The Strange, New Republican Party
by Howard Smead
What in the world has happened to the Grand Old Party?
This is the party founded by men dedicated to block the expansion of slavery, and with luck end it. It was the party that carried the United States of America through the crucible of civil war that, in the words of the greatest president and the greatest Republican, Abe Lincoln, tested whether a nation conceived in individual liberty and dedicated to human equality could even survive. It was the party that largely oversaw the greatest economic development in human history moving the nation in the twenty-five years after Lincoln’s assassination from a well-off mostly agricultural nation to the world’s leading industrial power with a opportunity-laden capitalist economy and a standard of living that re-wrote history.
And when that economy spun out of control, it was elements within the GOP led by Theodore Roosevelt that challenged the emerging oligopoly with modest governmental reform that held, in the spirit of individual liberty and the words of TR, that “every citizen deserves a square deal from his government.”
And after World War II, a hero and central figure of the Allied side, Dwight Eisenhower became president believing in that square deal and worked to insure that social security and other government social programs as well as the great American infrastructure remained intact and in fact rose to meet the challenges of the ever-growing economy.
Yet today Abe, TR and Ike have been all but read out of the new Republican Party by men and women who claim their ideology as absolute gospel, who mock the ideas of human liberty when they condemn diversity and grow increasingly reckless with their concepts of republicanism when they disagree with the majority. When is the last time today’s GOP fire-eaters honored these three men? Instead they attack the very concepts of positive government these men championed. When is they last time you heard new GOP leaders recognize the truth spoken by Republican senator from Illinois Everett Dirksen when he said of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, “The time has come for equality of opportunity in sharing of government, in education, and in employment. It must not be stayed or denied,” and proceeded to make possible its passage? Today you get groans of dismay and hours upon hour of broadcast vitriol against Republicans who dare to differ from the authoritarian dictates from some of the very people who have benefitted most from the reforms of recent years.
They attack our democratically-elected government as though it were forced on the people by fiat. They abuse the notion of open-debate by substituting calumny and insult for candid opinion, thoughtfully expressed. They advocate a system of government that was rejected by the people in the early years of the Constitution. It may have been the words of Thomas Jefferson that inspired Americans to greatness, but it was the ideas of Alexander Hamilton by which this nation has grown into the dynamo of hope it was destined to be.
That destiny is now weakened by the new Republicans who have embraced xenophobia as a national trait and accused those who differ with them of subscribing to foreign ideas and alien customs, even while looking to Edmund Burke and a host of post-Gilded-Age immigrants for their political ideas. All the while seeking to discourage immigration, even to the extent of repealing the liberty-affirming 14th Amendment.
They treat war as essential and cooperation as weakness, while refusing to recognize the responsibilities of empire, dedicated as they are to the slow suicide of isolationism. They have turned the idea of taxation from the act of patriotism it once was and should still be into a betrayal of our most basic values. Along with that has come ridicule of any suggestions that great nations must under-go times of rebuilding and re-commitment. In its place is the raging contradiction that God’s acts are not to be altered, as though reform were an affront to His work, but revolution, even violent revolution, obedience to His wishes.
The science that gave the world so many innovations is labeled the tool of atheists. Higher education that has become the envy of the world is considered central to a plot to destroy that which it helped create. In its place is the fool’s motto that if you can’t do it on your own, you’re not an American.
As someone with a solid Republican background, though I have always been a registered Independent and will remain so, the GOP of my youth and early adulthood has become something as foreign and antithetical to the values of intellectualism and moral conscience instilled in me as I grew up as the rancid notions of selfishness and resentment that the New Republican Party has come to stand for. It’s such a tragedy.