Political name-calling is as old as politics itself. No doubt some candidate opposing the great Solon paraded a sign with the Greek version of “Soloney Baloney.” Modern-day political cartoons have nothing on the merciless caricaturing of eighteenth century political cartoonists.
Beneath those snarky attacks, however, there was always, in the United States, a serious, and seriously rational, discourse about the contrasting views of how best to pursue the American ideals of equal birth and inalienable rights. The so-called liberal group generally felt that the ideal was best pursued through government programs, such as universal health coverage and subsidized education. The so-called conservative groups generally felt that the ideals would be more successfully pursued by individual initiative and/or the efforts of local governments. The liberals were also more likely to want change rapidly, usually by legislation, while the conservatives favored slower, more incremental change, without substantial legislative changes.
Political debates about issues were often intense, but they were, in fact, debates about issues. Insults were traded, heated arguments flung each at the other. But the arguments and insults centered on the issues, not on the people making them. What was idiotic was the opposing argument, not the opposing arguer. Whatever the arguments and however many the insults, the point was that all were talking about, and ultimately compromising on, issues important to the American people and to the promotion of the American ideal.
Sadly, all of that is in the past. Arguments have given way to rationalizations. Insults have gone from issue-oriented to ad hominem (or ad feminam). While Democrats have not been immune to this political transmogrification, it has simply overtaken the Republican party. Arguments from prominent Republicans have been observably rehearsed. Witness the frequent use of a term by all Republicans. The most egregious recent example was the strange argument that the request that Trump talk to Robert Mueller was a “perjury trap.” After all, how could it support Trump to say that if he lied he would commit a crime, but that if he told the truth he would be admitting to a crime?
The rationalizations have stained the reputations and integrity of even the most prominent Republicans, from whom even Democrats expected so very much more. Mitch McConnell, leader of the Republican majority in the Senate, openly abandons his duty to the American people and announces that his single goal is to get Obama out of office. Paul Ryan, leader of the Republican majority in the House, justifies the most outrageous conduct by Trump. The whole bunch of them respond to the horrors of mass killings of students with stale avoidances — “this is not the time…”, “study mental health…” — and absolutely no action. They could not even bring themselves to outlaw bump stocks and other gadgets that turn guns into automatic weapons of war. They don’t just disagree with their opponents; they chant “Lock ’em up!”
I know many good and decent and intelligent people who call themselves Republicans. I know that these good and decent and intelligent people think about the best policies to promote the American ideal. I would like to hear their voices again. I would like to talk to them, with them. I want to discuss, argue, debate. I want to compromise, admit the weaknesses of my views and reveal the weaknesses of theirs. Most of all, I want them to be allowed, by their party, by their leader, and most of all by the political culture, to be their true selves. I want real political discourse back, and to get it I want my Republicans back.