Over the past decade, American politics and culture have been sliding — slowly, but inevitably — in a new direction. This shift became obvious with the election of Donald Trump, but it began years ago.
That’s the central idea explored in a new book from POLITICO Magazine chief political correspondent Tim Alberta titled “American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump.” He writes that the current tone in American politics began to take shape in earnest during the 2008 presidential campaign, when the Republican Party began to split along ideological lines.
Ahead of the 2008 election, Alberta says that former President George W. Bush was “historically unpopular” among Democrats as well as many conservatives, who felt that Bush had not adequately represented the Republican Party’s base.
When Senator John McCain became the Republican presidential nominee, he chose former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate in an attempt to connect with the working-class Republicans. That decision, Alberta notes, revealed a growing divide between the wealthy, “establishment wing” of the Republican Party and its blue-collar, culturally-conservative counterpart.
Alberta points to this separation in the party, the financial collapse of 2008, intense polarization under President Obama, and growing disillusionment with “the establishment” among voters as developments that paved the way for Donald Trump — someone who is decidedly not a career politician — to take office.
Alberta doesn’t fault these voters; he says career politicians have a reputation for dishonesty. Congressional jobs pay well and offer many benefits, leading some legislators to engage in untrustworthy practices.
“You’re willing to do whatever you need to do to hold on to that job, and in many cases, it means flat-out deception,” Alberta said.
In Alberta’s book, the trajectory of Michigan Congressman Justin Amash’s career emerges as a kind of foil to these overarching shifts in national politics. Alberta notes that Amash has maintained the same stances for the nearly 10 years he’s been in politics, and that he’s long been “fed up” with the Republican establishment. The Congressman’s recent separation from the GOP came as no surprise to Alberta. Rather, he was surprised it took Amash so long to leave.
Alberta believes Amash’s decision to leave the GOP was both political and ideological. Running as an Independent could be Amash’s only chance to remain in the national political sphere.
“[The GOP] is [Donald Trump’s] party now, fully and without question. If you are going to cross him, you’re gonna have a very hard time holding onto your job,” Alberta said.
Listen to Stateside’s full conversation with Tim Alberta to hear about his approach to covering political figures, how his Michigan roots have shaped his reporting, and why he thinks that Michigan will be one of the most decisive states in the 2020 election.
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Anna Schlutt.