December 8, 2021
I grew up understanding that we are all created equal. Our nation began with a Declaration of Independence that proclaimed, “that all men are created equal.” Abraham Lincoln commemorated those who died and were maimed on the defining battlefield of the Civil War, a war fought against slavery, and to continue the United State as both united and as individual states. His word reminded us of “the unfinished work…this nation…shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial a century later, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us of the nation’s roots and called upon us to continue together, reminding us that the journey was yet incomplete. “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
As we approach 2022, we are reaching a critical junction. We have not yet made these hope a reality and they are again being seriously threatened. In plain sight, we are being asked to choose between two quite different visions of what our country can be. Are we the nation that the Founders, that Lincoln, and that Dr. King was visioning? One that recognizes the common humanity of everyone and calls us all to a shared responsibility to live up to our principles in its laws, policies, and daily practice? Or are we a nation that sees us only as individuals, each responsible for our own fate? One vision sees government as the protector of those who are marginalized and falling between the cracks. The other see Government with little to do as individuals sink or swim on their own.
In this moment, it is easy to focus on the difficulties and imperfections of the Democratic Party. Their struggles to govern with a slim majority and their inability to solve long-festering and complex societal problems are easy to see as the major obstacle to ensuring that people are not marginalized and in distress. Democratic infighting makes good headlines but is only a sideshow, taking our focus away from those who are working to make a fundamental change in our shared lives as Americans.
We should be paying more attention to a Republican Party that wishes to govern as if we are no longer “one nation.” They are working at all levels to reframe the United States as no more than a confederation of fifty independent States, each able to define the rights and privileges of its citizens and protect a minority against the majority. They see our nation as one that is frozen in the past, adhering to the literal words of its Founders, words that in their day only applied to White, wealthy men, leaving women and those who are not white out of the equality equation. They wish to create a nation that freezes wealth with those who currently have it, and that protects the status quo and ignores the future.
This is not my conjecture. This is what their own words tell us if we take just a few moments to listen and read outside our own echo chamber of Democratic and Progressive infighting.
According to the Republican National Committee, they “believe in liberty, economic prosperity, preserving American values and traditions, and restoring the American dream for every citizen of this great nation. As a party, we support policies that seek to achieve those goals. Our platform is centered on stimulating economic growth for all Americans, protecting constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms, ensuring the integrity of our elections, and maintaining our national security. We are working to preserve America’s greatness for our children and grandchildren.”
If you want to know more about what policies are and how they contrast to those the Democratic Party is putting forward you will not find it on their website. Hit the button directing to that information and you will find yourself perusing just the by-laws of the RNC and the mechanics of their next National Convention.
You will not find it if you look at their platform resolutions adopted at the 2020 Convention. The Platform Committee did not meet and they entered the campaign telling us only that they stood for “Making America Great.”
So I turned to those outside their official walls who were writing Republican-inspired commentary and found Blogger Allen Donald. In fifteen points he shared what Republicans stand for (I bolded some to add my sense of their importance):
- Government is not the solution to domestic social problems.
- State control should trump federal control.
- The free market should control all financial decisions.
- Religion and the belief in God is vital to a strong nation.
- Lower taxes.
- A strong military.
- Privatize everything.
- Homosexuals do not deserve equal rights.
- Gun control violates the 2nd Amendment.
- Abortion is murder.
- Global warming is not a thing.
- Evolution is not a legitimate theory.
- America should deport illegal immigrants.
- Poverty must solve itself.
- Capital punishment is good.
This as the framework that has driven decades of effort by Republican officials, organizers, and funders in their reshaping of our nation. It has guided them when the Republican Party was in the majority and held the White House and in the years when they sat in opposition. When in power they could govern, reducing taxes on the wealthy, breaking up and starving the Federal Government so that it became less effective and less nimble. When in power it could create policies that flow from these core principles. When in power they could stack the Federal Court with judges, preferably young judges serving for lifetime appointments, that would read the law through this lens.
When in the opposition, they could just say no, gum up the working of our federal government, and further erode the image of Congress and the Presidency. “Former Republican Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren explains the strategy. ‘A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.’”
The last few years have raised the stakes. Our nation faces a renewed confrontation with its ongoing racist legacy. The threat to our world from its damaged environment has become more urgent. The pandemic made even clearer the nation’s economic inequality and highlighted just how inadequate our social safety net has become.
As we struggle to confront each urgent crisis as one Nation, we can see how effective Republican thinking has been. Congress is unable to act expediently and forcefully, blocked by rules that make the minority almost all-powerful. The Executive Branch is constrained by the now-stacked court system as it attempts to use its powers to work around a stymied Congress. Empowered and emboldened states, governed by leaders that espouse Republican beliefs, move to lock in their control by reshaping the electorate and allowing their candidates to run in carefully crafted districts.
And the Supreme Court, now with a 6-3 Republican majority, are the final piece pushing the nation off the edge. Justice Kavanaugh just last week summed up the Republican philosophy when he asked ““Why should this court be the arbiter rather than Congress, the state legislatures, state supreme courts, the people being able to resolve this? And there will be different answers in Mississippi, in New York, different answers in Alabama than California, because there are two different interests at stake, and the people in those states might value those interests somewhat differently. Why is that not the right answer?”
This is what is at stake as 2021 ends. Hanging by a tenuous string is the concept of our nation. Are we one in which we have a shared responsibility for each other or one where we each are on our own? Are we a nation still striving to live up to a set of principles, even as we understand that we still have much ground to cover before we succeed?
Recognizing that the challenge we are facing is not about single issues or policies is a first critical step in ensuring that the Republican vision does not happen. It is the one ray of hope I still see shining. We must recognize that protecting choice, reforming our justice system, ensuring all have adequate housing, eliminating systemic racism, or solving the climate challenge are all important. But in this moment only when we can recognize that each is lost if the Republican effort to rewrite the meaning of our nation is allowed to go forward. If we can stop the infighting over who goes first or who gets the most funding we can prevail and protect the future.