As the nation heads into the 2018 midterm elections, it is important to remember that Donald Trump’s cruelty, crudity, mendacity, and penchant for distempered judges was not created in a vacuum. In the 1994 midterms, Democratic president Bill Clinton was drowned under a red wave. The Republicans captured majorities in both houses of Congress and immediately began attacking Clinton’s centrist agenda. Today, President Trump’s “accomplishments” — a tax cut that disproportionately helps the rich, the negligible federal response to Puerto Rico’s ongoing humanitarian crisis after Hurricane Maria last year, savage immigration tactics, support of the “fine people” who march under swastika flags, insert your favorite attack on civil society here — can be partially traced back to the Congress elected in 1994, which was in turn building on the earlier callousness of presidents George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, all the way back to Calvin “The business of America is business” Coolidge. Although he went to jail for his role in the Watergate crimes, Nixon’s onetime attorney general (and campaign chairman) John Mitchell said, in the summer of 1970, “This country is going so far to the right that you won’t recognize it.” Indeed, his prophesy has been vindicated if we take, as just one example, the fact that a Republican Senate refused to even consider the judge that Barack Obama — a two-term, popularly elected Democratic president — chose for the Supreme Court. We have had one-step-forward, two-steps-back progress in America for decades now, due to the GOP’s mendacious machinations, and, with its unwavering support of Donald Trump, the nation has entered uncharted territory, which only gets bleaker the further the president and his enablers drag us into it.
In its January 10, 1995, issue, the Voice published a dozen-page special section exposing those earlier GOP policies that helped lay the groundwork for what has become the Darkness at Noon landscape of Trump’s presidency.
First, from that week’s contents page, we get a rogues’ gallery of the neutered Democrats and right-wing ideologues and con men who were leading the GOP’s slash-and-burn ethos.
1) Pat Robinson: Elfin evangelical demagogue; now a vocal Trump supporter
2) George Pataki: Callous “Empty Suit” governor of New York, 1995–2006. In 2016 he said, “I think Donald Trump would drive the Republicans off a cliff if he’s our nominee.” Was floated as possible ambassador to Hungary; still awaiting call from his president.
3) William Bennett: Pedantic, anti–public education secretary of education. In 1993 he wrote The Book of Virtues; in 2016 he threw it out to support Trump.
4 & 5) Two Hollywood actors from long ago — starred in an idealized movie the GOP views as template for the handling of unruly children
6) Oliver North: Bagman for murderous South American counterrevolutionaries; now president of the National Rifle Association
7) Marilyn Quayle: The brains of the family (see #23)
8) Rush Limbaugh: Rotund forefather of Infowars. On-air bloviator since he was 16, in 1967.
9) Pat Buchanan: Onetime Nixon speechwriter, political godfather of Trumpism; vocal supporter of the POTUS
10) Arnold Schwarzenegger: Muscles-for-brains governor of California (2003–11); married into Kennedy clan — it didn’t work out. Likens GOP under Trump to the Titanic, though rest of his party is hell-bent on melting all the world’s icebergs.
11) VJ Kennedy (no relation): Used to be on MTV; now on Fox Business Network
12) Clarence Thomas: Supreme Court justice who mocks Thurgood Marshall’s soaring achievements every time he gets out of bed
13) Tom Foley: Former Democratic Speaker of the House; drowned in 1994 Red Wave, first Speaker to lose re-election bid in more than a century. Died 2013.
14) Mario Cuomo: Vacillating Democratic New York governor (1983–94) who died in 2015, and is best remembered now for having a bridge named after him
15) Bill Clinton: Democratic POTUS who was at least better than having George H.W. Bush, Ross Perot, or Bob Dole as president from 1993 to 2001
16) Dan Rostenkowski: Democratic virtuoso of the pork barrel. In 1996 was sentenced to seventeen months in prison after involvement in a mail fraud scandal; pardoned by #15 in 2000.
17) Jesse Helms: Unabashed racist senator from North Carolina who fought against voting rights for minorities at every turn; cultural warrior who decried Robert Mapplethorpe’s homoerotic pictures: “The news media’s intellectual dishonesty in calling this perverse, filthy, and revolting garbage, calling it art does not make it art.” Died 2008.
18) Bob Dole: Wounded vet, U.S. senator from Kansas; last Republican on national scene with genuine sense of humor. Supported current president by saying, in 2016, “What am I going to do? I can’t vote for George Washington.”
19) Newt Gingrich: GOP Speaker of the House from 1995 to 1999, apparently named for an ingredient in a witch’s brew — his policy proposals were unrelentingly toxic. Now a rabid Trump booster.
20) Al D’Amato: Republican senator from New York (1981–99) known for fixing potholes and putting the fix into any progressive legislation. Supports Trump, but lightly admonishes the POTUS to “think, don’t tweet.”
21) Mary Matalin: Republican operative famously married to Democratic operative James Carville. Claims they never talk politics at home. Changed her party registration to Libertarian in 2016.
22) Arianna Huffington: Wealthy former wife of former Republican congressman. Proof that people can change for the better.
23) Dan Quayle: Handsome trust fund–supported Indiana senator 1981–89, vice president 1989–93; very poor speller
24) Calvin Coolidge: President from 1923 to 1929. Forget ideals and compassion — America’s raison d’être is turning a profit.
On the opening page of the Voice‘s special section, Richard Goldstein reports on Newt Gingrich’s vision for America: “The Republican revolution isn’t just a shift in the way government does business. It’s a transformation in the way people feel. It begins with permission to be indifferent to the needy.” Simply substitute “antagonistic” for “indifferent” and we get a sense today of just how successful the GOP has been in shifting the norm in America from caring for one’s fellow man to every man for himself, each armed with a Glock on his hip. Goldstein’s opener previews the articles to follow and exhorts the resistance of 1995: “This is no time to go gentle into that Newt night. Better to stand out on the highway, flagging down cars if you must, to shout out a warning. Even at the risk of seeming ridiculous, or dangerous, or deviant. Stand up and say, ‘They’re heeeere!’ ”
In the next piece, longtime film critic J. Hoberman tried to determine why Bill Clinton, elected in 1992, was being eclipsed in the media by Speaker-to-be Newt Gingrich, speculating that it was because “the architect of Republican victory stormed the zeitgeist machine — superseding even O.J. Simpson as the object of The New Yorker’s fascination.” Hoberman asks questions that resonate morbidly in our own violent moment: “Did the Maryland kamikaze who crashed his light plane onto the White House lawn hear voices in his brain? Or was he just monitoring Rush on the headset? What about Martin Duran, the 26-year-old ex-GI with a prior history of racial and homophobic violence, who — less than a week before the election — sprayed the White House and its press room with a 29-shot round from an automatic assault rifle. What was his frequency, Kenneth?”
Also on those pages, theater critic Michael Feingold puts on his vestments to instruct children in truly Christian prayers to counter the Republicans’ blasphemies: “Restore our welfare system, that it may feed the starving among us. For thou hast said, ‘Give to him that asketh thee,’ yet our wealthy refuse to give, and call judgment down upon the poor where thou has said, ‘Judge not.’ Knowing that thou lovest charity above all earthly deeds, we pray for the greedy and the selfish of our Republican party, that they may learn to see by thy light, which so many of them falsely claim to be their guide.”
Next, Voice Washington correspondent James Ridgeway exposes the GOP blueprint of greed, and today’s readers might be forgiven in thinking that they have fallen into a far-right time warp: “Make no mistake. The goal of the Republican revolution is to dismantle government as we know it…[and to] speed up executions, bundle all social-welfare programs in block grants and send them back to the states, and move forward with privatization of the Social Security system.”
In “The New Poor Laws,” contributor Robert Fitch spells out “How Mr. Gingrich brought back Tiny Tim”: “The idea that the dependent poor could be transformed once again into quasi-criminals hardly seems far-fetched anymore. The punitive and ascetic 1990s already resemble the 1890s more than the comparatively liberal 1970s, when the dominant idea of welfare reform was to give every American a guaranteed income. That was Richard Nixon’s plan!” Fitch also points out another parallel from then to now: “Rudolph Giuliani’s criminalization of squeegee men and beggars outside the ATMs ominously reprises the furious campaigns against begging and vagrancy that began in the 1870s. The battle reached a peak in 1911, when the state legislature, at the behest of New York City COS [Charity Organization Society], passed a law that created upstate prison camps for city beggars.”
And finally, we get music critic Ann Powers musing on the personal as political: “I tried to make fun of fundamentalists, but ended up retreating into the dislocated feeling I’d first experienced way back when I was 20 and nobody I knew elected Ronald Reagan. My country, their revolution: here it came again, supposedly the spawn of a Middle America I couldn’t see in my kind, tolerant, working-class Wisconsin cousins, or in my freedom-loving Northwest family, all middle class and raised religious, with different opinions about abortion and the welfare state, but none of them this inhumane or this foolhardy.”