The two party political party system is failing us as Americans. Political parties are no longer havens where varied life experiences and views can gather under common principals. Parties are now fortresses where people retreat only to emerge briefly to cast vulgarities, insults, investigations, accusations, and cheap social media memes. We the American people deserve better for ourselves. Not because of a sense of entitlement, but because we are simply a better people. We are all exceptional.
I’ve been associated with the Republican Party all of my adult life. I’ve been active in party leadership and served as Shelby County Ohio party chair for several years. I remember back when we first launched an internet presence locally. As we labored over how we would banner the lead web page to frame the first impression for those who visited, we settled on ‘Republican for a Reason’. We didn’t quantify beyond that. We wanted to ensure there was plenty of room for discourse and variations on a theme. A big tent holds more people. For sure, the values of fiscal responsibility, strong defense, limited government, and personal responsibility were stated, but those were simply guiding principles. Guardrails of sorts.
I came of adult political age under Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. I was drawn to and identified with the Republican Party as a place that valued diplomacy, statesmanship, and American exceptionalism. It was a comfortable place. A place where I could find family, friends, and colleagues. The Republican Party embraced hope in Reagan’s ‘Shining City on a Hill’ and Bush’s “Thousand Points of Light.” The party projected onward and upward and was optimistic. My party embraced compassionate conservatism and was grounded in building something better for ourselves, our children, and our collective future.
As we rolled over into the new millennium, not all Americans felt they were able to visit, let alone live in, that shining city on the hill. They weren’t being warmed and guided by those thousand points of light. Populist yearnings simmered and I felt it too.
Established leaders of both parties either weren’t listening or they were listening and disregarding us outright.
The human body can hide ailments which can lay dormant until the body is under stress. Populism too is that way. Good people, under actual or perceived stress, void of leaders who live and exemplify good people’s expectations, no longer value a party’s guiding principles. Instead, good people succumb to the trappings of tribalism offered by a populist movement. They retreat to the perceived safety of the party fortress to prepare for and wage battle simply for the sheer sake of the battle.
I describe populism in this way. It’s a perennial movement to find a villain to slay, with never a plan of what to do with the body. It’s all about tearing down and never about building or rebuilding. And it comes in two flavors. It’s not unique to one political party or the other. Both are destructive and erode our innate inner goodness as a self governed people.
We are collectively so much better than this.
There have been moments when Americans faced the prospect of being torn apart. The Civil War, the Great Depression, the Civil Rights movement, and Vietnam are examples of those moments of unrest. Within each of those periods in varying degrees, once the people were heard, societal changes were made, we rebuilt, and moved onward and upward. We are experiencing one of those periods today and we have an ever-closing opportunity to pull ourselves back from the brink. We’ve made our populist points and now it’s time to move ahead. But we can only do it if we stand together and say “enough is enough.”
I don’t know how this period of political discourse will be framed in the future, but I am confident it will hold historical significance. It will be pointed to, debated, and reflected upon by both scholars and students alike. In 15 or maybe 18 years my grandchildren will ask me what I contributed in this period. Where did I stand? Did I stand behind the comfortable fortress of party walls where I mounted night raids against my neighbors without consequence? Or did I stand and declare my independence from the incendiary dual party populist rhetoric and walk to the open battlefield with an extended hand? Did I work to build rather than tear down? Did I work to lift up rather than to shout down?
I will tell them I chose country over party. I will tell them I chose unity over division. I will tell them I made my own declaration of independence from either political party. I will be able to tell them these things because today I am declaring my political independence.
The writer raises corn, soybeans, alfalfa and seed stock beef cattle on his 560 acres in Shelby and Logan Counties. He is a former chair of his local Republican Party and the Shelby County Board of Elections.