Elegy for the Republican Party

I am old enough to remember when Dwight Eisenhower was president.  Although I was too young to vote and had only a child’s understanding of politics, I liked the Republican Party then.  With my limited knowledge of their platform and childlike comprehension of the issues, I agreed with the Republican platform.  They believed in limited government and controlled spending.  They supported immigration, understood the importance of education, and valued free enterprise.  They were the ideological descendants of Abraham Lincoln—hard working, patriotic, flag-waving Americans.  Those were my kind of people.  They may have disagreed with the Democrats on some policy matters, but I don’t recall the animosity we have in politics today.  The Eisenhower Republicans seemed to work in partnership with the Democrats, although the atmosphere in the back rooms of Congress may have been more contentious.

The Eisenhower era was a good time to be an American (more on that in a moment).  The adults around me, like my parents, were emerging from the war era and were bustling.  The economy was picking up speed as the entire nation recovered from war footing, and people were eager to build their lives, families, and communities in a new era of relative peace, despite tensions on the Koren peninsula. The Eisenhower administration was building a vast system of interstate highways, connecting parts of the country that had seemed remote previously.  I remember having a sense of vast possibilities and virtually unlimited potential. 

Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States

Then my family lived for a while in southern Missouri, and I met a black boy in school who became my friend.  I don’t remember much about him now, more than sixty years later, but I recall hanging out with him after school and being scolded for doing so.  In my child’s mind, I saw little difference between him and the other kids in my age group.  Beyond skin color, he just seemed like any other kid.  I wasn’t so naïve that I didn’t understand racial division in that small Missouri community, but to me he was just another kid, a human being.

We moved to Iowa some years after that, to a small town along the main east-west highway from Chicago to Omaha.  Highway 92 remained the main route east and west until Interstate 80 was built.  One afternoon, I saw a black man walking through town, hitchhiking toward Omaha, and he was being escorted by a group of white men with shotguns.  I was in junior high school then, no longer naïve about race, but I was still shocked at the threat of violence against a black man in a community I considered safe.  This event happened in the late 50’s, when lynchings of blacks were rare but still occurred.*

Incidents like these awakened my social conscience and soured me on the Republican Party, which I began to see was less focused on social issues that were important to me, particularly racial injustice, than the Democrats of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.  Still, I believed in the core of traditional Republican Party principles:  freedom, limited government, quality public education, balanced budgets, conservation of the environment**, capitalism, strong national defense, and foreign policy based on alliances, democracy, and principled leadership.

I might support Republicans today if the current Republican Party still believed in and practiced those principles.  But the party of Trump, Boebert, DeSantos, Gaetz, McCarthy, Graham, and others of their ilk is unrecognizable. They have embraced the worst of right-wing conservatism and religious bigotry to the point where reasonable Americans should rightly fear a new fascism taking over our country.  Trump is a compulsive liar and a fraud, a sexual predator and racist who acts more like a mob boss than a political leader, and it is astonishing that anyone could follow him.  He is so clearly a distasteful charlatan and self-promoting parody of a human being. That he is also a force of gravity for millions of MAGA-hat-wearing Americans is incomprehensible.

Chris Christie is one of the very few Republicans today who is willing to tell the truth.

What is nearly worse than Trump are today’s Republicans who refuse to stand him to his egregious, undemocratic behavior.  He did not win the 2020 presidential election.  Numerous court cases have refuted the Big Lie, and no one has produced any evidence that the election was stolen.  Still, most Republicans implicitly or explicitly concur with Trump’s delusion and will not tell the truth.  They cower before his MAGA base.  The irony is that if they all came out and told the truth, Trump’s base would wither.  In supporting the Big Lie, they perpetuate the madness and keep our country divisive.

I received a phone call from a Republican fundraiser recently who asked me to donate to Trump’s 2024 campaign.  I was polite in declining, but what ran through my head was that I wouldn’t donate the dog poop from the bottom of my shoe to that vile man, much less money.  So please don’t call me for donations to Trump or any other Republican.  I won’t support Republicans again until the Party regains its senses. 

What is probably most distressing about the current Republican Party is that its central premise is a lie. The Republican platform is focused on supporting Trump’s Big Lie when it is apparent to everyone with more than two brain cells who’s been conscious since 2020 that Trump lost the election, and when a party expends most of its effort perpetuating that illusion, it leaves little room for substantive, collaborative, nation-building initiatives. Moreover, too much of the Republicans’ efforts are focused on thwarting the Democrats, even when what the Democrats want would be beneficial to America and its people. Opposition for the sake of opposition is not constructive. Ultimately, it has a deleterious effect on public policy and the efficacy of government, which is why our Congress is divisive and stalemated. Seventy-two percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of Congress. That should send our senators and representatives a message, but they are too busy bickering with each other, and the Republicans are mostly to blame for that stalemate. They’re devoting too much time and energy to denying the last presidential election.

One of the last decent Republicans was Howard Baker, the U.S. Senator from Tennessee who was known as the Great Conciliator. Baker understood compromise as the avenue to progress, and he brokered many deals in his 18 years in the Senate. Before he left the Senate to become Ronald Reagen’s White House Chief of Staff, Baker rose from obscurity to become the Senate Majority Leader. However, I think his most notable contribution to the country was as the ranking minority member of the Senate’s Watergate investigation. Although he confided to Nixon that he was Nixon’s friend and would protect his interests, Baker’s principles rose above parochial politics as details of the Watergate scandal emerged. He became a principled and unbiased investigator in the search for the truth, regardless of the negative impact on his political party. Baker put principle above politics, a trait notably absent among current Republicans.

I would describe myself as someone who is fiscally conservative and socially liberal. I side with the Democrats on some social issues, particularly on abortion, women’s rights, racial equality, and gun control, but they are too soft on immigration and sometimes swing too far to the left.  I think Biden is a decent man and has done a credible job as president, if not an inspiring one.  I agree with fellow Americans who think he will be too old to be re-electable in 2024, although Trump will be just as old if he is elected. I absolutely will not vote for Trump or another principle-free, ultra-right-wing Republican candidate. Give me a sensible, moderate, principled Republican on the ticket. Or a Democratic candidate, for that matter, if that person is sensible, intelligent, and moderate in their views. I will vote as an independent in 2024 and will vote for whomever I believe will be best for the country, but if I am forced to choose between two old geezers, Biden and Trump, I will wholeheartedly vote for Biden.

So this is an elegy for the Republican Party of Dwight Eisenhower and Howard Baker.  If that party can somehow be resurrected—and integrated with some core Democratic social principles—then I’ll have more confidence in the prospect of principled government and believe in the American dream I had as a boy.  I would hope that my young black friend from my childhood could believe in it, too.  For heaven’s sake, we’re all human beings.  We should act like it.

*One of the last reported lynchings of a black man occurred in 1981 in Mobile, Alabama.

**Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, was one of the original conservationists, and he led the effort to create national parks and conservation areas.

Photo credits:  Photo of Dwight Eisenhower courtesy of Alamy Stock Photos.  Photo of fractured Republican party courtesy of Shutterstock.  Photo of Chris Christie courtesy of Shutterstock.

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