Stop Calling It the Republican Party | Opinion

Given Trump's now world-infamous narcissism, few in America or around the world would be much surprised if the current Republican President of the United States sought to rename his adoptive political party the "Trump Party," as I—and I'm sure many others—would strongly encourage him to do.

There's a history for this, of course, indeed one far more recent than the Democratic-Republican Party (1792-1825) or the Whig Party (1833-1856) morphing into new parties with entirely different names and only slightly different political platforms. Of far more relevance to America's current political landscape is the fact that while the mid-20th century Democratic and Republican parties did not formally switch their names after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, they did, and in dramatic and sweeping fashion, switch constituencies: no one whose great-grandpappy was a Mississippi Democrat in 1931 bears any illusion that the same southern gentleman would today be anything but a blood-red Republican.

In America, we acknowledge that political sea changes and paradigm shifts have occurred in order to avoid historical anachronisms, for instance, the absurdity of calling Abraham Lincoln a "Republican" when in contemporary terms all but demagogues would acknowledge him as what we now know as a "Democrat." Or calling the Ku Klux Klan of the 1930s a para-political "Democratic" adjunct when in 1990s parlance we would call it "fringe Republican" or—in 2019 parlance—"center-right Trumpist."

The so-called "Republican Party" of 2019 is so diametrically opposed to the Republican Party of 2014 on matters of both domestic and foreign policy—not merely rhetorically, but as a practical, procedural, and political matter—that it is time for American media to quite seriously refer to the "historical" Republican Party as a separate entity from what we must consider, in 2019, the "Trump Party." Given that the latter party's titular politician has just announced on Twitter that he has a Saddam Hussein-like "95% Approval Rating" among self-described "Republicans," is there any reason not to formalize this relationship between a fawning fan base and its venal, pathologically solipsistic rock-star emperor?

We increasingly hear whispers of a Donald Trump Jr. or Ivanka Trump run for president in 2024 or 2028—and already, the current Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, has so sown himself to his boss's side that even Trump's impeachment and removal would not excise "Trumpism" from the national lexicon, the coming political candidacies of two or more Trump children notwithstanding—so there's every reason to believe Trumpism can and will outlast its unnaturally hued patriarch.

It'd be easy to presume that a Democrat such as myself is opining about how the Republican Party self-identifies for purely rhetorical reasons, and in general terms I don't claim to be above that. But my concern in this instance earnestly arises from how the shoddy nomenclature we're using to circumscribe the GOP under Trump is making coherent political discussion—something I'm very invested in—virtually impossible. Instead of being forced to assert, for instance, that GOP voters now insist on photographic evidence of a crime before there can be a conviction for that crime (which would be a nonsense, as "Republicans" only take this view when Donald Trump is the accused, not anyone poor or nonwhite), a change in how we term what's presently called the "Republican Party" would allow today's political analysts to observe, quite correctly, that adherents to the "Trump Party" believe in electing autocratic leaders for whom the rule of law that applies to every other American citizen does not apply whatsoever.

Just so, if we had a "Trump Party" to distinguish from the "historical Republican Party," we could distinguish the "moral majority" that elevated the historical Republican Party to power in the mid-1990s from those who currently call themselves Republicans but believe no number of rape, assault, fraud, campaign-finance, obstruction of justice, or bribery allegations change the fact that Trump was—as many in the Trump Party arduously believe—selected by God to lead America irrespective of a life of crime, venality, and public and private immorality.

Something must be done to ensure the etymological integrity of our public discourse before we lose all sense of the historical policy positions endorsed by our two major political parties, and therefore any ability to speak coherently of either American political science or American history broadly writ.

To put the matter more simply, a law-and-order party cannot suddenly declare a war on law enforcement and coddle criminals in and out of government. A party of "family values" cannot suddenly declare that anything goes—legally, morally, ethically, and spiritually—as long as the culprit has the "right" views on immigration. The party of free trade cannot suddenly endorse protectionism and endless trade wars. The party of massive government oversight and intervention in all matters relating to criminal justice cannot, on a dime, pronounce the entire U.S. intelligence apparatus a "deep state" that endangers all Americans. The party that famously declared abuse of power and obstruction of justice impeachable offenses whose commission required an immediate cleansing of the Oval Office on moral grounds cannot now oppose even an impeachment inquiry into the possibility such offenses occurred at the highest levels of our federal government.

The party whose foreign policy long depended on forcefully imposing democratic values abroad cannot suddenly cringe from any foreign involvement or troop commitment, regardless of its evident nexus with American interests. The party that long fetishized every superficial marker of attainment and refinement cannot suddenly celebrate tweets written in second-grade vernacular by a man with a first-grade vocabulary. The party long most publicly fervent about supporting our troops in any and all circumstances cannot overnight become the party that attacks U.S. citizen, Iraq War veteran, and Purple Heart recipient Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council official, as having divided loyalties simply because he was born in Ukraine. The party of performative patriotism cannot so radically define down "love of country" that it sees and hears no evil in a President of the United States trading U.S. foreign policy for personal profit.

To be fair, Democrats have been undergoing internal tensions as well in recent years—but they do not produce etymological confusion for those engaged in public political discourse. For instance, members of the Democratic Socialists of America may in many cases be what Europeans call "social democrats"—by dint of which they believe the Democratic Party hasn't taken certain values or policy positions far enough quickly enough—but there's no cause to imagine them as anything but Democrats, their hostility to the current bureaucracy of their party or occasional hostility to elements of the Democratic platform notwithstanding.

By way of example, if the Democratic Party has long considered healthcare a human right all Americans should enjoy, and has worked alternately frenetically and sluggishly toward universal healthcare coverage for a quarter-century, social democrats (and even those democratic socialists who really earn the title) agree with these values and ambitions but argue they must be achieved immediately and through radical regulation and policy reform. Certain major bumps in the road—such as the 1994 crime bill signed by then-President Bill Clinton—notwithstanding, we find the same trend in matters of criminal justice, education, and personal liberty: the Democratic Party contains within it moderate, progressive, social-democrat, and democratic-socialist fronts that would take every value and ambition the Democratic Party now espouses and expand and/or supercharge it. We needn't rename a party simply because it has more moderate and more radical elements, as well as everything in-between, contained within it.

The "Republican Party" under Trump is a different beast altogether. There is no semblance left of "Republican" domestic or foreign policy in the Trumpist agenda, and even where we find similarities we know they're essentially "noise" rather than "signal." Trump can turn the entire ship of his party around on any issue overnight if he chooses—so it wouldn't do, for instance, to observe that both Trumpists and the historical Republican Party favor "pro-life" federal judges. Trump, a longtime Democrat, was himself pro-choice until he realized the Democratic Party would never nominate him to be president, so it would surprise no one if he began permitting his judicial nominees to be ambivalent or even intermittently heretical on the abortion question. With Trump having recently approvingly accepted the mantle of "King of Israel" and the "Second Coming of God" for himself—it happened, look it up—there seem to be no guardrails left on his wild ride to neo-monarchistic rule.

This last point is a substantive rather than merely rhetorical one. Because this is America, every American has the right to openly support the return of monarchy to these shores, provided they do so legally and peacefully. What Trumpists cannot do is warp U.S. political history by cloaking themselves in the name and mystique of a political party that quite simply no longer exists. And this, by all rights, is precisely how we should speak of the historical Republican Party: as an extinct entity, a historical curiosity interesting primarily because of its past contributions to civic discourse in America.

If Trump wants a political party that's merely a graven image of himself, he should own that party—and name it—accordingly.

Seth Abramson is Assistant Professor of Communication Arts & Sciences at the University of New Hampshire and author of Proof Of Conspiracy (Macmillan, 2019.) On Twitter @SethAbramson​

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​