Millions of Americans do not feel seen by either political party. My father is one of them | Jessa crispin


A A few days after the insurgency on Capitol Hill, my father Jack began sending emails from his home in Lincoln, Kansas, to his representative and to senators in Congress. For some reason it was also putting me in cc on these exchanges.

There was a new email almost every day, and the tone fluctuated between pleading, anger, bewilderment, and frustration. There were emails asking his senators to vote to impeach Trump, emails demanding evidence to support allegations the election was stolen, emails trying to unravel their twisted logic.

One of those emails read in part, “Your actions, and the actions of other Republicans like you, are destroying the Republican Party. Being a longtime Republican, I hate what happened to the Lincoln and Reagan party and the ideals of the past, to see it reduced to a cult of personality.

The responses from politicians made it clear that no one took my father’s criticism seriously. Kansas Rep. Tracey Mann sent a form letter response saying “we must unite as a nation” which presumably meant moving forward, forgetting the extravagant wrongdoing of the Trump administration and voting against it. impeachment. When I asked my father if he expected his representatives to take responsibility for their involvement in the insurgency (Kansas Junior Senator Roger Marshall joined those who said there had been fraudulent during the elections), he replied: “No. Well no.”

My father’s frustration with the Republican Party had been building up for years, but something seemed to be breaking with him after the insurgency. The riot on Capitol Hill was, he believed, stoked by unscrupulous politicians who for four years cared more about power than the rule of law and who, when that power fell, preferred to let the country continue to rule. ‘collapse rather than work on its reconstruction.

The Republican Party is in the midst of an identity crisis, brought on by a big shift in voting demographics and a new generation of more radical and paranoid politicians. As Democrats move away from their historically working-class constituency and instead become the party of urban liberals and college graduates, Republicans find themselves drawing loyalty from clerics, those with no formal education and rural people. The institutions that once cultivated Republican voters – the university system and white-collar employment – now drive Americans to the political left, leaving conservative leaders and think tanks to scramble to figure out how to adapt to their new base. blue collar workers. Many Republican politicians clearly find it easier to appeal to the fears and resentments of their grassroots than to provide working class Americans with stability and resources. This led to some strange pageantry, as Yale law graduate and Republican Senator from Missouri Josh Hawley cosplay as a popular man populist.

The Bulwark podcast, which is one of the few conservative media that my father still listens to, and which prides itself on its “civilian” rhetoric, tracks this identity crisis daily. In his episode “Post-Impeachment GOP,” host Charlie Sykes described the slow decline that seemed to accelerate once Republican voters believed the lie that Trump’s re-election was stolen and that their politicians had refused to deny or disown it. “The Republican Party was ready to look away from the lies, the racism, all the corruption and xenophobia, but now it is ready to look away. [on] violence, extremism and undemocratic authoritarianism.

My father Jack compares his estrangement from the Republican Party to the rise of the recently deceased Rush Limbaugh. He had listened to it in the 1980s for about a year, initially finding his jokes about the hypocrisy of Democrats funny. But soon Rush’s tone changed. “He had said scandalous things about people and then laughed – but then he started to seem like he really believed it. He was no longer entertaining; he was vicious. He was even further removed from Limbaugh, who exploded in popularity under the Clinton administration, by his addiction to cheap misogynist and homophobic jokes.

The Republican Party as a whole followed a similar path – choosing cultural war battles over ideological integrity and warmongering over support for the institutions of family, religious freedom, strong communities and small businesses than the party claimed to value. This was especially noticeable in the politics of our home state of Kansas, which is often portrayed as outright conservative, but whose local politics are far more nuanced than outsiders perceive. It’s worth remembering that the state has a strong local Democratic Party, a history of progressive far-left politics, and the current governor is Democrat Laura Kelly.

But in 2011, Sam Brownback was elected governor and decided to make the most sweeping tax cuts the state has ever seen. It decimated the budgets of hospitals, schools and other agencies, and they started to collapse. Politicians opposed Brownback by promising to raise taxes, which is almost unheard of. The “Kansas Experiment,” as it was called, exposed the void of Republican rhetoric and its lack of new ideas beyond “tax cuts”.

Obviously, my dad isn’t the only conservative sentiment away from the Republican Party. Gerald Russello, editor of the conservative cultural journal University Bookman, echoed the sentiment. “The political conservatives you see on TV or in Congress are either Trump clowns or Reagan-era oldies who believe the free market solves everything,” he told me recently. “Who speaks for me? I cannot associate with clownish racists.

It is not yet clear what the extent of the fallout from Trumpism will be, but more Republicans than Democrats are changing official political affiliation, and there is talk of the possibility of forming a dissident political party, called the Party of integrity. (The founders of the Lincoln Project were involved in this idea before the organization was rocked by accusations of sexual harassment and broader questions about its financial and political purpose.) Build a new political party into something that can achieve power and influence is a long-term goal, but he would strive to give a voice to fiscal conservatives and social moderates, occupying a center-right position, to the left of where Republicans currently sit.

When I asked my father if he could ever be persuaded to vote Democrat, he thought for a moment. “I doubt it. I get that feeling from Democrats of ‘We’re government and we’re here to help’ that I don’t like. I want to know how can we best resolve [a] problem instead of just spending money on it. What he sees as problems – things like national debt and excessive military spending – Democrats don’t seem to recognize it, nor do Republicans recognize what my father thinks are impending disasters, like climate change. and the failing health system. But my father has no faith in the ideas Democrats have put forward to address these issues.

My father and Russello both expressed frustration with Republicans claiming to be a pro-family party while allowing families to suffer on their own during a pandemic.

“Give people money! Russell said. “It’s not socialism – it’s an 80s argument.” And he worries about the future if the party continues to abandon what should be his main concern. “There is a tendency towards conservatism among men and women in their twenties and thirties who have given up on politics. They say, you don’t know how bad things are for us. Republicans have little to offer them, as small towns and the center of the country are allowed to sink into unemployment, deindustrialization and drug addiction, but these places are also Republicans’ strongholds.

For now, it seems unlikely that the change will come from above. Conservatives are still intellectually dependent on think tanks in Washington, which have been spitting the same ideas on the free market for decades. There are writers and intellectuals on the right who are trying to chart a course, but they are often overwhelmed by media figures on Fox News and right-wing podcasts. Russello pointed out that after the media were so taken aback by Donald Trump’s election in 2016, many publications pledged to travel to these neglected areas and cover their concerns. Very little of this coverage materialized; there have been few big books on so-called “Trump country” other than, say, Strangers in Their Own Land or Hillbilly Elegy. The focus has mostly remained on the more sensational side of Trumpism, like the QAnon plot and the insurgents, and less on the outlook for the average Conservative voter.

As for my father’s projects, he is still involved in local government, where he has served for decades now. He recently pushed back a committee attempt to invite a Robert E Lee impersonator to the Lincoln Days festivities in honor of the town’s namesake, pointing out that the general was a traitor who was lucky not to not have been hanged. And despite the lack of results, he continues to send these emails. Another came out this morning.

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