I’ve known Republicans all my life.
Family members. Neighbors. Select friends. Workmates. Maybe even a boyfriend or two. And though my parents were Chicago-bred liberals, and I was most definitely raised with the political sensibilities of the “big tent” Democratic Party, I can’t remember a time when Republicans—their brand, their image, their policies and platforms; their mission, their words and deeds—were something that would make you grab the children and run screaming from the room.
We all remember the old Republican Party, grand or otherwise. It was a party that used to stand for small government and free enterprise, with fewer regulations and lower taxes. It promoted fiscal responsibility, ideals of self-reliance and individuality, with a focus on family values and law and order. It emphasized national pride and valor, while supporting notions of human and civil rights, and peace and freedom throughout the world. In fact, it positioned itself as the “grown-up” party of conservative values, certainly in comparison to the freewheeling, wildly diverse, and politically liberal Democrats.
And they pulled it off for a while. At least some version of that idealized branding. They were able to wrap themselves in bright, shiny purpose and actually make their constituents feel that those mandates were being honored. Some Republicans became political stars: Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt; Eisenhower. More recently, Ronald Reagan was a Republican who made them swoon. Despite his background as a “lowly actor,” his paternalistic—sometimes bumbling—oration; despite the Iran-Contra scandal, his lack of action on the civil rights and AIDS crises, even when evidence of his dementia became clear, they called him “The Great Communicator,” and his name was invoked by any member of the party who wanted to be seen as comparable in the slightest. A likeable, admirable Republican. Hey, even Bush Jr., whose administration was a clusterfuck of corruption, graft, and what some would frame as actual war crimes, was often referenced as someone “you’d like to have a beer with.”
Then came Trump.
The chaos and corruption that was imagined in the fever dreams of every single person who worked their ass off to see that he was not elected have now come screaming to life in full, horrifying, three-dimensional color. And in the months and years of his almost unfathomably toxic administration, the Republican Party has devolved into a thing so unrecognizable, so pandering and capitulating, so crass and enabling of crassness, that Ronald Reagan is quite possibly rolling over in his grave.
When did being a Republican become engaging in corrupt, criminal, even traitorous activities with foreign adversaries to win elections?
When did being a Republican become wearing a red hat intended to signal bigotry, ignorance, and “fear of other”?
When did being a Republican become impugning, insulting, and negating our national intelligence, justice, and law enforcement agents and agencies?
When did being a Republican become ignoring your constituency to pander to the petulant demands of the executive branch?
When did being a Republican become embracing, enabling, and propagating verifiable lies in an effort to win favor with a corrupt president?
When did being a Republican become running up the budget deficit nearly 50% in only 2+ years?
When did being a Republican become handing welfare (paid by taxpayers) to farmers after imposing tariffs that gutted them, gifting tax relief to the wealthiest among us, and doing everything possible to dismantle a healthcare system that actually works for the people who need it most?
When did being a Republican become disseminating lies, slander, insults, and ignorance on social media, emulating a POTUS who’s lowered every standard of decorum and decency?
When did being a Republican become ignoring protocols and rules set up by your own party to, instead, spuriously attack and defame the opposition?
When did being a Republican become dismissing the party leader’s stated declarations of sexual harassment and assault, while concurrently ignoring the legion of credible women who’ve accused him of the same?
When did being a Republican become agreeing with, sharing, even finding humor in vile, ugly name-calling by the man our children should look up to but cannot?
When did being a Republican become turning a blind eye to the inhumanity of caging asylum-seeking refugees, kidnapping their children, breaking up their families, and denying them legal rights?
When did being a Republican become advancing discrimination against Muslims, Mexicans, LGBTQ, people of color, women, and immigrants?
When did being a Republican become openly embracing white supremacists, Nazis, KKK, racists and bigots who see “America first!” as a battle cry for white nationalism?
When did being a Republican become insulting war heroes, dismissing the needs of vets, and treating national security like a dangerous and badly played game of “Risk”?
When did being a Republican become cozying up to inhumane dictators, even comparing them favorably to former presidents?
When did being a Republican become cowardice, spinelessness; an inability to speak truth frankly, or stand up for integrity and honor?
When did being a Republican become supporting, enabling, complying with, or otherwise propping up the most corrupt, inept person who’s ever been in the Oval Office?
When did being a Republican become something shameful?
Any group, certainly any political party, has its share of criminals, hooligans, fools, idiots, and the ethically challenged. I mean… Anthony Weiner. But as I watched Matt Gaetz and his Mindless Minions march in self-righteous lockstep to disrupt and violate a private impeachment hearing in a secure room, and listened as he and his cabal spewed nonsense about “secrecy” and “lack of transparency,” maligning the very respectable Adam Schiff as a Machiavellian purveyor of nefarious intent all while pretending to forget (or consciously ignoring) the fact that Trey Gowdy himself—the Wag of Benghazi Street—stated that the procedure was proceeding exactly as it should and in compliance with rules that, yes, REPUBLICANS put in place, I saw a Republican Party that had devolved to the very worst of human weakness, corruption, arrogance, and stupidity.
But it’s every day I see a Republican Party willing to ignore facts, lie with zeal, break laws, gaslight constituents, flout norms and protocols, demean and mudsling with the prattles of insecure bullies tap-dancing either at the behest of the Fool on the Hill or to gain his approval and acceptance. And every day I realize this party is no more.
It’s not “grand,” it’s not even “old,” because the Republican Party of yore is gone. The one that exists today is a mutant version of what came before, and until the snarling head of that beast has been removed, either by impeachment or election, this party will continue to metastasize into a dark, corrupt thing unrecognizable to the two-hundred-and-forty-three-years of Republicans who came before.
Until then, rethink, America. We have a country to save.
Photographs in order:
Jorgen Haland, Roya Ann Miller & Jon Tyson, all on Unsplash
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