America has narrowed its political future to a single person. Our current President has become the lightning rod for our ideological rift; the razor’s edge which seems to cut all Americans into one of two camps.
Not all conservatives supported Donald Trump in 2016. Oft repeated even among the President’s Republican supporters is the lament that they “wish he wouldn’t tweet so much.” But the failed impeachment effort has solidified the fealty of those in The Donald Camp.
As the 2020 election approaches, many Republicans demand loyalty to Donald Trump as a litmus test for suitability in down-ticket candidates, both state and federal. They demand that those running on the red ticket “stand with the President.”
This is perhaps understandable, but perhaps dangerous. Has America devolved to a cult of personality, where an individual is being elected more than the policies they advocate? Many conservatives support Donald Trump’s policies and accomplishments even though they wince at his gaffs and past transgressions. As with most any candidate, or even any party, there is customarily a spectrum of issues -- some people might support all of the President’s, or the Party’s positions: more likely they will share most but not all. These divergences are what offer voters both electoral selection, and a broad range of critical exchange to weigh. This is the political stew that determines a Party’s overall flavor.
Not so for the absolutists. They command full “patriotic” allegiance to the person of the President – issues are secondary. In Vermont this is at least in part attributable to the outspoken condemnation of our President by Governor Phil Scott, who has repeatedly and vocally opposed Donald Trump on numerous issues and occasions: on free speech following Charlottesville; undocumented aliens and sanctuary states; the Paris Accords; abortion. The Governor even supported the impeachment proceedings, and lamented when they failed.
This attachment to a controversial personality adds another layer of fracture within an already struggling Vermont GOP. Many ultraconservatives today invoke – and impose – a definitional codependency with Donald Trump that trumps issue-based focus. Meanwhile, Phil Scott has largely abandoned most traditionally conservative positions in favor of progressive appeasement.
But the Democrats, too, are attached to Donald Trump, in the hating of him. Even as the nation faces what may be an epochal pandemic, they have doubled down on putting Trump down. This is the flip-side codependency: the Left is so vitriolic against Donald Trump that they only have one issue for 2020: anti-Trump. In this the Dems and Progressives have become even more dependent on Donald Trump than the rightest of righties. With Bernie gone, the pensions imploding, saving the planet a distant fantasy, school costs skyrocketing, and the state coffers run dry, they don’t have any other issues. No one is more desperately attached to Donald Trump than those who depend entirely on their vicious, visceral hatred of him as their sole political plank. (Thomas Frank sharply warned Dems of the dangers of this folly in his 2016 book “Listen, Liberal” – but they have not listened).
As a conservative candidate for Vermont Governor, I am mystified by this twin co-dependency, on my Left and on my Right. I have spent a year crafting a policy list built not on such shifting sands, but upon fiscal prudence, reduced government spending and regulations, and a response to the vexing complexities of school costs and pension fragility. I strongly eschew any cult of personality – I advocate for a cult of restored constitutionality, which Vermont very much requires. My campaign is supported by many others running at my side: a team effort, not a personal popularity contest. Indeed, I have set out to tackle the most unpopular issues that face our state, even as the legislature has kicked the pensions, schools, and fiscal cans ever further down the road (and off the proverbial cliff!).
I am out to challenge voters to turn aside from the Trump/anti-Trump syndrome, and look in the middle for unity, and common ground. I am Trump-neutral, which means I am independent of Donald Trump. He is running his campaign, and I’m running mine. After all, Donald Trump may be blamed for coronavirus, orphaned border children, and global pollution – but he did not create Vermont’s dire pension crisis, collapsing communities, and empty school buildings. And, it would be silly to depend on him to repair them.