I wrote the following back in January:
(One) of the most worrying aspects of this new Age of Nationalism, with far right movements and their leaders flourishing in Europe, India, Asia, Russia, and now the United States, we will shift the ideological spectrum even further to the right. Far enough that basically anyone who isn't a fascist is going to look like a progressive. While it is fair and accurate for observers to claim that just about anyone would be better than Trump, when Paul Ryan starts to look like a reasonable statesman or Rick Perry stands out among the Cabinet as a voice of reason and professionalism, you've seriously lowered your standards. And just as the public got used to centrist Rockefeller Republican types like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair as the most extreme conceivable political left, give this five or ten years and we may be living in a world where Paul Ryan is a liberal firebrand. No, I don't mean that Ryan will be moving to the left. I mean that if you stare at the Le Pens and Trumps and Putins and Dudas and Modis of the world for long enough, just about anyone is going to look like Eugene Debs in comparison.
What this means, in essence, is that a further erosion of what "the left" and "liberal" mean is as likely to be the result of this as any kind of left wing rebirth and resurgence.
It was on my mind all weekend after ex-President GW Bush released a fairly blunt anti-Trump statement to positive reviews late last week. We got to the point I was referencing in January – David Frum and Bill Kristol as voices of reason, W sounding like a master orator, gutter-dwelling GOP Senators elevated to the position of heroes – a lot more quickly than I expected. And it's probably going to keep getting worse.
Think about this for a second and consider how alarming it is. Bush, Frum, and Kristol – three of the primary architects of a strategy to fabricate and cherry-pick intelligence to justify a war that we're still involved in 15 years later – look at the way Trump treats the truth and are (or at least present themselves as) horrified. It's good that they're willing to be critical. I wonder, however, if they have any conception of what role they played in paving the way for Trump to happen. They were the ones that elevated Fox News to the gospel truth, treated all disagreement as unpatriotic slander, and gleefully took advantage of the basest parts of the GOP electorate. If they're learning a lesson from this at all, it's that next time they need a tighter grip on power within the GOP.
These are not good people. These are not people with pure motives or anything resembling ideological moderation. They are the same far-right neocons they were in 2002 and the only difference is that a plurality of the GOP base has lurched far enough to the right since then to make people like Rumsfeld, Bush, Ashcroft, and that whole cast of bloodless hacks look moderate in comparison. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party continues to think that the path to success points toward the right. They're beginning to wobble on immigration the same way they always accepted the consensus against gay marriage and deregulation – soon "getting tougher" on immigration will be yet another issue that Everybody agrees upon.
"It could be worse" has always been a key component of politics in a two-party system. Now that we've reached a point at which it can't get a whole lot worse, anything and anyone who looks better than our mental worst case scenario looks good. And that's as dangerous in the long term as the current administration. Imagine a future in which Ted Cruz and Bob Corker, because they criticized Trump a handful of times, portray themselves as moderates and the media plays along.
Some days I'm convinced that I won't live to see the damage being done right now undone.