Asking what Abraham Lincoln would think of the progress of his Republican Party is not a new consideration. The changes to the Republican, and Democratic, Party go back just shy of a century when Franklin Delano Roosevelt began his New Deal to revolutionize an ailing economy locked in a depressive state. The definitions separating a conservative from a liberal was confused. The lines we have drawn to distinguish these now-binary opposites were not always as easily distinct (or at least not since the days of slavery).
The Party of Lincoln was a unified movement which believed in a federal government, in a collective way of helping each other, in ensuring people had equal rights and, importantly, that the country would work together even if it came to a civil war.
The Party of Reagan
Today’s Republicans would seemingly be very happy with a segregated nation. A nation divided. Because the whites are scared they are losing control and money. Because immigrants from the Latin South and Middle East are trying to diversify the demographic make up. Because African Americans are forced to take to the streets once again when they can’t even get the same rights when it comes to the simple things like police interrogation (read: brutality).
The Party of Reagan was never the Party of Lincoln, let’s not kid ourselves. But Reagan’s party is a distant cry from the current Republican Party’s center. Reagan’s party was not the inclusive, pro-federalist government of Lincoln, or Eisenhower, but it was one of respect at least. It was one which worked with the other side because, at the end of it all, it had to. President Reagan had a Democratic Congress for most of his tenure; he didn’t just get to do what he wanted without giving a little.
The Party of Anti-Obama
As I’ve mentioned before, it all started in 2008, the change in the neo-Republican Party. This is a party which is as divisive as the Democrats in the 1800s. It’s not even a Republican Party anymore. It’s the Tea Party (or whatever they wish to call themselves these days). It began with the deranged idiocy of Governor Sarah Palin, excited by the big-leagues and her acknowledgement outside of the Alaskan terrain. Her supporters helped to hijack the moderacy of a John McCain campaign, a man who had worked with Democrats as well as Republicans during his long time in the United States Senate. A man who came to realise his huge error.
Pointing out in not-so-blatant terms, Palin painted a bigger target on Obama’s non-whiteness. Insults like “terrorist” were thrown at Illinois’ junior senator, because his father was from Kenya. Future-runner Donald Trump added to the hysteria by owning the “birther-movement”, demanding Mr. Obama hand over his birth certificate. And from there it only got worse.
Obama was an outsider (despite having worked in the world’s political capital for a good few years unlike the governor of the 49th state). He was a communist, a socialist, a Muslim, a terrorist-sympathizer. He was against America. And her followers would not stand by and watch as their wonderful country, in the midst of a huge depression, was overthrown by some mixed-race traitor.
When they failed to win the White House, they turned to Capitol Hill where they beat out Democrats with large margins in 2010. Flamed by the “death panels” of the Affordable Care Act, an act which had not even begun to take effect and which no one could really comment on, an act which had been based on the Republican’s own version in the mid-1990s and former GOP Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney, the Tea Party were enraged. Social policies would take them towards the USSR, to China and North Korea. America was a land for free people and not one of a dictatorship – especially a despot who didn’t look like them.
Obama’s presidency will be synonymous with the least productive Congress in history. Republican leadership in both houses pushed for blocking all legislation sponsored or proposed by the president. Before they even knew what it was. It didn’t matter. Attempt after failed legal attempt to get “Obamacare” overturned in the legislature and courts were futile. Senator Mitch McConnell gave a press conference where he declared denying Obama a second term was the GOP’s main priority.
The Party of Trump
The disgust the left and right have for each other is not new, but it has reached a level unprecedented in peace time (read: not a civil war era).
To their elation, President Obama has only ten months left in office. And so we’re now at the current state of the Tea Party. They’re still the ones running the show, after all. A show about Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, players who would not be close to a failing presidential run during the days of George W. Bush, George Bush, Reagan, Richard Nixon or Eisenhower.
A blogger recently wrote a piece on the unpleasantness of a Trump rally. The businessman is notorious for his contentious speeches, full of disdain for immigrants, and bullying remarks about his fellow candidates or protestors. And the crowds he pulls in seem to love it:
At one point he said “We’re going to build a wall. And who’s going to pay for it?” And the crowd yelled, “Mexico!” and then they lost their minds. […]He mentioned ISIS several times […] But not exactly how to stop ISIS. Just comments like, “We’re gonna get ISIS,” and “ISIS is going down.” Blanket statements. […] Completely void of content or substance. Just statements that would get the crowd cheering.
One man had a shirt that said “Love is the answer,” and he was thrown out. Trump’s comment on this man was, “And love is very important but I mean, who’s making love to that guy?” […] A few minutes later, a woman stood up not far from where the other man was and [started] protesting. She was removed. Trump’s comment was, “She was with the other guy. They’re actually a couple. A *clears throat* beautiful *gagging noises* couple.” And the crowd laughed and cheered…
After all the rallying, we hear about how “real” Trump keeps it: He says what we’re all thinking. He’s not a politician, he’s a real guy. It’s refreshing. He says what he thinks and isn’t an auto-tune, Washington guy. He just gets it.
The Party of Tea
The Republican Party was once focused on serious political debate and thought. It wasn’t a place for childish antics. Whether you liked or disliked his politics, Reagan was a statesman. He didn’t speak to people’s hatred or anger; he didn’t base his entire platform on cheap, Charlie Sheen slogans; “winning”.
The Tea Party is a reaction to the far-right extremism, tired of having to work with the other side. For them it has to be all or nothing; all or a fight. It cost John McCain his campaign (although a win was always unlikely given the Obama movement), it saw Romney lose by a far higher margin than expected, and it pushed John Boehner out of his speakership role. It welcomed a shut down of the federal government and saw many respected, moderate, cooperating Republicans lose their primaries in re-election runs to unknown Tea Party darlings. And it has actively encouraged Mitch McConnell to refuse to listen to a single Obama nominee for Justice Antonin Scalia’s vacant seat.
And should Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders win the general election in November these “policies” will continue, and probably intensify. Every Democratic win will intensify the Tea Party base; they will further refuse to work for the American people until their group gets their way.
No Party for Lincoln
The Party of Lincoln, the first Republican President, is no more. It is divided between those of the Tea Party and others who are more centric. These latter Republicans, the true followers of the Eisenhowers, Reagans and Romneys, have been left voiceless in a time of severe polarity.
It is assumed a twenty-first century Lincoln would, confusingly, be a Democrat. I disagree. If Lincoln was alive today, he would be a small-town lawyer, avoiding the unpleasant madness of political punchlines and photo-ops. He would have disdain for Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, for Sarah Palin’s ilk and the Tea Party as a whole. He would resent the partisanship of both parties.
Republicans who call themselves the Party of Lincoln have no understanding of America’s finest president. Mr. Lincoln would not want to be a politician in today’s America. And he was central to the Ordinance of Secession and the American Civil War.