“Big Tent Party.” The words still ring in my ears.
It was the 1992 GOP National Convention, which I covered at the Houston Astrodome, and the party wanted us all to know it welcomed all sorts.
Thirty years later, the party has become, without apology, a closed society.
The ’92 convention didn’t look like a big-tent affair. Almost no people of color, and ringing denunciations of the “gay agenda. But at least it had a platform that conventioneers could debate.
The 2020 platform featured no debate and no troubling details. Whatever Donald Trump wanted, that was it.
Speaking of discourse, the GOP just walked away from the Commission on Presidential Debates.
The message: Anything that doesn’t comport with Trump-style confirmation bias is unacceptable.
The GOP complained about biased moderators (Chris Wallace? Martha Raddatz?). By its standards, the only acceptable journalists would be members of the Fox News toady brigade.
Trump said the commission sided with Joe Biden when it decided to mute candidates to prevent them (meaning Trump) from interrupting each other.
Speaking as a commission member, former senator John Danforth, a Republican, quipped that if he wanted to aid Biden, “the last thing I would have wanted” would be to prevent Trump from further embarrassing himself.
On the closed-society front, Republicans in many states have set out to block or challenge open primaries by which independents might have a say in who gets the GOP nomination.
Clearly this is meant to benefit the hardest-core Trumpites, the ones most devoted to the Big Lie and right-wing conspiracy theories.
The party is doing everything possible to purge or marginalize anyone who does not proclaim “the election was stolen.”
With its authoritarian tactics and with a Big Lie as its foundation, Trump’s party has become a mirror image of Putin’s party. The media is the enemy? Truth is the enemy.
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an interview about Russian disinformation with Peter Pomerantsev, author of the 2019 book “This Is Not Propaganda” would make anyone think of Trump.
He said that Putin’s modern-day approach to controlling the narrative in his land wasn’t just to lie about what he does but to confuse commoners with claims of “they’re out to get you” conspiracies. Translation: Paranoia is the friend of despots.
Pomerantsev pointed to a “strategic message” – a “sort of cynicism that makes you dependent” on a strongman leader.
He was speaking of Putin, but most clearly such messaging translates well in the MAGA world.
Only Trump speaks the truth. Anyone who questions him is the enemy. Foremost are the media and all those fact-checkers.
Trump, as with Putin, has established among his partisans that he owns truth, in essence to change reality.
“It’s a very old thing,” says Pomerantsev. “By saying, ‘I have power over reality,’ he’s saying, ‘I have true power.'”
The author is referring to Putin there, but the parallels with that other guy are most pronounced.
Back to that Astrodome gathering where conventioneers indulged insurgent Pat Buchanan’s Trump-like “culture war” rant and embraced incumbent George H.W. Bush and GOP tradition.
After the nomination, the extended Bush family bathed in confetti, a sitting president and one to come.
Today those still here from that ’92 Bush family portrait detest Trump as one who has flouted norms and alliances, and who fomented a riot to nullify a lawful election. Their acknowledgement of these truths makes them “RINOs.” Trump’s party spits on them.
In 2022 the GOP tent isn’t big enough even for them.
Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.