Donald Trump painted a truly terrifying picture of the United States in accepting the Republican presidential nomination on Thursday night [July 21]. The United States he depicted is a country beset by rampant crime at home and invincible adversaries abroad. In its own way, the official Republican Party platform for 2016 is equally scary even as the drafters claimed to be “optimistic” because “the American people are optimistic.”
The 66-page platform is written in policy-speak prose instead of Trump’s staccato alarmism, but it paints a country in similar dystopian terms. And the various policy positions add up to what the New York Times aptly called in an editorial “the most extreme Republican platform in memory.” Understand that the Times’s memory extends at least back to 1964 when the party’s nominee, Barry Goldwater, embraced “extremism in the defense of liberty” and the platform saw individual freedom in retreat under “the mounting assault of expanding centralized power.”
The threats to freedom and democracy in 2016 come from an “activist” judiciary that undermines self-rule and regulatory agencies that impose “quiet tyranny.” The platform lists individual liberty as a core American value but would actually make Americans less free in some respects. It claims to favor equal treatment for all but disrespects gay and lesbian families and would restore legal discrimination against same-sex couples seeking the respect and protection of marriage.
The platform calls for appointment of judges “who respect the rule of law” and therefore would vote to reverse the landmark abortion rights decision Roe v. Wade, the marriage equality decision Obergefell v. Hodges, and the Obamacare cases. On abortion, the platform calls for adoption of the Human Life Amendment to extend constitutional protection to “unborn children.” This seemingly benign language would make abortion illegal in all circumstances with no exceptions for rape, incest, or life of the mother and possibly pave the way for prosecuting women who have abortions, whatever Trump’s view on the issue may turn out to be.
The platform would not merely overturn Obergefell, leaving the same-sex marriage issue to individual states, but would constitutionalize the definition of marriage as “one man and one woman.” For the Republican platform writers, family values translate to a mom and a dad for all children: single parents and same-sex couples to the curb. The platform backs adoption, but ignores the thousands of gay and lesbian parents raising adoptive children in loving homes from sea to shining sea. The party backs anti-discrimination legislation, but not for sexual orientation or gender identity. And for good measure the platform endorses asylum for victims of ethnic or religious persecution but with no mention of the many LGBT refugees fleeing persecution in their homelands.
The platform runs through the Bill of Rights from the first to the tenth, but puts a curious spin on the First Amendment’s religion clauses. The Establishment Clause to the contrary notwithstanding, the platform calls for the teaching of the Bible “as literature” in school curricula throughout the country with no mention of the scriptures of other faiths. It also calls for Congress to pass the First Amendment Defense Act, which would create a precedent-setting, faith-based exemption from LGBT-inclusive civil rights laws.
In an election season, the platform naturally extols the right to vote, but perpetuates the Republican myth of widespread voter fraud by supporting proof of citizenship and “secure photo ID” as prerequisites for casting ballots. By unfortunate coincidence for Republicans, the platform was adopted in the same week that a generally conservative federal appeals court found that Texas’s voter ID law, strictest in the nation, discriminates against black and Latino would-be voters.
Unsurprisingly, the platform does not criticize the activist Roberts Court decision in 2013 that struck down the preclearance provision of the federal Voting Rights Act. It also speaks approvingly of court decisions that have struck down campaign finance regulations and, for good measure, calls for “raising or repealing” contribution limits so that big-money donors can have that much more political speech.
The platform bows to the Second Amendment in opposing “ill-conceived laws” to limit magazine capacity or prohibit assault weapons or, as the platform calls them, “the most popular and common modern rifle.” And a states rights-minded party unembarrassedly calls for “firearm reciprocity legislation to recognize the right of law-abiding Americans to carry firearms to protect themselves and their families in all 50 states.”
Naturally, the platform backs Trump’s signature policy position of building a wall “to cover the entirety of the southern border” and “sufficient to stop vehicular and pedestrian traffic.” The platform includes no details, including the likely cost, but Trump of course plans to have Mexico pay for it.
Outside these hot-button issues, the platform pays obeisance to the party’s Chamber of Commerce base by decrying high corporate tax rates, urging the repeal of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, and calling for the abolition of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. It also favors a nationwide cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, states’ rights again be damned.
The reading-challenged presidential nominee is unlikely to have read the entire platform, but the document represents what GOP candidates are ostensibly committed to support if elected in November. A Republican victory based on this platform would make a mockery of the uplifting words of the Pledge: “with liberty and justice for all.”