Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

The USA: Wise Republicans Still Have a Chance to Save Their Party

The USA: Wise Republicans Still Have a Chance to Save Their Party

Tuesday, 26 January, 2021 - 12:30

It was ironic that the number of US troops mobilized in Washington DC on January 6th exceeded the 2500 troops left in Afghanistan; but this was exactly what happened on President Joe Biden’s Inauguration Day.

This is an image of a rapidly changing world, whose changes we must keenly read without haste, denial, or neglect. Concepts and convictions also change; something we have learned from ‘the school of life’…. the world’s greatest school for politics.

When I first came to the UK, more than four decades ago, I witnessed firsthand the first government change in a Western democracy. The Labour Party was in power when I arrived in London in the fall of 1978; with James Callaghan as Prime minister and the impressive Denis Healey as Chancellor of Exchequer. Healey, in my personal, was one of two British brilliant politicians who deserve the description “the best Prime Minister Britain never had”, along with the famous Conservative grandee Richard R. Butler.

Butler and Healey, each in his own way and his own qualities, was too big for that post. Perhaps, this is why their party colleague refused to make them Prime Ministers, despite their resounding successes in all the senior cabinet posts they occupied.

During the economically and politically tense late 1970s, Healey was not only a prominent figure, but also the ‘face of the government’ during all the heated media debate; however, two factors limited his ability to maneuver.

The first was the Labour Left’s creeping dominance of the powerful trades unions, as well as the local constituency party organization. This weakened and besieged Healey’s pragmatist centrist faction inside the party.

The second was the ascendancy of the populist hard-right within the Conservative Party led by Margaret Thatcher, under guidance of her ‘Godfather’ Sir Keith Joseph. Thatcher’s hard right built its populist appeal on effectively demonizing the intransigence, dogmatism, and transgressions of the trades unions; highlighting the union’s rejection of new technology and disrupting daily life with never-ending strike actions, sometimes for the pettiest of reasons.

As if these two factors were not enough, there was a third major global factor. As the ‘Cold War’ was fast reaching its climax, the Labour Left was idealistic enough to adopt the policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament in the face of the USSR. This stance allowed the Conservative right to accuse Labour’s ‘submissive’ policy of ‘threatening Britain’s security’. This coincided across the Atlantic with Ronald Reagan leading the onslaught of the Republican right against the ‘idealist’ Democratic president Jimmy Carter and accusing him of weakness and hesitancy against Moscow.

During the last three months in 1978, between October and the first week of 1979, I lived in London through what was became known as the ‘Winter of Discontent’. However, little did I know then that I was living the budding ‘Reagan - Thatcher Alliance’ which would end the ‘Cold War’ by defeating the USSR.

Indeed, Labour lost the spring of 1979 British general elections, and Thatcher became prime minister. She would later carry out for 11 years radical changes that would redefine British politics.

During those 11 years, the prominent leaders of yesterday became ordinary people. The firebrand radical trade unionists were defeated and their once-proud unions emasculated. Soon enough, they were followed by the Leftist Labour politicians - who had misread the mood of the nation, as well the international climate - after Conservative landslide victory in the 1983 general elections.

I returned to settle in London in the early summer of 1979; and one day, while walking in Piccadilly, I found myself in front of Denis Healey. The great man himself, who filled the TV screens and political platforms a few months ago, was now walking among the crowds like any ordinary citizen, with no guards or security escorts.

That was the first practical lesson I learned about the institution's Western democracy.

The second lesson came in 1990 when Margaret Thatcher was hell-bent on implementing policies that reflected her conservative dogmatism; in the belief that her historic aura made the Conservative her own fiefdom. Her hard-right dogmatism - supported by Thatcher younger generation MPs - took a leaf from the book of Labour left’s dogmatism in 1979 and 1983; as it alienated moderate rationalist Conservatives who had reservations about her wholesale privatization campaigns, anti-Europe policies, and stubborn opposition to a Northern Ireland settlement. Eventually, Thatcher lost the trust of the party ‘establishment’, which brought her rule to an end, and replaced her by John Major.

This great second lesson was that ‘dogmatism’ and ‘populism’ may be beneficial for some time, but would later lead to the situation best described by the great Arab poet Al-Mutanabbi, who said:

“He who makes a lion his hunting falcon will end up among the preys!”

In fact, ‘dogmatic’ extremism – be they religious or ethnic – as well as populist incitement, feed on themselves, and eventually consume become self-defeating.

This is exactly what we witnessed, during the last few weeks in the USA, after President Donald Trump refused to recognize the fairness of the Presidential Elections, and fought against the media, the election authorities (even in Republican-run states), the judiciary, the Constitution and advances technology.

The turning point, however, was calling on his extremist thuggish supporters to march on Washington, and attack the US Congress, in order to prevent the constitutional transfer of power.

Indeed, Trump stuck stubbornly to his guns, despite receiving several warning signs that should have alerted him to the risk he was taking, including:

1- Some states agreeing to and eventually carrying out recounts.

2- The decisive stance of the Chairman of the Joint Staff of the US Armed Forces, who clearly said that their loyalty was always to the Constitution.

3- The position of the US Supreme Court, where conservative justices make up the majority; among who are three Trump appointees.

4- Some pro-Trump ultra-conservative media outlets stopping their unfounded claims of election fraud after being threatened by counting companies with legal action.

Attacking the Capitol, home of the legislative power, is an exceptional event in the history of any nation that takes pride in its democratic system. But, here this was happening as a result of direct incitement from the nation’s president; i.e. the guardian of its constitution!

This is why the positions of many leading Republicans changed, despite threats to themselves and their families from thuggish armed gangs.

Yet, although there are legal justifications to punish Trump, there are also more realistic political considerations, which may more rewarding, even to those seeking revenge.

The effective punishment for exploiting those thuggish gangs would be for the Republicans to ‘learn the lesson’, and begin a process of saving their party, by ridding it of the pockets of extremism, before it is too late.

Other opinion articles

Editor Picks