Lessons from the DNC: Ronald Reagan, the Southern Strategy, and "abnormal politics"

John Scalzi makes a very good case that the DNC's major message is that "this year is not about Democrat versus Republican, or conservative versus liberal, it’s about normal versus highly fucking abnormal" -- but Corey Robin persuasively argues that abnormality has been normal for a long time in the GOP: "the rational, prudential conservatives [Democrats] think they know [in the GOP] are in fact ultra-revanchist songstresses of domination and violence."

Here's Scalzi:

Trump is a racist and bigot and he is the GOP’s candidate for president because GOP primary voters put him there. The party’s not dog-whistling anymore. The party can’t pretend it stands for all Americans with him as its standard bearer. The GOP can’t hide any longer that it is, flatly, a white nationalist party. Whatever else it stands for, that’s front and center. Trump put that there, and the GOP primary voters put him there.

And here's Robin:

When we pretend that Donald Trump is an utter novelty on the American political scene, when Democratic presidents and Democratic presidential candidates invoke the reverie of Ronald Reagan against the reality of Donald Trump, when liberal journalists say the contest this year is not between the Republicans and the Democrats but between a normal party and an abnormal growth from an otherwise normal host (with the implication being that if only we could go back to the contests of 2008, 2000, 1992, 1980, 1972, all would be well), we not only commit an offense against history and memory; we not only betray a woeful ignorance of how we came to this pass (and thereby, as the cliche would have it, ensure that we will come to it again); we help shore up, we extend the half-life, of a party and a movement that should be thoroughly smashed and repudiated. (That, incidentally, is what all the great realignments do: they shatter the old regime, they destroy the ideological assumptions and repudiate the interests that have governed for decades, they send the dominant party and its leading emblems into exile, where they wander in the wilderness for decades.) We make plain our intention to give that party and that movement, even if they should lose in November, a second chance to make their malice and mischief all over again.

My British wife asked me to explain "morning in America" to her after Hillary Clinton invoked it in her speech, and I said, "That's an old Ronald Reagan slogan." She looked quizzical: why is the Democratic candidate invoking Ronald Reagan?

It's a good question. Another good one is "Why are Republicans invoking Reagan?" As in, "Donald Trump, you are no Ronald Reagan." The alleged grownups of the conservative movement thought that Reagan was a clown, mocked and fretted about his inability to maintain attention during national security briefings, and privately worried that he was literally going senile during his second term. Reagan ran up the national debt to never-seen levels and brought science-denying religious crazies into the tent.

I think Scalzi is right: the conventions showed us that this was about "normal vs abnormal." But Robin is even more right: the GOP hasn't been normal for decades, but finally the Overton window is wide enough to have a discussion about it without seeming like a partisan hack.

Clinton and the Convention and Where We Go From Here [John Scalzi/Whatever]

Philadelphia Stories: From Reagan to Trump to the DNC [Corey Robin/Crooked Timber]

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