy marriage feel that their marriage may be threatened by other people’s marriages. (It makes no sense to me, either.) Also, despite marriage being a conservative, stabilizing force in our society, these folks would like to limit marriage and exclude same-sex couples from settling down and taking responsibility for one another. Basically, a “traditional marriage” can only be between a man and a woman (ignoring Biblical traditions such as one man and his concubines or one man who trades a herd of livestock for his wife). Any such arrangement between a same-sex couple isn’t a “real” marriage (which, let’s face it, smacks of a childish, spoiled, Veruca Salt-level temper tantrum.)
“States’ Rights”— Dating back to the Civil War era, this is a phrase that has historically been used to mean that the majority of people in each state should be able to decide the civil rights of minorities in that state. In the Jim Crow era, it meant that white people in places like Alabama should be able to decide whether or not black people could send their kids to school with white people’s kids, sit anywhere they wanted to on a bus or be forced to drink from specially-marked water fountains (lest “the black” be contagious, I suppose). In recent years, it has come to mean that heterosexual people in each state get to vote on whether or not they would like to let gay people get married, or whether they think it’s ok for business owners to put up “STRAIGHTS ONLY” signs (because historically, behavior like this is generally looked upon with glowing approval, years later).
“Protecting Religious Freedom”— See the latter part of the definition for “activist judge.” In the 60’s, many white so-called Christians argued that it violated Biblical beliefs for black children to intermix with their children at school. Today, a number of so-called Christians argue that it violates their religious beliefs to provide various services to gay and lesbian customers. (Also see the part of the previous definition where we reflect on how this sort of behavior is viewed decades later.)
Ok. Digression complete. Back to the creation of Trumpenstein.
There were bits and pieces of Trumpenstein shoved into place in between the events I’m listing here, of course. There was the raging anti-Muslim sentiment that started in this country after 9/11, causing Muslims who had lived in the U.S. for their entire lives to fear for their safety. Hated of Muslims gave way to hatred of Mexicans, which gave way to hatred of gays, and then more hatred of Mexicans, which finally evened out into a general hatred of all three groups. There was the pro-Second Amendment furor in which the NRA (and the politicians riding around in their pocket) completely abandoned responsible gun owners in an attempt to frighten voters into believing that they were under imminent threat and should be able to carry any sort of weapon into wherever they’d like to carry it—and who needs any background checks or training? We don’t need no stinking classes!
*fires pistols into the air, Yosemite Sam-style*
Let There Be Palin
I’d like to think, however, that the last piece of the Trumpenstein monster was put into place when the Republican Party embraced Sarah Palin. Yes—the former Alaska governor with her word salad rantings against the particular class of people who try to co-opt our country within and without the dangerous world in which we now exist but through which we can thank God for all of the Americas for which we have been given and also therefore for which we should shy away from those who would take our money and our hearts and build more walls, God bless America!
The Palin era of presidential campaigning brought out a frightening celebration of anti-intellectualism. Palin herself was definitely not a cerebral type, unable to blurt out anything except, “Uh, all of ‘em” when asked by Katie Couric what newspapers she reads. Palin then went on the attack against “gotcha journalism” (journalism in which the reporter asks real questions about issues that voters would like to know about).
She also openly ridiculed “intellectual elites.” What does that mean, exactly? People who read books with, you know, words? Perhaps this refers to people who use facts to develop their beliefs, rather than just shouting something out and then crossing one’s arms and standing firm with a “Well, I have a right to my opinion!”
In the post-Palin era, this has become the conservative, Tea Party Republican refrain: “I have a right to my opinion”—no matter how false, ludicrous, hostile, or vile that “opinion” is. (For those who are interested in reading more about this phenomenon, I’ll point you to this excellent Houston Press article.)
With this final piece in place, Trumpenstein was complete. Its piggish eyes opened and its loud, boorish voice was ready to shout down the entire world with its “opinions.” It staggered around, reciting all the conservative talking points (“Keep out the Mexicans Protect Christians Overturn the marriage ruling Overturn Obamacare”).
But much to the horror of the Republican establishment (and amidst the cheers of the Tea Party base the GOP had so recently courted), Trumpenstein had a few tricks up its sleeve: it also spouted sexist things about women, said that it would block all Muslims from entering the country and register the ones who already live here, and Trumpenstein seemed rather wishy-washy in its feelings about white supremacist groups.
Now, the question is this: will the GOP protect or discard their monstrous creation?