I’ve recently come across an Italian word that aptly describes what has been going on within the Republican Party “base” and among its leading candidates. The word, admittedly a mouthful, is “sgangherato.” Its most relevant translation is “unhinged.”
There is really no other way to describe the toxic stew of rhetoric, anger, fear and paranoia that the Republicans have cooked up. While all of their presidential candidates have engaged at one time or another in recent months in fear mongering, race baiting and xenophobic nationalism, it seems to have reached its apotheosis in the venomous declarations of Donald Trump–the party’s current front-runner–and Ted Cruz, who has been steadily gaining ground on Trump.
The former, as the world now knows all too well, has called for barring all Muslims from entering these United States in the wake of the San Bernadino terror attack. The latter has made the modest proposal (ala the Air Force General and right-wing hero Curtis LeMay during the Vietnam War) of “carpet bombing” the Islamic State into oblivion, notwithstanding the mind-boggling number of innocent civilian (and Muslim) casualties it would cause to those who are trapped in IS-held territory.
There is no need to restate here the near universal condemnation and criticism these proposals and threats have generated. But it is worth noting that these extremist statements have come as the candidates are vying for the loyalty and votes of Republicans who will soon begin selecting their party’s presidential nominee. It is therefore pretty clear that Trump’s and Cruz’s verbal bombs are aimed squarely at generating support among the party’s base.
Which makes it easy to take the next logical step, that being that the extremist rhetoric reflects the xenophobia and paranoia of the party faithful, the current unhinged state of the party faithful and fellow travelers. The cheering crowd at the Trump rally where he called for the entry ban, and Cruz’s rise in the Iowa primary race are evidence enough.
The Republican “establishment”–or what remains of it in the aftermath of the essentially fictitious Tea Party monster’s revolt against its maker–now faces the monumental task of dumping Trump and Cruz without causing a permanent schism in its ranks, or watching helplessly as one of those two seizes the nomination and leads the party to a defeat it has not experienced since the thumping of Barry Goldwater in 1964.
This is not merely a matter of strategy, but rather an effort to walk back an unhinged party cadre from its current insanity. I have little doubt that the Republican leadership will embark on such an effort. They not only will be trying to save themselves from potential oblivion as a national party, but will be working to avoid the kind of catastrophic consequences that would stem from even a failed candidacy by either Trump or Cruz.
Let’s face it: we Americans know we can get away with shaking our heads at the gains by the extreme right wing in France as a nasty social and economic problem they’ll have to sort out themselves. But the rise of an American Duce would portend serious global trouble on a scale that would far outstrip the Islamic State’s current ability to exact.
It won’t be easy for the Republicans, and I wish them well. They’ve feasted on turning rational fear of the IS terror threat into raging irrational paranoia, and that paranoia can just as easily be exploited by a fascist movement to overturn the fundamental basis of our freedoms. To the future of American democracy and its example to the rest of the world, IS poses no threat whatsoever. But we have seen our existential enemy, and it is us.