While the election of Donald Trump was as much a shock to me as anyone else, what spurred me to write this book was that so many Americans who see themselves as good and decent people were willing to cast their vote for someone whose “brand” was defined by the aggressive and unscrupulous pursuit of self-interest. Trump’s business dealings have been characterized by failing to keep promises to banks and contractors. He rejects truth and facts. He displays shocking levels of ignorance and arrogance. And his behavior towards men and women alike is that of a schoolyard bully. And yet, millions of Americans apparently thought that these traits represent our country.
The more I brooded about these voters, the more I saw that the 2016 election was simply the culmination of a transformation of the Republican Party over the last 20 to 30 years. The former protector of “traditional American values” had become an extremist party that shamelessly trafficked in fear, racism, misogyny, ignorance and White nationalism. The election of Donald Trump, then, was simply the end result of this conscious rejection of the core notions of ethics and the fundamental values of America. Sadly, since Trump got into office, his behavior, that of William Barr and the Republican Party have only made matters worse. American democracy is under such an assault that even former loyal Republicans are sounding the alarm. Neoconservative Bill Kristol has written, “Not presumably forever; not perhaps for a day after Nov. 3, 2020; not on every issue or in every way until then. But for the time being one has to say: We are all Democrats now.” Similarly, Steve Schmidt, George Conway, Rick Wilson, and John Weaver have founded the Lincoln Project, with the goal of “persuading enough disaffected conservatives, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in swing states and districts to help ensure a victory in the Electoral College, and congressional majorities that don’t enable or abet Mr. Trump’s violations of the Constitution, even if that means Democratic control of the Senate and an expanded Democratic majority in the House.”
While Conversation About America is written as a dialogue set in the context of a political campaign, it is a book primarily about ethics. And while members of all parties are guilty of significant ethical failures, I have never seen such a frontal assault on such basic moral values as honesty, respect and fairness as I have with the Trump-G.O.P. When this is combined with the party’s successful use of gerrymandering to impose minority rule, it shows how dangerous the current situation is.
I have written this book in the hope that it will encourage honest, sincere, and patriotic men and women of all parties and political allegiance not simply to reflect on the ethical challenges posed by the “Trump G.O.P.” More importantly, we all need to take action to correct the situation.