On this point, I hate to be proven right
It was in college that I found my passion for politics. This is back in the Reagan 1980s, before George H.W. Bush was elected President. There was a group of college republicans who were radical and extreme and who had come to dominate campus politics. I dropped by interest in studying Chinese and computer science — much to my later regret — to pursue what I felt was my calling at the time: helping to defeat these extremists.
At the time, my girlfriend argued that by engaging in political bloodsport, fighting them at their own game, that I was debasing the entire political process. I argued to her then that the Nazis were able to come to power in Germany because the people who opposed them were unwilling to do everything they could to defeat them.
When I left college, I am proud to say that the student governance was firmly in the hands of a coalition of progressives who abhorred the nasty extremism of these college republicans. I had also helped establish a number of institutions aimed at stopping this group from gaining the kind of influence they had when I started college three years before. It was not just my efforts — there was a group of us committed to the same goal.
To be honest, I don’t know where campus politics stands at this time at my alma mater. I do know that some of these campus republicans went on to have distinguished careers in Washington. For example, one of my fellow students, Brian Darling, had to resign his position after a memo he wrote came to light calling the tragic case of Terri Schiavo, a young mother whose brain dead body was the subject of litigation as to whether she should be allowed to die, as a “great political issue” for the Republican party base. Then there was Tony Rudy, who, as a Congressional staffer for Tom Delay pled guilty to conspiracy charges related to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. These were some of the superstars I fought against in college.
The continuing involvement of these activists in Republican politics after they had showed their true political selves in college says a lot about the Republican party. Back in college, I argued that Republicans lied, cheated and did whatever they could to win. I argued that as progressive Democrats we needed to counter those efforts equally aggressively because in politics, people’s lives are at stake. And if you don’t believe me, just ask the family of somebody who joined the National Guard to pay for college and ended up dying in Iraq. Or somebody whose life was saved with healthcare made available by Obamacare, and that is continually threatened to be taken away by Trump and the other Republicans in power.
She said I was exaggerating. She said that we needed to respect the political system and allow everyone a fair chance to make their case. She said that we needed to protect the rights of the Republicans just as much as we protect our own.
My answer was that the Republicans had shown that they would take advantage of this respect and would not reciprocate. We could not be so self-satisfied that we could put our moral qualms about protecting the system above the very real needs of people who would be hurt by the Republicans’ policies.
Until recently, my former girlfriend seemed to be winning the argument. Think of Michelle Obama stating that “when they go low, we go high.” That is the ultimate expression of my former girlfriend’s position. There aren’t many people saying that today. In fact, most Democrats are saying the opposite.
Trump is what Republicans have wanted all along, and what they have been preparing for since I was in college. The Republican party is truly a conservative movement at this point. It is an ideological religion. The tenets of the religion are the dominance of rich, white, straight men over everyone else. They have essentially succeeded in making unions illegal, in making poverty illegal, and now they are trying to make voting illegal and political activism illegal for anyone who does not match their identity. They did take advantage of our belief in fairness and democracy to take power and advance their agenda at all costs. The penultimate expression of this religion is Trump, and anyone who tries to separate the past actions of the Republican party from what he is now doing has not been paying attention.
Finally, Democrats are realizing that we can no longer be above the fray, holding onto our sense of superiority at the cost of political power. There is no such thing as perfection in human endeavor, but there is good and bad. I just hope it is not too late for us to set things right again.
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