My Late Republican Mother Would Weep at Today’s Trump Republicans
Dear Mom: It has been almost three years since you departed this world, and I think of you so often. But especially now, I think of you daily.
Why especially now? Because we just had a presidential election and the loser, the Republican incumbent, refuses to concede to the Democratic winner. Moreover, this sore loser is, as I write, going full-bore taking all sorts of undemocratic actions, mainly legalistic, to invalidate the election result as fraudulent. And get this, Mom: He even invited the top two Republican state legislators from Michigan, a swing state, to the White House — and no way was this visit about tea and scones. Clearly he wanted them to defy their state’s popular vote and switch to him. Reportedly this visit went pro-forma, but: This loser’s intent is all.
I can hear you now, Mom, I can. You would say: “WHAT? That is so wrong!”
I can also hear you say: “That’s not democracy! That’s what they do in dictatorships!”
Right: That’s what they do in dictatorships — hold elections, to make things seem right and proper, then fiddle with the ballots, so that the “dictator” can claim he was elected by The People, even if more of The People voted for his opponent. Yes, I knew you’d be “aghast,” one of your favorite words, to hear about this post-election fiddling.
But, Mom, you’ll be equally aghast when I tell you this: Your beloved Republican party — you were a “rock-ribbed” Republican almost your entire life, you were county chair of Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign — your party is not doing much to block this sore loser from making his anti-democratic moves. It’s eerily quiet right now: Usually politicians love hearing the sound of their own voices, but not many Republican voices are heard calling out this sore loser and telling him to “do the right thing” — to concede. A few Senators have — Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska — but other than that, it’s the Parade of the Invertebrates (if invertebrates could stand up and parade).
What I am describing is a dark situation, a heartbreaking falling-off, since you departed. This man is dismantling American democracy, norm by norm, institution by institution. Which a true conservative would grieve as much as us liberals. Amazing, what damage one person with ultimate power can wreak on a democracy; amazing, again, the scant conserving of conservatives. What happened? Power — keeping power, no matter what — is being revealed as more important than conserving our democracy. Your commentator daughter wrote that this 2020 election was for Republicans simply a political contest, while for Democrats it was life-and-death, existential. (Yes, that’s your “reading assignment.”)
You were that true conservative, Mom — an Eisenhower Republican. I remember the catechism well: small government, low taxation, personal responsibility. You were O.K. with Eisenhower building the interstate highway system, but that’s about all the government presence you cared for. You believed private enterprise was the better way to run things: Pride of ownership meant superior operation and balanced books. It also meant profiteering, but you didn’t like to go into that. What you liked to go into was how “government-run” meant waste, inefficiency, workers “sitting on their duff.” When we drove past our state capitol, in Olympia, you’d sputter at “another new government building.” You abhorred waste and believed the only guarantee in life was “doing for yourself,” two attitudes seared into you growing up in the Great Depression on a farm twice threatened by foreclosure, a calamity that would have put your family “out on the road.” As I said in my eulogy, “Mom never got over the Great Depression.”
But when I say you were a true conservative, I mean it in the elemental sense: conserving the good things we have — in this case, our democracy. In World War II’s titanic battle with fascism, led by Gen. Eisenhower, you proudly did your part (as a nurse, as a driver), so did Dad (as a doctor); you both later became pillars of our small community. You also believed in conserving a moral sensibility and were quick to call out something as “not right” or just “wrong.” I too call out the rightness or wrongness of things — which brought us into, shall we call them, “debates.” You felt being “on the dole” was wrong (FDR’s social safety net was, to you, a trap), but I defended it as necessary in our turbo-capitalist society. We were together, though, in mourning the steady degradation of American culture (our shorthand was “Hollywood,” the effect of); it’s those conversations I so miss.
And it’s your readiness, your sense of moral purpose that I associate with Eisenhower Republicans, that I believe would compel you to appeal to your fellow partisans now to “do the right thing” and urge Donald Trump to concede and conserve our democracy.
Compounding the dark picture now is a worldwide pandemic, the pathogen something called the coronavirus. You and Dad being medical people would understand contagion, that it’s nothing to mess around with. It would stun you to know too many of your fellow Republicans believe the pandemic is a Democratic hoax and refuse to wear masks. Yes, I can hear you now: “WHAT? That is so stupid.” Wish you could tell them that, Mom.
About Mr. Trump: You were in your fast-accelerating decline when the 2016 presidential campaign was underway, but what you gleaned of Trump was not good: You thought him “uncouth.” How often in these intervening years have I wanted to say, “Oh Mom, you don’t know a fraction of it!”
But you were on to Trump, Mom, his amorality, his “flim-flam.” Which is why it is so delicious to recall that, in the very last presidential election of your long life, rather than voting your usual straight-ticket Republican, you voted for a Democrat — your first time! — you voted for Hillary Clinton. At the last, Mom, you did the right thing — bless you.
Would that your fellow Republicans had done the same in this 2020 election: Nearly half the electorate voted to retain Mr. Trump, despite his ineptitude handling the pandemic, his desecration of American Democracy, his uncouthness. A poll shows three-quarters of Republicans (77%) swallow Trump’s self-vindicating bilge that this election was a fraud.
Like I said, Mom: Your kind of stand-up, morally purposeful Republican is sadly missed.