The list of former Republicans who now pundit on MSNBC is long and laudable. It includes Jennifer Rubin, Bill Kristol, Charlie Sykes, David Jolly and Michael Steele. I enjoy listening to all of them and look forward to a future time in which they may disagree with me on a number of issues because theirs are views I can take into consideration without a qualm.
So what happened to the Republican Party that these folks are presently firmly on my side in regard to Trump and, it seems, on other issues as well.
Last week I watched an episode of “Amanpour and Co.” on PBS, in which one of the “Co.” interviewed Megan Phelps-Roper, a woman who was born into the Westboro Baptist Church and who has since left it because, as she puts it, “the world was right and I was wrong.” But why, asked the interviewer, did your grandfather, who had been a civil rights advocate, become so extreme as to practice what has been described as terrorism?
Her answer was simple: the advancement of LGBTQ rights.
That’s when a little lightbulb went off in my head.
I’d been somewhat miffed way back in 2004 when Ohio put gay marriage on the ballot and blamed that issue for Kerry’s subsequent loss. It wasn’t quite fair, I realize, and I had nothing against gay marriage, but I was thinking in realpolitik terms, not in ideal ones.
I have also mused, from time to time, if Obama’s election to the presidency had been another one of those realpolitik “mistakes.” If, instead of heralding a post-racism era it had, instead, brought on the extremely racist backlash we find ourselves in today. One benefit, I think, is the actual discussion in which we as a nation currently find ourselves. It's been a long time coming.
The gay marriage decision by the Supreme Court in 2015 sealed the deal. The Republican Party, already largely taken over by the Tea Party, became in 2016 the Party of Trump.
I remember when LBJ said, on passing his civil rights legislation, that the Democrats had lost the south for a generation. I remember Ronald Reagan kicking off his presidential bid in Philadelphia, MS, where three civil rights workers had been killed in 1964, with a call for states’ rights. In the meantime, the struggle for LGBTQ citizens had been moving through various courts and, sometimes, legislatures.
For most of this time, the Republican Party remained somewhat the same, mouthing concern about occasional outbreaks of racist violence and of violence toward the LGBTQ community, while always suggesting that we move with caution.
And then, in 2008, we elected a black president who went all in for universal health coverage, and the country exploded. I remember watching the clips from town halls filled with people screaming about death panels and wondering where *we* were? Why weren’t *we* there to provide a counter-narrative? And I can only surmise that it was because we were too complacent. We knew that the idea of death panels was ridiculous on the face of it. Why come out to argue against it? No one with a lick of sense would buy into that argument or any of the others that the new Tea Party insisted was embedded in the small print of “Obamacare.”
The Tea Party organized everyone it could find who had a smidgeon of concern that a black president would take their guns, their religion, and their freedom to remain uninsured and swept into power in 2010, where they remained until 2018.
Then, in 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage, and the jig was up. The stage was set. Millions of resentful hearts, beset with a jobless economy and the threat of immigration, had had enough. People who knew they could appeal to the deep prejudices against a black president and gay wedding cakes filed to run as Republicans against those they now called RINOs, represented by the likes of Jennifer and Bill, Charlie, David and Michael.
The Republican Party as it had existed, as it had slipped slowly but steadily rightward, took a huge backward leap and replaced its traditional legislative contingent almost completely. The Republicans you see now in the committee hearings are, by and large, those who would never have gotten an endorsement for school board in the old party. They aren’t Republicans who have changed their stripes. They are people who were hiding in the woodwork and have finally wormed their way into the room.
And Donald Trump speaks for them.
I very proudly voted for Barack Obama twice, and for Hillary Clinton in 2016. My friends have always included members of the LGBTQ community. I feel a little bad that I railed against Ohio for putting gay marriage on the ballot, but at the time, besides being invested in “realpolitik,” neither did I take gay marriage very seriously. Not because I actively didn’t want them to marry; I just didn’t understand why they would want to. I’d been married twice. I was over it. I wanted Kerry to win. It was all about me.
But I have lived in a few small towns and rural communities in America, and my celebrations at these genuine milestones in a progressive America were always tinged with a bit of a wince. Because I could almost hear the growling from the truck stops, cafes and bars across America and I was pretty sure everyone would hear it sooner or later.
I don’t think there’s an answer. I’m with AOC when she says the thing to do is to go big or go home, and then work it out on the floor of the House. And I’m afraid that LBJ’s “generation” is going to stretch out for one or two more. But I think we can all take a hint from Adam Schiff’s demeanor in the Impeachment Hearing Room this week. The man is steely in defense of his cause, polite in his accession to one or two “parliamentary questions,” but adamant in his refusal to allow the discussion to become sidelined into nonsense. He corrects where with a short statement of fact when needed but does not argue.
And I would argue for public kindness instead of public mockery, give or take a Tweet or two.
I’m so grateful that we have had the example of Barack Obama and I am happy that marriage is possible for all who desire it. I want to push ahead to climate change legislation and universal healthcare and a humane immigration policy. And I hope that we will eventually have a “Republican” party to hold our feet to the fire when needed, to remind us when we become overconfident, and perhaps even suggest reasonable ways to make some of our dreams come true.
Sadly, that time is not yet come.