Has political extremism reached its extreme yet?
The deepening of political extremism in the United States grows increasingly more evident. Moderation and bipartisanship shrink as progressives and conservatives move toward their respective corners of the political spectrum. The center attracts fewer activists. It’s hard to predict what politics will be like in a few more years.
I hope the Texas Republican Party is not a hint of what’s to come.
Texas politics sports a long and colorful history, with both parties contributing to its tapestry. Lately its GOP is raising eyebrows across the nation.
The state party recently announced its platform, a document that not so long ago would have played out as a burlesque of real-world political discussion. Some examples of that document:
• Repeal the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, enacted in 1912, which established the direct election of U.S. Senators. Before that they were chosen by state legislatures.
• Repeal the 16th Amendment, enacted in 1909, which created the federal income tax.
• Repeal the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
• Abolish the estate tax, inventory taxes, carbon taxes, state property taxes, and a bunch of other taxes.
• Repeal the minimum wage.
• Privatize Social Security.
• Make machine guns legal.
• Abolish the Federal Reserve.
• Ban all sex education of any kind.
• Abolish all federal welfare programs.
• Make physicians who perform elective abortions liable to prosecution for murder.
• Repeal the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits nonprofits like churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates.
• End gay marriage.
• Rescind no-fault divorce and support “covenant marriage.”
• Abolish gun-free zones, even if a private entity wants one for itself.
• Withdraw the U.S. from the United Nations.
• Because of widespread fraud, declare that Joe Biden is not the legitimately elected President.
• And the kicker: Hold a referendum next year to see if Texans want to secede from the union. (Again.)
It’s SO-O-O tempting to join the Texas secessionists. In November 1860, immediately after Abraham Lincoln’s election as President, New-York Tribune editor Horace Greeley urged that the Cotton States, like Texas, be allowed to depart in peace.
Fortunately Lincoln held the opposite idea, and before long Greeley came to agree with the Great Emancipator. Today it’s deeply ingrained in American jurisprudence that secession is illegal.
Republicans across the U.S. should be horrified at the prospect of Texas secession. The state now commands a huge 38 electoral votes for President, and that number will grow to 40 in 2024. Only California has more.
Texas has voted Republican for U.S. President in every election since 1976. Subtract 40 electoral votes from the Republican column, and the road to victory for a GOP presidential candidate immediately becomes much steeper.
What’s more, millions of Texans would not take kindly to an independent Texas. The city of Austin, for example, a bastion of progressivism in the state, might well try to declare itself a “free city,” not subject to state control. If a state can secede, why not a city?
But that is all hypothetical. Texas will not secede, and the Texas GOP well knows it. The real question is how serious the party is about some of the other planks in its platform. Candidates don’t have to campaign on their party’s platform, of course, but if they don’t, they risk losing a chunk of party support in the form of on-the-ground campaign help, money, and vote strength.
Is Texas an outlier, or does it represent the essence of today’s American conservatism? Does the Texas GOP platform, combined with Trumpism, constitute the road map for Republicans in the 2020s?
I have no idea. We’re in uncharted territory. Polarization has obliterated the two broad-based parties that used to define American politics. A third party, composed of moderates willing to compromise for the common good, seems unlikely.Moderate Republicans must feel unmoored. That’s sad, because as a group they may constitute the best hope for returning America within its traditional guardrails. It would be in the best interest of all of us to find ways to encourage the outer edges to return to a safer center.