This is my op/ed piece for this week, appearing in newspapers in my very red congressional district (VA-06).
In 2012, when I was 65, I embarked on a quest I never expected I’d undertake: I ran for political office.
For a half century, my work had always been questing for important truth. But when I saw that lies were defeating the truth in our politics of that time, I felt compelled to challenge the District’s incumbent Republican, Bob Goodlatte.
My campaign slogan was “Truth. For a change.”
The high point of my campaign was a speech I gave, at a big Labor Day banquet in Harrisonburg (a speech that went viral on the web).
I was thinking lately about how the way I understood the Republican voters of 2012 feels harder to maintain now.
In that speech, I talked about the need to show “the good, decent, conservative people… of our district that the force they’re supporting is not the friend of their own deep values.”
And I proceeded to show, first, that the Republican Party was no longer conservative: “We can see that by the way they trample on our political traditions. Like on the debt ceiling which we don’t deal with that way. Like the filibuster that we do not use that way. A conservative understands you don’t just sweep your traditions aside. You honor them, you protect them. They’re there for a reason.”
I went on to show how that Republican Party was no longer patriotic: “We now know,” I began, “that even before President Obama was inaugurated, they met together to say, ‘We’re going to make this president fail.” I don’t think there’s been a single time that an opposition party has made the President’s failure their priority. But especially …at a time when the whole American economy and the global economy were on the edge of an abyss. You don’t want the president to fail if you’re a patriot. If the president fails – we’ve only got one at a time – the country fails, and tens of millions of Americans suffer. No real patriot would ever want to do that!”
Now I’m wondering: Was I mistaken about the conservatives, and “their own deep values”?
Back in 2012, it felt natural for me to refer to those “deep values” because I was remembering the conservatives I’d gotten to know, years before, through hundreds of hours of radio conversations, over the course of a decade. And I could imagine those how “good, decent conservatives” might be taken in by the more subtle deceptions of that era’s Republican talking points (which were Bob Goodlatte’s stock in trade).
But not now, not when the thorough-going wrongness of Donald Trump – and therefore of the Republican Party that has chosen to become Trump’s instrument –so blatantly transgresses every category of those “deep values” I’d heard from those conservatives back in the 1990s.
It mystifies me how anyone — with eyes to see — could believe this “Trump Party” represents any values whatever, and certainly not those values of “conservatism” or “patriotism” or “Christianity.”
- No President or political party in American history has assaulted American political traditions – structures previously cherished by American conservatives — more profoundly and systematically than those now supported by the conservatives I knew.
- No President or political party in American history has shown itself more willing to sacrifice the nation for their own opportunistic purposes than Trump and his Party, with the support of so many who call themselves “patriots.”
- And never has anyone in American history ever risen to political prominence who is as thoroughly the opposite of “Christian” as this President, whom so many people who regard their politics as “Christian” now support.
(And I recall hearing conservatives back in the 90s proclaiming the essential importance of “character,” and their maintaining that “the end does not justify the means” – now apparently justifying their support of a President with abysmal character with the argument that he’s a means to putting onto the bench judges they like.)
With Trump and the Trump Party, we’re not talking about conservative values vs. liberal values. We’re talking about an attack on a range of basic principles that many generations of American liberals and conservatives agreed on.
So I continually struggle to understand:
Is it possible that these people I thought of as “good decent conservatives” are not seeing the picture, right before our eyes, that is not the least bit subtle or hidden? Did I get to know these people just before they stopped caring about their “deep values”? How did they come to enthusiastically support the opposite of those values?
Even after Trump has gone from the scene, America will still have some 40% of the electorate that could look upon the disturbing sight of this Presidency, and approve what they see.
What does that mean for America in the future? Is there some way forward so that – in time — this 40% can again play a constructive role in American politics? How can that be brought about?