On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States. While I had a few minor complaints with the inauguration ceremony itself (the fact that we, a country with a secular constitution, still require our president-elects to swear in on the Bible being one of them), my main hang-up, along with millions of other Americans’, was with the President-elect himself, as well as with his Vice Presidential selection (a staunch fundamentalist who either does not understand, or pretends not to understand, the difference between religious freedom and theocracy). I thought I’d take this opportunity to elaborate on why I used to consider myself a supporter of the now distorted and nearly obsolete Republican Party and why the GOP can no longer claim my allegiance.
I was an 11-year-old living in Australia when Barack Obama took office as the 44th president of the United States. My parents, both moderate Republicans, were understandably disappointed with the election result, but I was a clueless child—an American citizen who had somehow spent the majority of my life outside of my home country, who barely spoke like an American, who had no idea how American politics worked, and who didn’t know the rules of American football.
To say that I was a Republican then would be akin to saying I was a Christian at birth—one by default but only because of my parents’ influence. Now I’m an informed adult who has spent the past seven years of my life in my country of citizenship, who, for the most part, embraces American popular culture, who has once exerted the right to vote (and not for Trump), and who still does not know the rules of American football.
I grew up believing that the Republican Party was the party of individualism. And while I still value small government, self-determination, entrepreneurship, creativity, and personal liberty, the party who once championed these ideas does not. Where does personal liberty play into the GOP’s strong opposition to same-sex marriage? In what world can a politician claim allegiance to a party that strives to protect religious freedom while announcing that he wants to ban Muslims from entering the country?
The Republican Party has recently become somewhat of a religious cult, shamelessly embracing authoritarianism and failing to promote upward mobility in an increasingly populous and disenfranchised middle class. Could this really be the same party that freed the slaves? In name only.
Prospects have not always looked so bleak for the GOP. A pivotal moment of my life was the first time I watched a video of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush civilly discussing immigration reform. At the time, I was feeling dissatisfied with many Republican politicians’ stances on how to fix the illegal immigration problem.
I disliked the idea that people could be treated like disposable entities and simply thrown out of a country that calls itself “the land of opportunity.” However, in the video (which is taken from a 1980 debate), both men show a surprising amount of compassion for “illegal aliens,” and it is this kind of compassion that seems nearly absent from the rhetoric of modern Republicans.
Shocking as it is that Reagan and Bush could be considered socially liberal by any standard, this is the reality we live in.
None of this is to say that my opinions have not changed since I was a child. I’ve made minor ideological adjustments to my own beliefs, as almost everyone does when they grow up and are finally able to see the world as it truly is, independent from the bubble in which they were raised. But even more critical in my abandonment of the Republican Party was the shifting ideological rhetoric of the Party itself. To even say that I abandoned the GOP is misleading—in reality, the GOP abandoned me.
Donald Trump’s first year as president has been predictably superficial and detrimental—everything I expected from an infamously outrageous candidate who now must face the gravity of his new position. He appears to still be modifying his views, as he has been since he was elected, to make himself more attractive to the general public and not just the niche demographic whose votes were necessary for his victory.
Yet he still embodies everything that the Republican Party used to despise but now proudly embraces. The Grand Old Party is dead, but Donald Trump did not kill it. He was simply instrumental in its slow and painful demise.