When I was 10, Ronald Reagan got elected. The Washington Post published a whole section devoted to the man. I still remember the picture of his lined, determined face, of the white hat on his head. He’d warned: things are bad. And he’d promised: I will make them better. He appealed to me.
Bear in mind, I was 10. Stuffed animals appealed to me. Black-and-white reasoning appealed to me. Rules without exceptions appealed to me.
Then I grew up.
I think I was probably in middle school when I determined that I was a big ol’ liberal. I can’t say it all happened at once, but there were two factors: my dad was an avowed Republican and we Did Not See Eye to Eye on anything, and a conscious decision I made to look around and see who in my life really knew stuff. Had studied history or politics, who had been there and read the paperwork and made the decisions.
These were primarily my teachers. I started listening more closely to how they spoke about the world and perceived it, and I began trying to see through that prism. I opened my eyes and asked questions and yeah, all things considered that was how I agreed the world ought to work. Open, inclusive, understanding that the gray areas are what make us human.
When I was a teenager, Jesse Jackson ran for president, though he didn’t get very far. But that was probably the first time I started wondering, hey, when are the rest of us going to get a shot at the title? The lineup of presidents on a big poster we had at home was pretty glaringly white and male – but I hadn’t really questioned things before then. It just was. And I remember thinking at the time, I wonder who they hate less: blacks or women. Because the answer to that question was who “they” would elect first, and because of course there was a “they” who made all the decisions before they allowed us, the peons, to register our thoughts.
I got my answer in 2008. And I was so thrilled. To be on the right side of history in a truly historic moment – I was definitely an Obama supporter before Clinton at that point, and it was glorious. But I also remember thinking, Well, women’ll have to take a back seat for another few decades now, because they will want things back at status and quo.
Is it more status quo? That determination has still yet to be made. We’ll know that answer later today, possibly tomorrow, at which point a whole other set of questions will come into play. As in, even if elected will they let Hillary Clinton govern?
I won’t say I haven’t had some conservative viewpoints over the years. When I was younger I was decidedly in the court of the death penalty: You kill someone, you don’t deserve space on this planet. But I kept my ears and eyes open – one of my mottos has always been, “I’m willing to be convinced otherwise.” You got a good case? Show it. And that’s what one of my friends did years ago, explained every one of my beliefs about capital punishment away: it’s more expensive than lifelong incarceration, it doesn’t deter. In the end, with capital punishment the only argument that makes any kind of “sense” is vengeance. I want to live in a country where we don’t govern by vengeance, and so I changed my opinion.
But what I have never fully understood – particularly in recent years where conservative thinking began veering away from actual policy and governance into social engineering – why certain folks would declare as Republican. It’s been clear to me for many years that if you are not white, straight, Christian (of the “right” kind, as Catholics remain suspect by certain folks) and most importantly male that you have no place in the Republican Party.
I’ve noted this among friends and occasionally gotten an askance look – isn’t being Republican supposed to be about smaller government and fewer entitlements? Perhaps it once was. It isn’t today – you only have to look at how budgets have been handled during Republican administrations. And hate Bill Clinton all you like, but he balanced the fucking budget during his Democratic term. No, the current operation runs almost entirely as opposition to Whatever the Other Side Wants. I suspect if Democrats proposed a bill that eliminated their very own party, Republicans would try to find a way to save it.
Those who adhere to the Republican party line and don’t fit in that white, straight, “correct” Christian, male line strike me as people who’ve drunk the Kool-Aid and are fooling themselves. It’s like owning a dog you know bites and expecting it won’t ever sink its teeth into your leg. Really, it’s just a matter of time. Sure, some may hope they can change the party from the inside. But as this election campaign has shown, almost from day one, the GOP has drifted so far that there is no more inside to work from. It’s a shell for nationalists, separatists, lone wolves and the tinfoil hat brigade. It doesn’t expel those ways of thinking, it embraces them. It endorses them.
In no way will I say I predicted the future by calling out the GOP years before it started actually descending down, rather than circling, the drain. But all of this hatred and misogyny and general mendacity that’s been stirred up on that side of things during this campaign has surprised me not a whit. This was where things were always heading, even when the Republicans were only dabbling with being out of their minds, on the wrong side of history.
It is also why, assuming things go well Tuesday and we get to enjoy saying that like dozens of other countries we have wandered into the 21st Century by declaring the status is not only not quo, but that we are reconsidering the whole notion of status quo entirely – the next question is will they let her govern.
The answer, of course, is no. Depending on whether the Senate goes to the Democrats or not, we may see some movement. But expect there to be any number of rival party-led “investigations” and “hearings” and probably some kind of call for impeachment (if not in the first two years, then the second two). Expect long filibusters in the Senate by Republicans who will yank their own teeth out before letting a Supreme Court Justice go through the system. They may only have to stall for two years (when the next midterm elections come up and the Dems likely lose the Senate), and since what we’ve seen more or less for the last eight years is stalling (not actually providing solutions or compromises or better ideas), they’ve got the will to do it. It will not be pretty. This is not over today.
I keep thinking about that death penalty stance I once took. How there are thousands and possibly millions out there who could say that yes, vengeance is enough to base a policy decision on. That is the kind of country they want to live in. It is a sad, lizard-brain emotion that convinces those who possess it that they have some kind of control. And yet it is also a lie, as a country that rules by dark emotions is not one that’s living for tomorrow. It’s one that can only think of yesterday.
And now, I’m off to vote. For all the tomorrows we get to have next.
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