I am a life-long Democrat, who on occasion has voted for Republicans. Many Republicans have been important in my life. Some have been my mentors. Republican office holders have even appointed me to government boards or commissions. Fat chance of that happening today in a Republican administration.
I do not have to reach back to Lincoln, McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt to begin my lament. Despite their flaws (and what does not have them), I miss the Eisenhower years, and many of the Brahmins who served as his Cabinet secretaries and advisors.
Simon E. Sobeloff, the judge for whom I clerked as a brash young lawyer, was a life-long Republican. He had been Eisenhower's Solicitor General. Among his many other accomplishments, while he was Solicitor General, Judge Sobeloff argued the remedy phase of Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), as to remedy, 349 U.S. 294 (1955). He refused to sign the government's brief in Peters v. Hobby, 349 U.S. 331 (1955), because the government's actions addressed by the case offended his fervent belief in due process of law. He and the other federal judges in the Fourth and Fifth Circuits implemented the federal constitution in almost all the states of the Confederacy. These judges were on the front lines in the 1950s and 1960s desegregating public schools and expanding the scope of the Brown decision. Many of them, perhaps a majority, were Republicans and Republican appointees.
I miss Barry Goldwater and his stinging rhetoric: "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!" Years before it was fashionable, he advocated for the rights of gay people.
I even miss Richard Nixon, who gave us the Environment Protection Agency and affirmative action in government employment. During his administration, I was hired by one of his agencies to consult on advancing affirmative action. Again, fat chance of that happening today in a Republican administration.
Today, we can count on our digits the number of Republican federal office holders who stand for such principles. We cannot count any among the herd of Republican presidential contenders, and none of the three still in the race.
Today, I view the Trump and Cruz dark comedy show with fits of fear and mirth. The fear comes when, as many already have, I compare their rhetoric and actions with the words and deeds of Hitler and Mussolini on the rise. Their buffoonery would be pure comedy but for the not-invidious comparisons between them and the 20th Century fascists.
To whom do we owe this horror show? How did the Republican Party get hijacked? It may have started with Theodore Roosevelt's progressive administration followed by the conservative Taft administration and Roosevelt's "Bull Moose" division of the party. It certainly accelerated during the Lyndon Baines Johnson administration, when Johnson went pretty much all in to advance a civil rights agenda on the federal level, observing that "We have lost the South for a generation."
These events are not enough to explain today's lead up to the Republican Presidential Convention. They do not explain how the party of Lincoln could become America's 21st Century nihilistic Know Nothing party, with candidates and their followers lustfully urging that we build a wall at our southern border, create official ghettos, deport millions of "undesirables", stigmatize and register adherents to a targeted religion, demean women, punish women who choose to control their own bodies, encourage their bully boys to assault their opponents, and urge that they be allowed to carry guns into mass political events. The list is almost endless.
The Republican "establishment" itself stripped the Republican Party of its Big Tent capacity, pushed it toward fascism or at least nihilism, and jeopardized the establishment's control of the party. Even before the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), the Kochs and their dark money compatriots created the environment in which the Tea Party could form. They empowered it to give new meaning to political correctness, refuse to compromise on almost anything, cast out very conservative Senators and Representatives who were insufficiently conservative for their taste, seize a position of power in the Congress, and bring the Congress virtually to standstill.
The Kochs and others in the Republican establishment themselves are the stewards who have caused Trumpism to bloom. "For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind." Hosea 8:7. Once again, and this time in America, the principle "be careful of what you wish for" is in play.
Just as big money and corporate interests were handmaidens to the Fascist and Nazi parties in Italy and Germany, components of the Republican establishment itself are the handmaiden of the Tea Party and the rise of Trumpism. In Germany and Italy, similar establishment interests suffered the hubris of believing they could support and control the dark forces of fascism. After the Fascists and Nazis took over in the first half of the 20th Century, these establishment interests were directly complicit in the horrors that followed.
In November, we the voters must make sure that 21st Century fascism does not take over in these United States. We the voters must make keep the faith with Lincoln's direction that "we shall nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of earth." I believe that we will, likely with the support of large numbers of Republicans who have had enough of the demagogues.