What Does It Mean To Be a Republican in America Today?

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1/20/1985 President Reagan being sworn in for second term by Warren Burger as Nancy Reagan looks on in the rotunda at the United States Capitol

I have been a conservative and a Republican for more than 40 years. Given the unraveling of the Republican Party over the last 6 years and the upcoming midterm elections, it may be worthwhile to recall the core values the party was built on and evaluate how most current Republican politicians measure up to those standards. 

Perhaps foremost among the core values Republicans once held was the proposition that “all men are created equal” and therefore worthy of dignity. Six years after the founding of the Republican Party in 1854, President Abraham Lincoln anchored us to this principle as he led the prosecution in our nation’s most horrific war. Upon the blood-soaked ground of Gettysburg, Lincoln reminded us of this founding belief and implored us “to highly resolve” in dedicating ourselves “to the unfinished work” which was “so nobly advanced.”

Given near-record high income and wealth inequality in America and its serious consequences, I submit that much of “the unfinished work” ought to be dedicating ourselves to building a more egalitarian society and extending a helping hand to those trying to build a prosperous life for themselves and their families. While Republicans have traditionally believed we should all take personal responsibility for our lives, they also believed in defending the “little guy.” President Teddy Roosevelt, emblazoned on Mt. Rushmore like Lincoln, fearlessly defended coal miners and aggressively imposed regulations on mega businesses abusing their monopoly power. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “our unexpected egalitarian,” also dedicated himself to protecting the little guy by increasing the minimum wage and expanding social security. 

Perhaps largely synonymous with being a Republican has been having a largely conservative bent. And what do conservatives do? They conserve, they protect, and they defend. Historically, that translated into protecting the environment, fiscal prudence, and defending our nation through strong relationships with allies.  

Once again, President Roosevelt led the way by establishing national parks, forests, and monuments, as well as the National Forest Service.   

Another core aspect of Republican administrations has been defending our nation through multilateral alliances. Republican Presidents Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush built American foreign policy around strong relationships with allies and utilized those alliances to deter and defeat aggressors like the Soviet Union and Iraq when it invaded Kuwait. 

With respect to fiscal prudence, President Reagan set the modern standard by attempting to shrink the size of the federal government and cut discretionary spending and the deficit. Though unsuccessful, his fiscal conservatism and small government goals provided an ideology many Republicans consider part of our core beliefs. 

As elections draw near and we endeavor to discern who to support, I submit that we will be well served by comparing how current Republicans have behaved relative to the conduct of foundational Republican leaders. For example, in 2017, the vast majority of current Republicans chose to walk away from the precept that “all people are created equal” when they voted to eliminate the Affordable Care Act and discontinue health insurance for 23 million Americans with no replacement plan in sight. The vast majority of Republicans chose to walk away from building a more egalitarian society, and from fiscal prudence, when they supported the Trump Administration’s $1.5 trillion tax cut, which saw 83% of the cuts going to the top 1% and swelled the deficit at at a time when our economy didn’t need it. The vast majority of Republicans chose to support a president who rolled back significant environmental protections when auto and power companies were already aggressively working on implementing emission reduction solutions. And the vast majority of Republicans chose to support a president lambasting our NATO allies and ripping up critical elements of our economic and national security like the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership and the JCPOA agreement with Iran.  

On top of that, the vast majority of my fellow Republicans continue to display a stunning lack of allegiance to our democracy. Most have repeatedly cowered from condemning the man who tried to overturn the 2020 election and orchestrated the attack on our Capitol. In addition, they’ve chosen to try to win elections, not by developing and articulating policy proposals that would benefit the people and our nation, but through gerrymandering and erecting obstacles to voting. Tactics like limiting early voting and restricting the number of ballot boxes and polling places are not the tactics of leaders in a democracy or those worthy of positions of responsibility. 

My fellow Republicans can stand before our flag voicing waves of platitudes and promises, but the record of their conduct relative to that of founding Republican leaders leads me, and I hope others, to no other choice than to reject the vast majority of Republican candidates this election cycle.

While defeating this year’s slate of Republicans is not a matter to be taken lightly, I know of no other way to restore the Republican Party than to purge it of those who have repeatedly chosen to walk away from the plumb lines provided by the icons of our party. Hopefully, such a purge will bring to the fore those genuinely dedicated to our founding values and set the stage for rebuilding.    

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George Zadigian graduated from Kenyon College in 1978 and Cornell University in 1982 with an MBA. Since 1980 he has written editorials in The Bergen Record (NJ), The Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Columbus Dispatch, The Akron Beacon Journal and The Alliance Review. His editorials focus on ferreting out opportunities to substantially improve the direction of US policies in the areas of foreign policy, economics, energy, the environment, education, health care, and justice.

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