The Republican Party was a once-proud party, born from the high ideals of Abraham Lincoln, and nurtured during the influential Presidencies of Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and the Bushes. It was the “Grand Ole Party” (although in my adolescence I thought GOP stood for “Government Of the People”).
Now this once-proud party has a deadly infection that threatens to destroy it, as well as the country it once sought to serve. It is the infection of Trumpism.
But before we get into the present, a little personal background: I was raised by parents who were strong Republicans. My parents nearly idolized Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. I remember thinking in high school that any educated person with principles must certainly be Republican! My college dorm room bulletin board at Sioux Falls College in South Dakota was full of pictures of Richard Nixon, and I even went to one of his campaign rallies. I would have to admit, however, that it was during this time that I began to change. I was enthralled listening to South Dakota Senator George McGovern.
The Republican Party today is simply not the same as it used to be. Lincoln’s main goals as President were to end slavery and preserve the Union. He declared in his most famous speech, “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…” The Republican Party of Donald Trump supports white supremacists who are diametrically opposed to those famous words. They believe whites were created to lord it over the other non-white races. And preserving the Union? Trump does all he can to disrupt the unity of this country, insulting anyone who dares to think differently than he does. And whatever he does, the Republican Party of today just goes along.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was certainly an advocate of traditional Republican views on minimal government. But he also actively supported equal rights for women and African-Americans, and warned against the influence of “the military-industrial complex.” He was a strong supporter of NATO and a staunch opponent of Russia (then the Soviet Union). He acted to strengthen Social Security. But the Trumpism infection has sickened the body politic in every one of these areas. Along with the Republican leadership, he is seeking to seriously reduce funding for Social Security and Medicare. He has said innumerable derogatory things about both women and African-Americans, and has supported efforts to undermine the Voting Rights Act. As far as “the military-industrial complex” is concerned, he is for anything that helps business. He appointed Patrick Shanahan, whose main experience was in business at Boeing, to head the Department of Defense, and he is reviving the arms race. He has advocated pulling out of NATO, and at Helsinki sided with Russia over his own security advisers. He thinks of Vladimir Putin as his trusted friend. I remember my Republican parents were very wary of anyone who was too friendly with the Russians!
Ronald Reagan is an icon within the Republican Party. As I said, my parents loved him. He cut back on social programs and seriously increased military spending. I have to admit I was never a fan of some of these Reagan policies. However, even Ronald Reagan was a supporter of immigration. In a famous speech he said that it was immigration that made America great. He said immigrants, “…came to make America work. They didn’t ask what this country could do for them but what they could do to make this refuge the greatest home of freedom in history. They brought with them courage, ambition and the values of family, neighborhood, work, peace, and freedom. They came from different lands but they shared the same values, the same dream." And, of course, Ronald Reagan would never have cozied up to a Russian dictator.
Today’s Republican party has even mutated from the more recent Presidencies of the Bushes. George Bush Senior called for people across the country to be “a thousand points of light” in making the country stronger. Trump later mocked that idea. Perhaps that is why the elder Bush confessed that he voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election . Barbara Bush, before her death, referred to the words “greed, selfishness and ugly” as words which came to mind when she thought of Trump. She also said that in light of the changes that had occurred with Trump, she would no longer consider herself a Republican..
George W. Bush campaigned as a “compassionate conservative” and was committed to fighting AIDS in Africa. He was also a supporter of compassionate immigration reform. While he did not vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016, he also did not vote for Trump.
Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike should mourn what has happened to the Republican Party. The two-party system, as it has existed in this country has certainly had its weaknesses, but it has also had a very strong benefit. It has worked to keep in balance the contrasting, but important, values each party has espoused. The Democrats have held up the values of opportunity for people of every race and culture to achieve the American Dream, the need to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable of our society, the desire to find the root-level causes of social ills like crime and drug abuse and the desire that America be a shining light for good in the rest of the world. Republicans have held up the value of freedom from excessive government interference, the value of rewarding initiative and enterprise, the desire to keep our citizenry safe from crime, the value of faith and family at the core of our society, and… the desire that America be a shining light for good in the rest of the world! Yes, sometimes the values have been the same values, looked at from a different angle. Sometimes the values have been the opposite sides of the same coin. But, through it all, the point has been that we need each other to see the whole truth. We need two healthy parties.
Trumpism has cut away at all of our most essential values, as they have been espoused by both parties. The value of bringing families together and not tearing them apart. The value of shining the light of freedom throughout the world and not siding with dictators who rip such freedoms from their own people. The value of making this country a place “with liberty and justice for all” and where we acknowledge that all people were created equal.
Like any deadly disease, Trumpism hides in the body, feeding off healthy cells, and growing unobserved. Oftentimes by the time the symptoms make themselves evident to the whole body, it’s too late. Early detection and treatment is essential.
It’s time to wake up and get America healthy again. Let’s rid ourselves of the disease, and then a re-invigorated America can get back to negotiating our differences.
-Keith Madsen (Keith Madsen is a retired American Baptist Pastor who is using his retirement to write, to take time with his children and grandchildren, and to teach chess to children in the Wenatchee area. He and his wife Cathy live in East Wenatchee, Washington.)