What Rough Beast Slouches Toward the White House to Be Reborn? Thoughts on the Contemporary Republican Party and the Future of America

by on August 31, 2020 · 4 comments

in Election, Under the Perfect Sun

By Jim Miller

It’s hard to know where to start.  What did we learn from the GOP convention last week?

Nothing new.

We already recognize, to paraphrase Yeats, what rough beast is slouching toward the White House to be reborn.  Other than heedless deregulation and reactionary white nationalism, Trump’s Republican party doesn’t actually stand for anything.  Of course those two things are of central importance for the shadow government of the radicalized rich who are the only real beneficiaries of the last four years in that open racism and culture war distractions are the smoke screen that helps Trump put the wrecking crew in charge of the government they hate, deliver obscene tax cuts for the elite, and systematically dismantle our democracy.

It is always important to remember that, as we learned in Nancy MacLean’s seminal work, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, the plot of the Koch machine and their allies has always been “to save capitalism from democracy — permanently.”  And that is precisely what we’ll see delivered in full if we get another Trump term: a society where a booming stock market can occur as scores of Americans die during a pandemic.  Yes, Trump’s America is a country where millions of citizens suffer great economic hardship while the rich clean up, unapologetically, and complain about being asked to sacrifice a penny.

In a second term, the pressure will build for Trump to put on more locks and bolts, thoroughly checking the ability of the majority of Americans to collectively use the tools of government to serve the public good.  Anything that threatens to restrict the unquestioned power of the elite to trash the environment, exploit workers, and savage the commons will be derided as “socialism” designed to take away our “freedom” to engage in the dog eat dog Social Darwinist dystopia provided for us by our betters.

That’s why the flaunting of science on COVID-19 and climate should not be a surprise, nor should the celebration of racist vigilante murder in the streets as heroic or the “othering” of the majority of Americans as a cartoonish horde of anarchists bent of bringing chaos to the suburbs.  The cartoon is all they have because the entire project of the American right has been built on lies all along.

They know that they can’t overtly say they want to dismantle the legacy of the New Deal, get rid of all the regulations meant to keep us safe and healthy, and thrust us into a future where ordinary Americans will have essentially zero power in their democracy or in the workplace.

That would be a losing message.

Thus, even as we see it right in front of our eyes, they celebrate mass death as a glorious victory, tell you that an economy that enshrines historic levels of inequality is a miracle, and the people protesting being murdered in the streets are the threat rather than those who are doing the killing or those who are happy to turn a blind eye.

There’s a whole crew of repentant Republicans now who want to paint Trump as a freakish aberration and plenty of corporate Democrats are cheering them as they do so.  But that is the biggest lie of this election season.

The horror show we saw on television last week is the pure product of decades of work from Grover Norquist on to “starve the beast” until it was small enough to “drown in a bathtub.”  It has always been an anti-democratic, close to nihilist project that serves the economic interests of the American oligarchy.  It’s a corrupt game and just enough Americans have been suckers for the scam to keep going.  And now the desperate sales pitch to make America great again again has nothing left but nakedly appealing to peoples’ basest fears, ignorance, and hatred.

Perhaps the recoil on the part of some conservatives is genuine, maybe they finally looked in the mirror and didn’t like what they saw.  It seemed OK when they were bashing welfare queens and killing unions in the Reagan era, trashing the idea of government itself with Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, or lying our way into a catastrophic war in Iraq and empowering a War on Terror that gave a dangerous amount of power to the executive branch with George W. Bush, but now, suddenly, it’s gone too far.

Willy Horton was fine, but “when the looting starts the shooting starts” is beyond the pale.  Chanting “Drill Baby Drill!” at your convention in the face of calamitous climate change was just good fun but Trump opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve for real is finally too much.

I guess.

Perhaps I should be happy to hear it, but it’s cold comfort, if any.

In a couple months we’ll learn whether America’s original sin of racism is still strong enough to push us, perhaps irredeemably, toward authoritarianism despite all the wreckage this President and his Republican party have left at our feet.

If the party that just used the White House as if we were already a tin pot dictatorship manages to win by pulling yet another electoral college inside straight, we’ll know that our last illusions that American democracy has not permanently slid into a hopelessly corrupt plutocracy will end, not “with a bang,” as T.S. Eliot wrote in “The Hollow Men,” but “a whimper.”




{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie August 31, 2020 at 8:33 am

The “Rising Beast” is from William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) THE SECOND COMING – one of Yeats’ most well-known poems.

What Rough Beast Slouches Towards Bethlehem to Be Born?

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


Frank Gormlie August 31, 2020 at 10:06 am

Yeats saw the beast alright; he had a mustache and a swastika as his symbol.


Dickie August 31, 2020 at 1:00 pm

long has been one of my favorite poems ever (it’s a great read out loud too); thanks to you both for calling it forth; so timely.


retired botanist September 1, 2020 at 3:43 pm

Indeed, a great piece by Miller, and wonderful to see Yeats in print, anytime, anywhere. One of my favorite poets. In downscaling my library some years ago, Yeats stayed on the shelf. :-)


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