Republicans, It’s Up to Us

I’ve been a Republican ever since high school.  I’ve only volunteered on and donated to Republican campaigns.  I am pro-life, support the 2nd Amendment, believe in American exceptionalism, support free markets and capitalism, and generally am in alignment with standard Republican positions, albeit with more nuance that I’ve developed over life experience.

During this difficult time, I’ve been wondering the best way to make a positive difference. I realized that perhaps the most effective action I can take is to reach out directly to a select group of people: my fellow center-right Republicans, moderates, and right-leaning independents,

So, my fellow members of the center-right, this is for you.  Because the future of this country rests entirely on our shoulders.  I am hoping you’ll at least read the following with an open-mind and truly reflect upon it, even if you don’t end up agreeing with my assessment and suggestion.

As you read, I also ask you to ask yourself why someone like me, a lifelong Republican, would feel the way I do.  And not only me, but numerous conservative and Republican public servants.  Servants that are no longer running for office or working in government, and therefore, likely feel as though they do not need to hold back.  Especially statements this week from respected patriots like Retired General James Mattis.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is a rather long post.  If you already are in agreement that the Republican Party and the country need to go in new direction, and don’t need or want to read through my long rationale, feel free to jump down to “What’s Next” to read about my approach moving forward and learn about some organizations and activists that are working to reclaim the Republican Party.  Back to the post…

Center-right parties in the western world, especially through the past century and a half, have served as a “hinge of history,” helping determine the path forward for their countries.  At critical moments, the center-right determines if the nation will move along the path of a stable democracy (UK’s Tories & US Republicans during the last half of the 20th century), turn towards authoritarianism (center-right parties aligning with Fascists in Italy and the Nazis in Germany), or make a revolution almost inevitable (the conservative-minded leaders right before the Russian and Cuban Communist Revolutions.)

This is because the center-right serves as a type of safety-valve on progressive movements, the idea of “standing athwart history”.  The center-right can help make adjustments in a controlled manner to assist the change agents but doing so in a slow and methodical pace.  An example of this would be the environmental movement of the early 1970s.  Or it can completely shut the valve, forcing either (1) the change movement to completely die under absolute and tyrannical control or (2) the pressure to build up until it eventually explodes in revolution.

We are currently at one of those critical moments in our nation, and how we in the center-right decide to act will determine the future of the American experiment, more so than any time in more than 50 years.  The current protests for racial justice in response to the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor are only the latest incident in an ongoing existential crisis of the United States, and specifically for the Republican Party.

I am asking my fellow center-right Republicans to think deeply about what we are going to do next.  Are we going to help the country move forward while staying true to our founding ideals and traditions? Or are we going to allow ominous and self-interested forces pull us back and repeat shameful aspects of our complicated history?

We need to come to grips with the unfortunate fact that the Republican party has allowed three major failings to take root: (1) a focus on divisive tribalism; (2) anti-intellectualism and a denial of objective reality; and (3) the rejection of democratic norms and an embrace of authoritarian tendencies.

Trumpism has been the culmination of these failings.  I will gladly admit that I have always been a Never-Trump Republican. Ever since his unfounded promotion of the birther conspiracy, along with his general history of self-aggrandizing and unethical behavior, I knew I could never support him for anything.  That being said, I did try to respect and understand why people supported him.  I’ve read multiple articles and books written in support of Trump.  However, I find that all continued support is based upon premises that are rooted in the three failures I mentioned.  And they all have connections to the racial issues we are currently struggling with.

Before I go further, I should address something.  Some Republicans might want to say “What about when the Democrats…”  First of all, I’m not a Democrat.  That is their business.  I want to focus on myself and my party, not others.  Secondly, I don’t even accept your premise.  While both parties have had failings throughout the years, in recent years the failings I mentioned have been perpetrated by Republicans far more often than Democrats.  And finally, even if I did accept the premise, what does it matter?  We should always want our party to be a model of integrity regardless of what the other side is doing.  Isn’t one of the fundamental beliefs of Republicans to reject moral relativism?

Now to go into specifics…

Divisive Tribalism

To an extent, the Democrats have utilized identity politics to build and maintain a coalition, women’s issues, black issues, Latino issues, etc.  To counteract this, the Republicans, especially over the past fifteen years, have leaned into traditionalism and nationalism. It was no longer enough to say that Democrats were wrong…. they were un-American.  Even after the narrow election of 2000 and resulting court battle, the parties generally played nice together, passing tax cuts and the No Child Left Behind Act in a bipartisan fashion.  The unity strengthened even more after 9/11.

However, this changed due to the Iraq War and the ongoing War on Terror.  These were understandably divisive issues that were going to stress our unity no matter what.  The left accused the right of being warmongers and the right accused the left of a lack of patriotism.  And it got worse from there.

However, the right has definitely leaned into the us vs them rhetoric much more over time.  While in general, the left has really only demonized the wealthy, the right has demonized immigrants (both legal and illegal), Muslims, gays, black activists, feminists, atheists, and on and on.  It is a way of rallying people to the “traditional American culture”.  As part of that is the common rallying cry that “Liberals want to destroy America.”   If you have that perspective/fear, then support for Trump makes more sense.  But I reject that notion outright.  I have many liberal friends.  They just have different views on how to do things, they don’t hate America.

A part of this tribalism and traditionalism has been the unfortunate support of the Republican party by white nationalists.  And more disturbing is the growing acceptance of that support.  The “Southern Strategy” and the ensuing decades have left an indelible stain on our party.  And, as a Republican from Illinois, I find it mind-boggling and embarrassing that the party of Lincoln is now the party that defends the confederate flag and confederate statues.

Here is a great article, by a couple of black Republicans, that explains this situation better than I ever could.

Anti-Intellectualism and Denialism

Twenty-five years ago, 54% of college graduates considered themselves Republicans.  Now that is exactly the opposite.  Over the past two decades, the Republican party has railed against the academic elites and fully embraced anti-intellectualism.  Remember, Donald Trump said that he “love(s) the poorly educated”.

This has led to a general rejection and distrust of science.  Climate change has been the biggest and most obvious example of this in recent years.  But it has become more acute under the COVID-19 pandemic, where more Republicans trust Trump’s information than trust the CDC or Dr. Anthony Fauci.   

This rejection of the scientific method allows conspiracy theories, false history, and anecdotal stories to carry more weight than proven scientific and academic analysis.  This confusion then allows unscrupulous actors to distract and add noise to the narrative.

This is directly related to the current issue of racial justice.  Many on the far-right want to push the idea of that systemic racism does not exist.  They like to point out anecdotal stories and hold up people like Ben Carson and Herman Cain to demonstrate that everyone is responsible for themself and there are no systemic barriers.  While yes, it is possible for an individual to rise and overcome, and people like Carson and Cain should be applauded for doing so, that doesn’t address the issue of aggregate disparities.  For example, the average black household headed by a college graduate has 1/3 less wealth than the average white household headed by a high school dropout.  Or the fact that black men are almost 3 times more likely to be killed by police than white men.  And of those victims, black men are more likely to be unarmed.  Or the fact that black women are more than 3 times more likely to die in childbirth or from pregnancy complications than white women.  These are systemic issues that need to be addressed.

Additionally, many on the far-right share completely fake history myths like the Lost Cause Narrative or the Irish Slavery Myth to downplay the evil of slavery and its legacy and impact on modern America.

The more dangerous false theory in the current climate is the “bad apples” belief. The idea that there is no systemic racism, but only a few bad apples, occasional racists that should be punished as individuals.  This belief ignores that data that I mentioned above.  Not only that, but even if it were only a few “bad apples” that is still unacceptable.  As Chris Rock points out: what if airlines continuously had a few “bad apples” as pilots?

We need to reject this denialism and the desire to be “color-blind”, and instead we must accept the brutal and uncomfortable reality of system racism.  The first step to solving a problem is acknowledging it.

Rejection of Democratic Norms and Embrace of Authoritarianism

This is the newest, and I believe, most dangerous failing of the current Republican party.  Both parties have engaged in political maneuvering and gamesmanship throughout history.  However, Republicans have taken it to a new level, ever since the very first day of the Obama administration.

Previously in modern history, there has always been a “honeymoon” period with a newly elected (or re-elected) president.  I mentioned earlier that even after the bitter 2000 election, the Democrats still worked with George W. Bush.  However, on the night of Obama’s inauguration, Republican leadership worked out a plan of complete obstructionism.  They realized that if good things happened in a bipartisan way, Obama would get the credit, and it would be difficult for Republicans to win again.  But if they paralyzed Washington and things were bad, Obama would get the blame, and the Republicans would win elections.  This epitomized the new focus of the Republican party:

Power was no longer a means to an end. Power itself became the end.

To be honest, this focus had already begun in the party even at the grassroots level.  Not long after I moved to LA, I wanted to get involved with a local Republican group.  While doing an online search for a possible group to join, one local group stood out… in a disappointing way.  On their website, it said “We have only one goal… to win elections.”  I could not believe it.  Nothing about promoting conservative values, or defending American liberty from government overreach, or anything like that.  It was a blunt and unapologetic admission that power was their only desire.  I obviously chose to join another Republican group that was a little more in line with my naïve belief in principles and integrity.

During the Obama administration, nobody better exemplified this relentless pursuit of power than Mitch McConnell.  After all, he explicitly said that his top priority was to make Obama a one-term president.

Then Trump came along, expressed admiration for dictators, and has tried to run his administration in a similar manner.  He has consistently operated as if he is above the law and can do anything he wants.  He has fired multiple inspectors general that are supposed to serve as a check on his administration’s activities.  During his nomination speech, he made the authoritarian claim that he alone can fix the nation’s problems.  And Republicans have refused to stand up to him during the past three years.  This should worry anyone who wants to protect our constitutional republic.

The authoritarian tendencies became even more evident this week in an absolutely chilling display as he spoke of dominating the streets and using the military on Americans exercising their first amendment rights; then, going to do a photo op by walking down a street that had just been forcefully cleared of peaceful protesters.  One thing you might not know, is that those protesters were in front of St. John’s at the invitation of the church.  The protesters had been invited to the church, Trump had not.

His calls for “law and order” against “thugs” are both a demonstration of authoritarian desire and a long-established racist dog-whistle going back to the civil rights era if not before.

His actions this past week were a manifestation of exactly what many Never-Trumpers like me have feared from the beginning.  And they were the last straw for Trump’s own former Secretary of Defense, Ret. Gen. Mattis.

What Next

Thank you for reading this much.  Now I have more to ask of you.  The most important thing is to reflect and weigh on your political priorities, and their relationship with American ideals and racial justice.

Republicans have made a Faustian bargain for short-term victories and policies.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve come to the following conclusion.  If my choice were (1) having every one of my political policy ideas and beliefs put into place but at the cost of having continued racial injustice and a gradual erosion of our constitutional principles while living under a benevolent Republican dictator or (2) achieving racial justice, maintaining basic American principles, and having Democrats consistently winning fair elections and implementing their policies for the foreseeable future; I will choose the second option every time.

Unfortunately, David Frum, a member of the George W. Bush administration, pointed out that under the Trumpism philosophy: “If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.”

As such, my personal plan of action is to maintain my Republican identification and continue to vote in the Republican primary elections for candidates that reject Trumpism and the failings I mentioned above; ones that are willing to put country ahead of party and principles ahead of power.  However, during the general election, if the Republican nominee is someone that adheres to Trumpism and its failings, I will refuse to support and vote for any such candidate.

Even if you don’t agree with this plan on principle, you should think about it in terms of long-term politics.  The current path of the Republican party under Trump is continuing to make us older, whiter, more male, and less educated.   Millennials and Gen Z are far more diverse, far more educated, and far more liberal than previous generations were at their age.  The majority of them are turned off by the current Republican party.  And even the Republicans of those generations are more liberal on things like climate change and racial issues.

Therefore, every Republican electoral victory under the current approach is a Pyrrhic victory.  It gains us a short-term win, but pushes younger generations further away, causing us to lose in the long-term.  This is why I wrote in a blog post last year that if Republicans don’t change, I believe we will be a socialist country by 2050.

Learn More

If you are willing to look more into the Republican movement to reject Trumpism and put the party, and our country, back on a path towards its founding ideals, here are some resources and organizations that I’ve been signing up for and supporting.

The Lincoln Project

Stand Up Republic

Republicans for the Rule of Law

Additionally, look up and read from some of these conservative writers and activists that are willing to stand up against the party’s cult of Trump. You can check a lot of them out at the Dispatch and the Bulwark.

David French

Jonah Goldberg

Jennifer Rubin

Bill Kristol

Tara Setmayer

David Frum

Regarding the current issue of racial inequality, this week I dialed into a great virtual townhall on the subject with a panel of incredible black conservatives, Joe Pinion, Shermichael Singleton, and Tera Setmayer who I found to be particularly amazing.   It’s important to note how these life-long black Republicans talk about how they constantly question their membership in the party during the era of Trump.

Additionally, I highly recommend the book How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt.  It does a great job of looking at the rise of authoritarian regimes in modern history, how we got here in the US, and what the future may hold.

Final Thoughts

Thanks again for reading this extremely long post.  I know it gets said every election, but in this case, especially given everything we are going through, I truly believe that this is the most critical decision point for our country in generations.

I hope you are willing to learn more and join the movement to reject Trumpism, authoritarianism, white nationalism, and system racism.  Let’s change our nation’s vision from a dark bunker behind a wall, back to the shining city on a hill.