What happened to the Republican Party?
As I watch the Republican Party fracture over Donald Trump, it makes me wonder, what happened to the Republic Party? While I was growing up, the Republicans were known for being the “Dad” party. They were the responsible party; focused on business and infrastructure, strong on military and prudent on spending. But like boiling frogs, when change happens slowly we don’t realize what’s going on.
Back in my youth, the Republicans were Yankee dominated White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Today they are the party of Appalachian Fundamentalist Protestants. This change in the dominant region that controls the party has changed the values and direction of the party. What we see now, with our current election, is a vote on the current Republican’s Appalachian values.
The Appalachian takeover of the Republican Party started in the late 1970’s when Jimmy Carter told Fundamentalist Christian schools they couldn’t have tax-exempt status unless they desegregated. Unwilling to do this, a group of preachers led by Jerry Falwell approached the Republican Party. Labeling themselves the Moral Majority, they promised the GOP their parishioner’s votes in exchange for support of their social value platform. As more Fundamentalist parishioners voted, their leaders started pressing for more changes. By 1992 George H. W. Bush, a Yankee White Anglo Saxon Protestant Republican, made it well known he didn’t like Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson. Unfortunately for Bush, the takeover of the Republican Party by Appalachian Fundamentalist Christian’s had already started. Pat Buchanan and Newt Gingrich, supported by Fundamentalist Christian leaders, were influential in derailing H. W. Bush’s bid for a second term. Eight years later, George W. Bush, a Fundamentalist Christian convert brought the Appalachian values to the White House. In 2009, in response to Obama’s presidency, the Tea Party, an Appalachian movement, were the last step in taking over the party.
As outlined in the book American Nations by Colin Woodard, North America is made up of eleven distinct nations, each with its own unique historical roots and values. The Appalachian region extends from West Virginia through the Great Smoky Mountains, skirting Ohio, Indiana, and into Northwest Texas. While the greater far west through to the central valley of California and a large swath of Alaska is filled with a variant of Appalachians who moved west to find wide open spaces. The Appalachian’s are descendants of borderland Irish, English and Scottish settlers who left the UK after eight hundred years of almost constant war. Living for almost millennium in almost constant war created a unique culture. This ingrained culture was continued in their new homeland.
The Appalachian’s are a clan based warrior culture who believe people should rely on themselves and their extended family. They’re suspicious of outsiders and authority. They believe in minimum government, maximum personal freedom and aggressive military. Over fifty percent of our military comes from this region. They are deeply suspicious of aristocrats and social reformers. You can tell when you’re in the Appalachian region since they don’t believe in investing time or money in fixed property and they believe the land is there to extract resources from. Within this culture dissent is unacceptable and savagely crushed. Education is not important. They tolerate enormous inequality; ten percent of the people are wealthy, whereas fifty percent live in poverty. Their religion is based on liberty; rich people have a lot of liberty, poor people have little liberty, while slaves have none.
This differs drastically from the Yankee culture which controlled the Republican party up to the 1990’s. This region encompasses New England, New Jersey, New York, except for New York City, a hundred miles around the great lakes; and west coast Yankees, a more independent version that was settled by Yankee merchants that includes Hawaii, Utah (Mormon founder Joseph Smith was from Syracuse NY) and the west coast from Monterey up to Nome Alaska.
The founders of this culture were the Puritans. The Puritans set up a moralistic culture based on church, education, and elected local government. They believed that the salvation of the entire community depended on everyone doing their part. They came as families and were generally middle class, well-educated and composed of highly literate artisans, craftsman, and yeoman farmers. Six years after landing they set up Harvard. By the mid-seventeenth century, all Yankee children had to go to school. In this culture, education was the means for a bright man to move up. They were hostile to landed gentry and believed that the rich and well-born had no special privileges in politics or before the law. They believe the government is an agent of good, its goal should be efficient and effective government. Everyone should partake, and there is no greater outrage than to manipulate the government for your own personal gain. Their religion was based on freedom, in that everyone is born free, based on your behaviors you can lose your freedom.
Our current Appalachian Republican’s values of lower taxes, small government, and pro-business sounds appealing until the majority of citizens realized the reality. Starving government by defunding infrastructure, the government has a harder time providing essential services to citizens. At the same time, large businesses receive corporate welfare, while rules and regulations are broken down so that large rich companies have an unfair advantage, and companies interest are considered over those of citizens. The Appalachian disinterest in investing money in infrastructure leads to poor roads, bad schools, and poisoned water. Their propensity to crush descent has alienated moderate Republicans, while their unwillingness to compromise has led to a senate and a congress that refuses to approve judges, creates government shutdowns, and a congress that has attempted to appeal Obama Care over fifty times — because if your current approach isn’t working why do anything different.
Frustration with the current state of the Republican Party has led to the rise of Donald Trump, who is neither a Yankee or an Appalachian. Metropolitan New York City is its own cultural nation. One based on the Dutch Traders. This nation cares about only one thing, the deal. As a culture, they don’t have a strong stance on education, government, or religion. They will do business with anyone.
Trump’s demagoguery plays well with people who know something isn’t working but don’t want to think too hard about it. The current Republican leadership sees the rise of Trump and are completely dumbfounded on what to do. Unfortunately, our Republican elected officials are so caught up in their Tea Party rhetoric that they don’t realize that the majority of Americans don’t agree with their platform.
Every time the Republican Leaders are given a chance to act in a manner the majority of Americans are clearly asking for, they doubled down on their current approach. For example, when Judge Scalia died, people who were voting for Trump in the primaries were clearly stating they were looking for someone who could break the gridlock in Washington. What did the Republican House and Senate do? Instead of taking this opportunity to show that they can get things moving, they came up with a ridiculous reason not to even meet with a reasonable judge. This move only angered their base, making Republican voters not want to elect anyone who has ever held an elected office.
Another example of doubling down on Appalachian rhetoric, when clearly the majority of citizens are calling for something different, is guns. Ninety percent of Americans including 74% of NRA members favor universal background checks for guns, but congress has no interest in getting that passed. A sign of big business over citizen interest is the NRA. The NRA only represents 5% of gun owners, they get most of their money from Gun Companies and use this money to control the dialog on gun laws in this country.
The question is, how does this play out? What we are seeing is a fracturing in the Republican Party. The Appalachian/Tea Party leaders keep on stating that Trump doesn’t represent their values. But what the Republican primary clearly showed was Appalachia/Tea Party values no longer represent the majority of the citizens either. When the leader of the Party, the citizens and the establishment all disagree on the core values of the party, then the party clearly needs to re-center. Unfortunately, the current Republican leadership does not have the ability to pivot. It will take citizens voting in a different type of representative who will eventually move the party in a different direction, a direction that represents the electorate.