When Donald Trump descended the escalator in 2015 to announce his presidential bid, he already had a persona—albeit a distorted one—as a successful New York real estate developer with keen business instincts.
But Trump’s rapidly emerging mini-me, Vivek Ramaswamy, arrived on America’s political stage as a virtual piece of putty that could be molded into anything. And mold is exactly what Ramaswamy has done, shaping his entire identity around what pro-Trump Republicans want to hear.
“[Ramaswamy] is an interesting experiment—he believes none of this,” Dan Pfeiffer, former Obama White House communications director, said in a post-debate breakdown on “Pod Save America.” He noted that Ramaswamy didn’t even vote in 2012 or 2016. “This is some sort of experiment in reverse-engineering a candidacy where you go see what the voters want and then you build a campaign platform to fit that,” Pfeiffer added.
During the debate, Ramaswamy rattled off 10 political and philosophical positions of his campaign. They range from the declaration that “there are two genders” to hits against the media and so-called “reverse racism.” And altogether, they sound like a succinctly articulated version of Trump’s vision for the Republican Party.
But Ramaswamy has made one telling addition to the foundational statement of his candidacy: an aggressive, paternalistic religiosity that doesn’t come naturally to Trump. “God is real,” is commandment No. 1 for Ramaswamy.
And No. 7 is a place Trump would never go: “The nuclear family is the greatest form of governance known to mankind.
On Wednesday, Ramaswamy used that commandment to punctuate a jag about the decline of the nuclear family—an erstwhile Republican favorite that has more recently been drowned out in the GOP’s grievance-dominated Trump era.
Ramaswamy recalled having the “ultimate privilege” as a kid of “two parents in the house” who urged academic achievement.
He then quickly turned the reflection into a decades-old Republican staple: attacking the government as an enabler of fatherless, single-parent households.
“We also have a federal government that pays single women more not to have a man in a house than to have a man in the house, contributing to an epidemic of fatherlessness,” Ramaswamy offered, conjuring up the ghost of Ronald Reagan’s racist “welfare queen” stereotype.
Whether Ramaswamy was talking about Aid to Families with Dependent Children (a federal program eliminated in then-President Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reforms) or the lesser-known “marriage tax penalty,” he seemed more intent on pinpointing “fatherlessness” as the reason American families, and thus America, have lost their way.
In fact, the word “family” was mentioned merely eight times during the GOP’s two-hour debate, and Ramaswamy accounted for five of those instances. (Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina used the word twice, and former Vice President Mike Pence said it once.)
In a lively exchange with Pence over the country’s identity, Ramaswamy adopted an argument that easily could have flowed from an evangelical pastor. The problem in our country right now, the reason we have that mental health epidemic,” Ramaswamy said, “is that people are so hungry for purpose and meaning at a time when family, faith, patriotism, hard work have all disappeared.”
Equating the situation to a “national identity crisis,” he concluded, “What we really need is a tonal reset from the top, saying that this is what it means to be an American.”
America is supposed to be, as the adage goes, the land of the free. Those who serve in the country’s military accept the burden of protecting the freedoms, possibly even with their lives, of those with whom they may vehemently disagree. But Ramaswamy’s “tonal reset from the top” suggests the country is a lost soul in need of a patriarchal leader who will define what is and isn’t patriotic—who will teach the country to discern who is with us and who’s against us based on his own niche criteria.
It is a fundamentally un-American approach to governance and one with, perhaps unsurprisingly, fascist origins.In the book “How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them,” Jason Stanley calls “division” the “most telling symptom of fascist politics.” Fascism “aims to separate a population into an ‘us’ and a ‘them,'” Stanley explains.
Stanley also writes that traditional patriarchal families are foundational to fascist societies.
In a fascist society, the leader of the nation is analogous to the father in the traditional patriarchal family. The leader is the father of his nation, and his strength and power are the source of his legal authority, just as the strength and power of the father of the family in patriarchy are supposed to be the source of his ultimate moral authority over his children and wife. The leader provides for his nation, just as in the traditional family the father is the provider. The patriarchal father’s authority derives from his strength, and strength is the chief authoritarian value. By representing the nation’s past as one with a patriarchal family structure, fascist politics connects nostalgia to a central organizing hierarchal authoritarian structure, one that finds its purest representation in these norms.
Trump’s entire hold on power is fueled by his persona as the ultimate strongman, and in that sense, he fulfills the right’s yearning for a patriarchal leader. But Ramaswamy is injecting MAGA politics with an even more insidious strain of the religious paternalism that undergirds fascism.
His debate-stage rant about fatherless households thrilled religious conservatives. “Vivek just delivered the best answer by anyone in stage tonight,” tweeted T.J. Moe, a Christian conservative media personality. “The nuclear family is the best form of government on earth. It’s the answer to virtually all of our major issues.”Franklin Graham, son of the late evangelist Billy Graham, hailed Ramaswamy’s 10 commandments, saying, “They all make a lot of sense. #1 on his list is: ‘God is real.’ That is true.
“But Ramaswamy is just getting started. On Friday, his campaign spokesperson Tricia McLaughlin told Semafor the Republican candidate plans to roll out a platform designed to encourage two-parent families. And part of Ramaswamy’s plan is to dismantle President Lyndon Johnson’s “failed ‘Great Society,'” McLaughlin said. “There’s a big part of the fatherless epidemic that roots from that so he’s going to make it a major part of his economic and education policy plans.”
Ramaswamy, a candidate who seemingly reverse-engineered his platform, identified a hole in Trump’s platform. His plans to backfill it would make MAGAism even more destructive to the country than it has already proven to be.
Republished with permission from Daily Kos.