Part of my “get on top of life” resolution has included trying to keep at least a token sense of being up-to-date with the world’s news. This of course has coincided with the primary season (aka, when all the campaigning actually starts to matter). I’ve been ignoring most of the campaigning itself–I’ll almost certainly be voting third party, and I have better things to do with my time than listen to adults hurl invectives at each other and make vague promises in the meantime–but now that votes are starting to roll in I’ve been reading a lot of analysis about why things are happening the way they are, and how they might get better or worse as time goes on. And being me, I’ve had some thoughts. I don’t know how coherent I’m going to be able to make them, but it’s worth a shot.
Some background reading:
I went looking for the genesis of other thoughts of mine, but those have mostly taken place in non-public Facebook threads.
I’m from Alabama. My parents are liberals.
I was twelve years old when my middle school held a mock election and I discovered that a mere twenty or so of us voted for Al Gore. Unsurprisingly, as I moved through adolescence, most of my friends were liberals too, fiscally and socially. We clung to our beliefs that affirmative action was a good, that homosexuality wasn’t a bad, and that the government has a role to play in taking care of the neediest members of society and that the rest of society has an obligation to fund said government. We were also pretty anti-war. There was most definitely a sense that we, being more educated than the vast majority of the conservatives that surrounded us, had it right because we knew and understood better. (There was also most definitely a sense that we, being ourselves, had everything right because we knew and understood better. We were teenagers, after all.) There was the sense of tribe that comes with being the minority, and a mostly silenced minority at that.
The silenced minority bit is, I think, the most persistent of all the feelings I associate with that. No matter what we did, who we voted for, how hard we worked, we almost certainly weren’t going to see even a glimmer of our beliefs put into practice. Voting is a civic duty and we exercise it because it’s our right, but we know we’re not getting anywhere with it. You vote because it’s important to vote, not because you think it’ll actually do something. (You appreciate your right to vote because it’s your only chance to publicly express how you feel.)
Anyway, we had a Republican president and a fairly Republican Congress and all the decisions they made (No Child Left Behind, the Iraq War, the tax cuts, etc.) ranged from dumb to REALLY dumb, and there was pretty much nothing we could do about it. Other than discuss how dumb Republicans were. Didn’t they get it? You have to pay taxes to keep the country running. If you cut taxes for the wealthy, you have less money to run the country. It’s not going to show up other places. Also, they’re war-mongerers, and that’s just plain unChristian.
I went to college and beyond. I met intelligent Republicans. I met people who are committed to certain social and moral values who expect to be able to practice those values freely. I met people who believe in small government and fiscal conservatism. And as I listened to them expound upon their views, I began to understand just what being conservative was supposed to be all about. And I came to respect those viewpoints, and occasionally found myself agreeing with them, and I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. I can appreciate the small-government fiscal-conservative thing. I can get behind a preference for reducing the power of the federal government in favor of the states (because Southerner, get it?).
The trouble is, those things have never, ever, ever, in my experience, had anything to do with the Republican party.
A friend of mine, answering my question about what constitutes the “GOP establishment,” illuminated why this is the case:
IN GENERAL, the closer you are to Washington, the more establishment you are. The more money you have, the more establishment you are. The more you care about cutting taxes for / generally supporting the interests of the rich (which is what the whole immigration fight is about, ultimately), the more establishment you are. The more you support any and all wars, the more establishment you are. The more you support liberal positions on the social issues — guns, abortions, marriage, and soda size — the more establishment you are. The less you care about the size of government (as long as it stays out of your pocketbook), the more establishment you are. And if you were part of the big-spending, big-deficits spending spree of 2002-2006, you’re Establishment x2.
Basically, measure your distance from Mitt Romney, where 1.0 is You Are Mitt Romney and 0.0 is You Are Ted Cruz. The result is your Establishment Score. The Wall Street Journal is the GOP Establishment’s Pravda.
It’s an inherently tough phrase to work with, because literally everyone has an establishment tie or two. You can argue that Trump is more establishment than National Review, or you can argue the other way around. I tend to prefer “Donor Class,” but definitely still use the other from time to time.
THAT’S the Republican party I came of age watching. I was reminded of this specifically upon reading The Guardian‘s spotlight on Camden, Alabama:
A series of recent government maneuvers in Alabama has hit Ervin and his constituency with a combination punch that may prevent people from voting across large swaths of the state, particularly in poverty-stricken Black Belt counties.
The first blow came a year and a half ago, when Alabama enacted a law requiring voters to present government-issued photo identification at the polls. The second came five months ago, when the state shut down dozens of driver’s license-issuing offices, leaving 28 counties with no means of issuing the most common form of ID.
THAT is what I think of when I hear about the Republican party. I think of a party that has, for the majority of my awareness, taken and taken and taken without ever once giving back. I think of an establishment that rides to the top on promises of pro-life legislation (which they occasionally accomplish, just enough to keep the issue going) and small government and, once there, proceeds to spend and spend and take it off the backs of its very poor, small-government-minded constituents. Tax cuts for the wealthy; sales tax raised. Can’t touch the precious defense budget (which of course includes millions of pork contractor deals and unnecessary equipment expenditures while food and housing allowances are cut), so they kill education and DMVs. If the rich get richer, it’ll trickle down to the poor, but of course it never does. (In all slight fairness, the richer you are, the harder it is to empathize with the poor, and thus the less likely it is to occur to you that you ought to be charitable.)
As the Daily Beast article I linked to above implies, poor conservatives have caught on to the sham, and that’s part of why Trump is so popular. Alas.
And what of the Democrats?
As I’ve grown more educated, and also explored my faith, I’ve come to accept certain precepts and guidances that generally inhibit my ability to vote Democrat. More to the point, I’ve also watched as my fiscally like-minded party has grown increasingly intolerant of differences of opinion, most of which I am on the “losing” side of, in their opinion. As I’ve said before, I recognize that my reasoning behind my beliefs is not everyone’s reasoning behind their beliefs, and so long as you’re striving for Right, it’s okay if we have our differences. But increasingly I’m not getting the feeling that this attitude is shared by those who disagree with me. I work very, very hard to keep a diversity of personal opinions in my life so that I can be aware of how each side of an issue is feeling about any specific thing, and because the best way to reach people is on an individual level. But if all you see is one side of the other, demonizing the other side is easy, as is giving into the desire to harden your heart against anything the other side might say. Which of course leads in turn to attempts to legislate so YOUR side is protected and the other side is not.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m still fully in favor of government-funded social systems, and having them be well-funded enough so that their users’ dignity remains intact. (Another post.) So long as the Republican party stands for trickle-down economics, or anything involving tax cuts for the wealthy, they will never, ever have my vote. Even if they were to return to their alleged roots, or form up under something more resembling what my conservative friends would like them to look like, I would still hesitate because it’s simply not how I view the world.
And that’s okay! Theoretically, both sides working together ought to be able to come up with something beautiful! Instead, Republicans have allowed the Democrats to expand the federal government in exchange for cutting taxes, and Democrats have allowed Republicans to gut the actually useful parts of their social systems in exchange for getting them passed. And America’s tired of it, and Donald Trump is stepping into that void.
(The issue of course being that over time the Democrats have won more victories than the Republicans; the Democrats get to have their systems, while the Republicans just have a lot of rich people up top. Again, hence why the poor conservative is angry.)
(Also, yes, I’d rather have Bernie than Hillary. THERE, I SAID IT. I am, in fact, a utopian socialist at heart. Which is why I acknowledge the need for conservatives in my life to balance out my crazy idealism.)
There’s one thing I’m glad of in this whole debacle, anyway: Trump is forcing my Republican friends to take a long hard look at their party. It’ll be interesting to see how this all turns out. In the meantime, I’ll be over here, waiting for the third parties to announce their candidates, preparing for another futile season of attempting to persuade people that politics are only inevitable if we let them be. Though the Trump narrative is also bringing that issue to the fore as well, so who knows what the next nine months will bring?