Forty Years Into the Anti-Sphere

After the accession of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1981, the Republican Party became the party of “anti.”

They were anti-taxation; anti-expansion of equal rights; anti-regulation; anti-government. Indeed, they became an empty vessel into which an ideology of greed as progress, and deregulation as wisdom became the political vogue.

They were in taking majority power fulfilling a longstanding dream of an out of power party — a party that had not enjoyed ascendant power since the start of the Great Depression.

Their long-abiding juridical philosophy of substantive due process and states’ rights was supplanted by New Deal regulatory government — government founded on technical expertise brought to bear in the administrative state and federal programmatic intervention in market-based capitalism.

Reignited and reified by the Second World War, this governing imperative undid the Hooverian view of rugged individualism that left the Nation adrift. It also laid the groundwork for a national effort to reoccupy an entire national region living under legalized apartheid — and restarted programs to not only assist in internal development of the underprivileged but to mandate the promises of equal justice dormant since the turn of the 20th century.

Republicans, sensing that the appeal to isolationism and small government alone could not bring them into power, saw an opportunity nevertheless in the angst of white Americans about racial and social progress.

If backlash had worked in the nineteenth century to end Reconstruction, that same instinct in American society could be joined to the Republican desire to reduce the regulatory power of the state and to overcome a nascent anti-militarist instinct arisen after Vietnam.

Republicans had a simple way back to power. It was by telling middle Americans that now Democrats were the party against “freedom” since they were the party of affirmative action and busing; it was Democrats who wanted “interventionist” and activist judges — not Republicans.

These became the codewords that masked a resurgence of reaction to racial and social progress in the language of individual freedom and once wedded to free market rhetoric, provided a political union Republicans could use to appeal to a majority of white Americans and to marginalize minority and disenfranchised Americans.

And if this philosophy could support political majorities in the Senate and elect an occupant to the White House, a Supreme Court majority would follow.

Into this vessel of anti-institutionalism would come a series of administrations who would debilitate and erode not only the few restraints imposed in the post-Vietnam/post-Watergate era, but would by conduct argue that those institutional restraints had no real purpose.

The first clear indication of this was the Iran/Contra Scandal. Violations of law by the executive branch would go nearly unpunished if carried out in the service of foreign policy goals. Oversight would be weakened.

The idea of independent counsels would become deplorable because — as in Whitewater — we would see their potential for abuse.

Into this void, one created by a party seeking to unravel several decades of an American consensus about the purposes and moral grounding of government itself, would enter Donald John Trump.

-Albert Turner Goins