The Death of Shame: How Trump Unmasked The GOP's True Nature
Donald Trump's proud depravity gave permission for many Republicans to reveal their true natures, proving they didn't abandon their principles - they never had any principles to begin with.
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Shame used to be a powerful tool for the public to pressure politicians into doing the right thing. Now, we live in a world where shame is no longer an effective deterrent against bad behavior, and shamelessness is often rewarded.
When Donald Trump took to the national stage in 2016 and used demagoguery to win the presidency, it sparked a domino effect. This has led to a political and cultural environment where blatantly depraved grifters are cheered on and emboldened. We saw this in the third Republican primary debate.
Ahead of the debate on Wednesday night, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy told an ABC reporter his strategy was to “be unhinged.” That’s exactly what he did.
Ramaswamy launched into numerous diatribes, attacking the NBC moderators and going after Nikki Haley’s daughter for using TikTok, to which she responded by calling him “scum.”
At one point during the debate, Ramaswamy looked straight into the camera and shamelessly spewed Russian propaganda, outrageously calling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a “Nazi.”
Ramaswamy’s behavior left viewers repulsed, as they expressed their disgust on social media. But not all viewers. His fans on Twitter/X cheered his depraved behavior, and some, like right-wing influencer Charlie Kirk even called for him to replace Ronna McDaniel as RNC chair.
Some were left wondering why someone like Vivek Ramaswamy was even on stage. How does he have any fans? Why would he feel being “unhinged” is a viable strategy?
I’ve written about the profit incentives of the attention economy and how the modern Republican Party exploits it, trading in integrity for clout-chasing. But there is also a cultural phenomenon at play, which Donald Trump didn’t invent but innovated on in 2016, leading to an avalanche of new grifters in politics and revealing the grifters that were already hiding in our midst.
The GOP’s True Nature Revealed
One of Trump’s most profound impacts on our politics is that he made indecent people think they no longer had to pretend to be decent in order to be accepted in society. Not only could shameless grifters be accepted, they could become rich and powerful.
It used to be common etiquette to at least pretend to be decent. But when Republicans saw a corrupt bigot say whatever came to his mind and not only avoid consequences but go on to win the presidency, some felt they were granted a license to take off their decency masks, too.
But those who embraced depravity didn’t suddenly become that. They just stopped hiding their true nature. A prime example of this can be seen in Trump’s Republican enablers, like Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
Lindsey Graham is the personification of this. Graham virtue-signaled and embraced everything Senator John McCain (R-AZ) stood for while he was alive and the star of the GOP. It’s now clear that Graham was only pretending to have character because it was trendy at the time.
During Trump's presidential campaign, Graham called him a “jackass", a “kook", a “bigot", and said Trump was "unfit for office." He also called Trump a "race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot" who "doesn't represent" the Republican Party. As we know, Donald Trump attacked John McCain both while he was suffering from brain cancer and after his death. In spite of all this, Senator Lindsey Graham has become one of Trump's biggest allies on Capitol Hill.
From the best friend of John McCain to the chief Senate sycophant of President Trump, Lindsey Graham is the personification of the GOP's descent into Trumpism.
Graham openly stated that his flip-flopping wasn’t inconsistent because he was simply seeking to be “relevant.” That explains it right there. Lindsey Graham didn’t abandon his principles - he never had any to begin with, according to him.
This can be seen in so many other Republican lawmakers who went from being alleged moderates to going full MAGA, like Reps. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Nancy Mace (R-SC). It can also be seen in how Republicans shamelessly elected extremist Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) to the speakership and shouted down a question about his role in Trump’s plot to overturn the 2020 election.
The Republicans who stand against Trump prove they weren't pretending to have integrity. Those who back Trump and everything he stands for prove they were always just power-hungry frauds.
The result of their sycophancy was the most corrupt presidency in US history.
An Increasingly Radicalized Base
A troubling example of this phenomenon can be seen in the rise of right-wing terrorist attacks we’ve seen in the Trump era.
The white nationalism that Trump espoused in his campaign and presidency wasn’t new. It was within the US for centuries and freshly cultivated by the Republican Party since the inception of the Southern Strategy in the 1960s.
But Trump stopped using dog whistles and began using racist bullhorns straight out of white supremacist manifestos, which people immediately recognized. It's why when he spoke, so many said, "he tells it like it is." Trump turned a base that consumed dog whistles for decades into a base that wants to hear the quiet part out loud.
After he lost re-election, he ratcheted up this rhetoric, spreading lies about the 2020 election and egging on his base to a state of violent vigilance.
This culminated in an insurrection at the US Capitol, with a noose hanging nearby and a confederate flag waving through the halls of the building.
The past few years have highlighted the fact that norms, laws, and social pressure can only go so far. In the end, the ultimate check on humanity is the guardrail of our own character.
This is why it’s so important to hold who we put in power to the highest of personal standards. We have to be able to recognize when people compromise on their own integrity for the purpose of power and keep them as far away from power as possible.
The opposite is happening in the Republican Party right now. They get away with things Democratic voters would not tolerate among their own leaders. Their shamelessness is empowered.
Whether it’s Project 2025 blatantly extremist agenda being outlined by the Heritage Foundation or Donald Trump’s increasingly dangerous 2024 campaign promises, the Republican Party has become shamelessly authoritarian.
In 2016, Lindsey Graham famously tweeted this about the Republican Party: “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed…….and we will deserve it.”
Graham was right, but the extent of the destruction – the erosion of integrity, decency, and respect for democratic norms – has surpassed what anyone could have envisioned.
Other updates from me:
I was on international radio this week! It aired on several stations. It’s a great show called Life Elsewhere. I was invited by Norman B to discuss my column that documented every day of Trump’s presidency. It was a great convo that lasted an hour. You can listen to the podcast version here.
That’s all for this week. Have a great weekend, everyone!