October 8, 2020

The GOP Left Me—Good Riddance.

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With less than a month before the election, it appears that Joe Biden will defeat Donald Trump, Democrats have a good chance of taking the Senate, and the House is a lock.

All of this gives me hope for America.

But this personal sentiment—that a Democratic rout would give me, a lifelong Republican, the warm fuzzies—was unthinkable just six years ago.

What’s different now? Quite a few of my friends and family members would like to know. They still have a hard time understanding why I am so all in to defeat a Republican president and bury the Republican Party altogether. They think I have succumbed to “TDS” (Trump Derangement Syndrome) or have become a damned liberal Democrat.

Neither charge is true. My opposition to Donald Trump is intense and resolute. But it is also fully rational and consistent with everything I have believed regarding America.

I have not changed. The Republican Party changed.

The GOP that I learned to love was the party of Reagan; the party of Morning in America; of free minds, free markets, and that “shining city on a hill.” Being a Republican meant tending to the economy at home, but also defending American interests around the globe, especially against those forces opposed to individual freedom. That, in turn, meant engagement and partnership with our allies. Being a Republican also meant loyalty and fierce pride in the country. It meant belief in American Exceptionalism as a precious inheritance and a solemn responsibility.

Reagan’s GOP was a big tent, with room for conservatives of different stripes, from big business to main street; from the religious right to libertarians; and from neo-conservatives (“neocons”) to paleo-conservatives (“paleocons”). But all of this coalition was wrapped in a message of hope, optimism, and a commitment to enduring American principles. I count myself a neocon. That didn’t much matter among rank-and-file Republicans in the 1980s. But today, it apparently makes all the difference in the world.

I won’t boil the ocean here with a dissertation on the history of the modern GOP. The key point is that the things that bound the GOP together in the 1980s also disguised the things that divide us today. From criminal justice to foreign policy, Republicans found sufficient common ground to form a governing coalition, at least at the presidential level. The problem was that for many of those governing positions, different Republicans had quite different core motivations. As our world changed, these fault lines ruptured.

When opposing the Soviet Union was our animating foreign policy objective, I thought the primary impetus was the advancement of freedom. But it turns out that some were most concerned with pure geopolitics, with no compunction regarding authoritarian allies. Others were motivated to return God—the Christian God, to be specific—to poor atheists behind the Iron Curtain. Today these competing motivations have led to foreign policy chaos.

When the economy needed to be rescued from stagflation, I thought reducing the top marginal tax rates along with closing shelters and loopholes, and reducing regulatory overreach was a way to unfetter the creative spirit and lift the economy for everyone. It turns out that even if Kennedy and Reagan were on the right track, a good number of my fellow Republicans were simply trying to redistribute wealth to the rich. The ultimate expression of this kleptocratic impulse is the Trump Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

But it gets worse. For me, opposition to affirmative action and racial quotas, support for states’ rights, and advocating small government was expressions of classical liberalism and rejection of identity politics. I aligned with Jack Kemp, who championed “free enterprise zones” as a way to achieve opportunity for all without resorting to identity politics. I was compelled by evidence that big government and big liberalism had a track record of failures. I was inspired by Reagan’s words, and I believed in the “kinder, gentler nation” and the “thousand points of light” of George H.W. Bush.

I thought the war on drugs, welfare reform, and the crackdowns on crime were necessary state actions to advance freedom and opportunity, along with individual responsibility, and to reduce dependence upon the state. It was clear to me that minority communities suffered most from the illegal drug trade and rampant crime. And within my own family, I saw the destructive side of state dependence.

It turns out that some of my fellow Republicans—more than I assumed at the time—were simply racists.

All of these domestic programs and positions, regardless of what they meant to me, were something entirely different to them. Either they were direct tools to maintain white supremacy, or they were holding actions to be preferred over more extreme policies of New Deal and Great Society Democrats.

I guess I was naïve. But by the 2016 Republican primaries, it was plainly obvious that the dark angels of our Party’s nature had won out. How else to explain the depravities of Donald Trump and Trumpism? How else to explain the shameful bargain Party leaders made to accommodate him rather than fight for the soul of the Party? And when it came time to hold Donald Trump to account for impeachable crimes, the GOP shrunk from its responsibilities almost to a man.

When sheriff’s deputy Scot Peterson failed to come to the aid of children dying in Marjory Stoneman High School, we were all incredulous. As the school resource officer, he had one job—protect the children. But when it counted, when it really counted, he was a coward.

The same judgment is upon the GOP. They swore an oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution. In exchange, they enjoy massive power and privilege. And when it counted—when this nation needed them to speak truth and lead a Party’s rank and file to a place of justice and honor—they failed. They actively staked out the position of a criminal defense attorney rather than that of a jealous guardian of the Republic. And even those who didn’t actively engage in the assault stood by in cowardly fashion and watched as a narcissistic sociopath with fascist impulses took a giant step toward actually becoming a despot.

If you are one of my friends or family members reading this who still will not accept the realities of this presidency; who summarily dismiss the New York Times and the Washington Post as fake news; who try to justify Trump by pretending that any failings of the Democrats are in any way equivalent; who fail to see any irony in accusing people like me of being “haters,” I really have nothing left to say to you.

I still love you, but I am done trying to convince you of the seemingly endless list of Trump’s and the GOP’s transgressions against our country. I have moved on just as I moved on from the GOP four and a half years ago.

And, no, we do not agree to disagree. What divides us today is nothing like what divided Democrats and Republicans at any other point in our lifetimes. What Trump is doing to our country is anathema to everything I have ever believed about it. I wish you could see that too. I hope you someday come to your senses.

But until that day, I will stand with Democrats and others who still believe in America.

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