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This ain't your daddy's GOP anymore.
The Republican party has undergone many transformations in its 160 year existence. It was the birthplace of modern progressivism, at least that's what Teddy Roosevelt would tell you. It was a little more complex than that, with the party doing much as the modern Democratic party is doing with folks to its left, which is gobbling up all of the good ideas in order to co-opt any challengers. Now, one could say that the Republican party tried to do the same to folks on its right. Well, that is true and that is what has landed the GOP in its current predicament.
How did the party that freed the slaves turn into the party that has literal Nazis running for office in its ranks? The anscestry of the GOP was one of progressive thought and movement. Some of our finest presidents and forward thinkers were Republicans. The party of Lincoln was on the right side of history when it came to the abolitionist movement. Grant was effective, but he muddled things up and gave the party a negative taint with an administration that was rife with corruption.
The GOP leaned toward big business pretty heavily until Teddy Roosevelt entered the picture. The trust buster himself gave the party a new image, one of progressive thought and action. Taft carried on aspects of this, but with the election of Warren G. Harding, the party went full corruption. This was a major turning point, away from progressivism and toward a business mind-state once conservative Calvin Coolidge was handed the reigns upon Harding's untimely death. Though good for the economy at the time, Coolidge's business first, anti-labor mindset signaled a shift that became permanent.
There were glimpses of the past with Eisenhower, a steady hand and a sharp mind, but Nixon was really the one who started the party on its current course. With Reagan, two Bushes and now Trump, it has become clear that the GOP is not the party of the working man.
The embrace of far right extremists by the GOP has been one of the most startling developments to happen in American politics recently. During the current election cycle, there multiple candidates who are avowed Nazis running as Republicans in various races.
Now, you would think that the GOP would be able to field candidates, any candidates, to primary against these fools in order to avoid such a fiasco, but alas they could not. Why? Because there is a large section of the new Republican base that doesn't mind if someone retweets Nazi or racist statements.
I'm looking at you Representative Steve King from Iowa.
These are the folks that love to see what Trump is doing to the United States currently. Now, rallying against people of color and punishing those seeking asylum and opportunity has a long history in the United States. We did it with Chinese and Japanese migrants in the early 1900's and it is not as if the Democratic party has not taken part as well. The KKK was a big factor for the Democratic south following the Civil War and up to the 1920's. With the election of Trump it has become ok to be racist again, to be able to say whatever mean-hearted, vitriolic, racist bullshit you want to under the guise of fighting political correctness or being a patriot.
For a long time, the GOP has prided itself on fiscal conservatism. The main selling point for a GOP vote was to bring the deficeit back under control. Well, those days are gone with the gigantic tax cut that the GOP just handed to the wealthiest people in this country. How did they do it? By blowing up the deficeit of course! Adding 1.5 trillion dollars over the next ten years, our children will pay the cost to keep the wealthy in the money. This is nothing new of course and has always been a big fat lie. It started with Reagan and the massive defense budgets of the 1980's and was exasperated even more by George W. Bush and the Iraq War. While it is true that Obama saw a some of the largest increases ever in the debt, dollar wise at least, it was mainly to prevent the great recession from slipping into another depression.
Argue it if you will, and there are things to argue, but just go ask Herbert Hoover's ghost what a laissez faire approach to a recession will get you. If anything, both parties seem to increase the debt, as our country has become dependent on deficit spending. All indications point to the fact that Trump's spending will add as much to the debt in his first term as Obama did in two terms.
The Big Lie
Once fierce proponents of keeping a check on autocratic states through firm, hawkish stances, the new GOP is fine with embracing and even complimenting dictators like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un. The U.S. has a sordid history of supporting strongmen to achieve our goals, I mean, we're responsible for the Iran we have to deal with today. That being said, it was always under the table, a sort of out of sight dirty deal. The open courtship that Trump has engaged in with dictators is troubling, at the very least.
The last bastion upon which the GOP could reliably make a stand, moral high ground, has been locked away in the same cages that are currently holding thousands of migrant children who have been taken from their parents. Yes, members of the GOP have spoken up, but nobody has actually done anything. They control both houses, yet no legislation has been introduced to curb this boarder fiasco. I understand that it really is up to Trump to end the child separation policy and it doesn't take congress. That doesn't mean that congress should just do nothing. There were programs in place that were handling the situation in a cost effective and humane way. The blatant violation of human rights that we have witnessed in the United States lately is new ground, a new level of heartless in recent memory. Oh, let's not forget its also been very profitable for the private prison industry.
It is not as if parties haven't split in the past. The reason Lincoln won in 1860 is because he ran against three different Democrats, that's how divided the nation was back then. In fact, the Republican party has split in the past. Roosevelt took the Progressives in the 1912 election and bested Taft, only to allow Wilson and the Democrats to take power.
The Election of 1912
The party mended itself, but the whole affair was ugly. The formation of a Progressive party in itself allowed for elements of the Republican party to join Democrats, rather than admit defeat. As I stated earlier, the Democratic party was split in 3 factions before the Civil War, so party division is not exclusive to the GOP. It is clear though, that there are two very distinct versions of Republicans in the party right now: the far right faction and the "moderate" faction. Co-existing means certain compromises that I just don't think folks on each side of the divide are willing to make.
Who's to Blame?
Things like this, changes such as these, do not happen overnight. The GOP started on this course long ago. When Reagan slashed taxes on the wealthy, he was signaling that the GOP had become the party that the wealthy could count on. George W. Bush's Iraq War was one of the most egregious examples of profiteering and a waste of human life. Want to honor a soldier? Don't send him or her to a needless death. Nothing pisses me off more than unnecessary use of military force. Not only do we lose people, the damage to the country we attack is manifested tenfold in human suffering. Nixon's running of the Vietnam War(though one shouldn't forget Lyndon Johnson's warlike ways either) and George W. Bush's promulgation of the Iraq War are prime examples of soldiers and civilians being lost for the wrong reasons.
Mitch McConnell deciding it was better to win than to do the right thing, no matter what the cost, stands out as a defining momentum shift in the party's direction. Ask Merrick Garland. Paul Ryan's inability to call out any of the negative actions that the current administration has performed, and also blocking any votes that could lead to progress on immigration reform will be his legacy. The House of Representatives in its current state is one of the most ineffective houses of government we've seen. The GOP can't even agree with itself on how to act, let alone work with the Democrats.
In the end, there was a chance for the GOP to be self-aware enough to realize that they were at an impasse, a turning point. There were two paths, as Robert Frost once spoke of, the well travelled path of fear and division or the lesser travelled path or self-aware correction. The GOP chose the well travelled path of fear and it has cost them their party.
Now, obviously the GOP is not gone in the sense that there are no longer Republicans. They hold all the levers of power, so clearly they are still a force. I guess what I mean is that the soul of what was once the Republican party seems to be gone. Whether I agreed with it or not, I used to be able to clearly see what the hell the GOP stood for. I know, I know, folks will tell me that the entire apparatus is corrupt, the GOP is pure evil.
There are people who have the right views on social issues, but just have a different viewpoint on how government should run. People who truly don't give a shit if you're LBGQT or a muslim, and understand that the United States was forged by immigrants. Mindset divisions run back to the first competitive presidential race, when Washington voluntarily decided to step down after two terms. Upon leaving, he warned of the danger of political parties, yet in the very next election, Adams and Jefferson were at each others throats. Federalist vs. Democratic-Republican, Democrat vs. Whig, Republican vs. Democrat, things have always been like this.
It is necessary, there has only been a single party situation once since that first election. We need different ideas, fresh perspectives, and challengers to the status quo. It is essential to a functioning democracy, and without it a country such as ours would stagnate. Those ideas though, should push us forward towards progress, not try to claw back a past that taught us many harsh lessons. I'm hoping we get some fresh parties in power with new ideas, but I'm not going to hold my breath.
I just hope the GOP finds its heart again.