A Lament for Today’s Republican Party

Grim times for political discourse

By high school I knew that I was a liberal. Some of my most enjoyable moments in those years were spent debating conservative friends about the issues of the day (circa 1991–1995). These debates often occurred in a room in the high school library that contained reference books which provided liberal and conservative positions on topics such as tax policy or the death penalty. You could read these books and take whatever position you liked, but it was clear both liberal and conservative perspectives had philosophical merit. Perusing these volumes is how I learned that well-functioning societies foster productive exchange between conservative and liberal viewpoints. If the ethos is too conservative change occurs too slowly, if it is too liberal change is too hasty. Every political debate, in some sense, is about how to reconcile these competing impulses.

The entire notion of productive political debate depends on the idea that your ideological opponent is honorable. Until 2010, I would have placed the Republican Party firmly in this camp. I disagreed with members of the GOP about almost everything, but never doubted their sincerity or convictions. The debates were among friends. The Tea Party revolution of 2010 soured all this — this was the beginning of the politics of white resentment that eventually brought along President Trump. Today’s Republican party has lost all intellectual legitimacy and claims to moral authority. We are watching a party in shambles and ashamed.

Of course, this is easy for me to say. I’ve never been a registered Republican. So go ahead and dismiss my words if you would like. But please pay attention to conservatives like Charlie Sykes, author of the new book How the Right Lots its Mind. Sykes finds that the self-reinforcing echo chamber of the right-wing media — which, it must be said, Sykes contributed to for many years — has led us to our current sorry state. Sometimes it is hard to see our way out of this morass, in which hostility draws retweets and hatred blooms. But we have to find our way out no matter how challenging the task. America does need thoughtful conservative voices, but we do not need what the Republican party has become.