Donald Trump is in the driver's seat, speeding toward Super Tuesday and the Republican nomination to run for president. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio share the front seat, making the regular GOP passengers uneasier than ever. They are holding onto their doors for dear life, praying that the Republican bus doesn't veer off the road and crash.
How did this disastrous journey become the current reality? There are many answers, from voter anger at political establishment to yearning for an outside driver who finally will take charge once and for all. And to be effective, that chauffeur must remain separate from the GOP oligarchy, which has been relegated to screaming back-seat drivers. The media, once the navigator of these quadrennial trips, is now the "navigator" -- criticizing without having a clue of what to do.
When I first wrote Obama on the couch I opined that President Obama would drive the GOP crazy, mostly because of his ability to tolerate cognitive dissonance -- a capacity to entertain differing attitudes and arguments about a single policy decision. For many years up to 2008, starting under Reagan and dramatically augmented by George W. Bush, Americans became incapable of tolerating a both/and approach to political life, again becoming an either/or nation reminiscent of ancient Civil War divisions into Blue and Grey, or North and South.
Reagan had said, "Government is not the solution to our problem, government IS the problem." Twenty years later Bush said, "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists." But Obama offered something new and different: he said, "There is not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America -- there is the United States of America."
I wrote that many forces in Obama's life pushed him toward his vision of bringing opposing groups together. He was a bi-racial child who tried to heal that fundamental division both within himself and in his relationships. The other primary force was that his parents divorced when he was an infant, leaving him to spend much of his life trying to understand what happened as well as yearning for them to reunite.
He worked to connect different parts of himself, as well as to relate to diverse groups of people by trying to find common ground. As president, he tried to compromise so relentlessly that I wrote that he suffered from "obsessive bi-partisan disorder."
The things he accomplished as president were not possible without making major concessions. For example, he made what liberals felt were disastrous compromises with insurance and pharmaceutical companies in order to get his Affordable Care Act made into law.
His perspicacity drove many in the GOP to create the Tea Party -- a party that sees everything as good or bad, not good and bad. Republicans have spent the better part of two Obama administrations trying to repeal what they call "Obamacare". Being certain is calming, and helps people manage their anxiety -- their fears that too much thinking will result in inner chaos. Because of this, Obama's capacity for complex thought makes people uncomfortable who feel absolutely, for example, that Russia is bad and America is good.
President Obama was bound to cause discomfort in others, and not simply because he was black. And it is his attitude, often successful, that put the GOP at risk. The current roster of bizarre Republican candidates proves the point -- the party establishment fears Obama's intellectual and emotional strength and his capacity to think, resulting in their own fractured state of disarray. They are unable to say yes to anything he suggests.
With each passing day, whether anticipating a new Supreme Court Justice or the closing of Guantanamo, Republicans cling more tenaciously to certainty and yearn for unambiguous exercise of authority. This is my conclusion: to Republicans, compromise invites disorder and means capitulation; to Democrats, compromise invites growth even if mixed with frustration and disappointment. The irony is, however, that total fear of compromise at any cost has led to the party's current chaotic state.