[dropcap size=small bg_color=”#21409a”]O[/dropcap]n August 6th, Fox News hosted the first major debate in the run up to the 2016 American Presidential election, with ten candidates vying for the GOP nomination. The debate was spurred on by egotistical personalities, religious jargon and constitutional rhetorics, all of which have bred aggressive policy ideas towards foreign relations, military issues, abortion legality, and ‘big government’.
What could have been a discussion about these topics, supported by facts and analysis, was instead a pageant, selling spectacle and ideology over democracy. Donald Trump’s misogynistic comments and Chris Christie and Rand Paul’s altercation over the NRA are already infamous, while the silence on racial and environmental issues were lost in a sea of extremism. The GOP debate embraced American patriotism, and pushed fair and informed democracy away.
For all the candidates, Christianity and policy-making are intertwined. Mike Huckabee justified his pro-life policy of overturning Roe v Wade by saying ‘the supreme court is not the supreme being’. Even when John Kasich explained why he supported the supreme court’s decision to legalize same sex marriage, he drew upon his religious beliefs to justify this position. The candidate’s policies were more often than not drawn from Christian ideas, removing secularity and alienating non-Christian Americans.
While all candidates wanted to ‘protect’ unborn children, black lives did not receive the same respect – race related violence was almost entirely ignored. Megyn Kelly asked one question about police brutality to Scott Walker, who did not address race, calling for nondescript police training to stop unnecessary violence. Immediately after, the debate went to commercial, and racial issues were not discussed again.
Fox News is a pro-Republican channel with Republican viewers, yet even their polling showed that race was the number one issue viewers wanted discussed – the candidates were simply out of touch with the voters. Ferguson’s one year anniversary has just passed, and since then, one unarmed black man has been killed every nine days, with countless other race related crimes and murders occurring. Yet the all-male panel was more concerned with restricting women’s control over their bodies than preventing deaths of innocent black Americans.
While many candidates invoked religion to justify their policies, the GOP, particularly the Tea Party movement, also uses constitutional rhetoric to create and defend policies. For them, the USA has deviated from values the founding fathers instilled in the constitution, and politics needs to look back at these values to become a great nation again. The second amendment justifies pro-gun policies, the fourteenth amendment justifies pro-life policies, and the notion that every American is ‘free’ justifies Republican opposition to ‘big government’.
For a party that looks back to the constitution for almost all of its policies, the Republican candidates have a remarkable incapacity to look back at America’s historical record on foreign policy and military issues. During the debate, the Obama presidency’s recent Iran deals came under fire. Jeb Bush, Paul and Walker all vocally opposed the deal, with Walker referring back to the the Iran hostage crisis in his opposition. Yet no candidates mentioned or acknowledged that in 1953 the CIA staged an illegal coup to remove Iran’s democratically elected government, causing resentment and contributing to Iran’s religious radicalization and anti-American sentiment.
Ben Carson and Huckabee also called for military growth to help the USA return to glory as the founding fathers intended. Carson and Bush both suggested that militarism was the key to strengthening the USA. Yet, founding father Thomas Jefferson did not want the USA to have a large army endlessly expanding, but a small, expertly trained army to only be used when the USA was directly threatened. Despite criticising Hillary Clinton for keeping her supporters ‘uninformed’, the Republican candidates seemed uninformed themselves when it came to foreign policy.
The debate was often competition of extremes. When discussing immigration, each candidate seemed to have a more radical stance than the one before, with Trump calling for ‘a wall’ on the southern border. However, amidst this, countless important issues were ignored, such as environmental issues and trade partnerships. Candidates joked about Clinton’s Benghazi scandal, but there was no mention of Bush rigging the 2000 Florida presidential election or Chris Christie’s ‘bridge gate’ scandal. The debate was largely a showcase of misinformed, ideologically influenced opinions that have translated into political policy.
Yet the GOP continues to gain support. Trump’s hardline ‘business’ attitude towards government is reminiscent of Mitt Romney’s campaign, and has similarly captured the support of disenfranchised Americans. Obama’s ‘big government’ policies are perceived to compromise ‘freedom’ and privacy, and while some give the NRA a free pass because it protects the USA from terrorism, Obamacare does not. The GOP, and many Americans, believe that foreign and domestic issues require different levels of government involvement.
The USA is advertised to its own citizens as the greatest nation in the world, with liberty and justice for all. However, with 14.5% of the population living below the poverty line and 283 mass shootings in 2014, the USA looks nothing like the advertisement. People are looking for radical change to bring the USA back to its glory, to restore faith in the ‘American Dream’. Thus, the modern GOP’s relentless patriotism and backwards constitutional rhetoric is attractive to dissatisfied Americans.
However the USA has never really matched its advertised self. Americans are told that the USA is the land of the free, but it was built on war and slavery. A nation with liberty and justice for all has and continues to discriminate based on race and gender in every way possible. The GOP wants to return the USA to its former glory and give everyone a chance at the ‘pursuit of happiness’, but this idealised USA only exists in the imagination.
Marco Rubio called the GOP the ‘party of the future’. However, if anything, the GOP is the party of the past, relying on constitutional backwardness and historical ignorance to chase the fabricated American dream while fair democracy is kicked to the curb.
Zeena Starbuck, Features American Correspondent