February 26, 2021

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On the path of the Know Nothing

2 min read

This is the editor’s letter in the current issue of The Week magazine.

America needs two viable, sane political parties. Parties provide voters with a coherent choice of governing philosophies, and galvanize people to unite behind an agenda and candidates; without opposition, any party inevitably falls prey to corruption and extremism. Liberalism and conservatism are yin and yang, parts of a whole, each contributing insights and values to guide the zigzag path forward. But when parties become enamored with unpopular and foolish ideas, they can die: The Federalists, the Whigs, and the Know Nothings all once flourished and then perished. Many Republicans — including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — now worry that if their party can’t evolve beyond blind fealty to Donald Trump, the GOP will also fade into history.

Many state Republican organizations remain in the grip of Trumpist extremism. State parties have censured principled conservatives such as Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and Sens. Bill Cassidy and Ben Sasse for voting their consciences on impeachment. State party chairmen in Wyoming and Texas are raising the possibility of secession. Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey maintains that the Capitol assault was a “hoax” that “was all staged” to discredit Trump and his supporters. In Virginia, State Sen. Amanda Chase — who describes herself as “Trump in heels” — is running for governor on a platform that includes preserving “white history” and Confederate statues. Republican strategist Rick Taylor warns that the post-Trump GOP is devolving into “a radicalized regional party” with “no leadership and no vision.” The party’s agenda is set by Fox News, where Tucker Carlson is telling his flock that a cop did not kill George Floyd, and that shadowy, powerful elites are “lying” to them about COVID vaccines. The Republican Party can be revived, but it must first turn back from the Know Nothing path it’s on now, which leads to Knowhere.

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