At the ripe old age of 12, I made what seemed like a very mature decision at the time to become a Republican. That decision was informed, largely, by a folder I had that displayed the pictures and party affiliations of all 40 U.S. Presidents up to that point. Eight neat rows of five which ended with Ronald Reagan as the “current” President. As a burgeoning history buff, I was fascinated by it. All of the weird political party names during the first 80 years of our country intrigued me (Federalist, Whig, Democratic-Republican) as did the clear delineation between that time and our current two-party system which began with Abraham Lincoln, America’s first Republican President.
I employed a combination quantitative/qualitative system in determining what party to join. The quantitative evaluation was easy. There were more Republican Presidents between Lincoln and Reagan (I didn’t take into account deaths in office) who held the office cumulatively for more years. While I was impressed by the fact that Democrats (1) held the office for 20 years straight between FDR and Truman and (2) had the only non-consecutive two-term President (Grover Cleveland) whose name sounded like a legendary pitcher I was reading about (Grover Cleveland Alexander), I gave the edge to the GOP.
The qualitative evaluation required more study, but eventually it became clear to me I was a Republican. First off, Lincoln. Enough said. Second, Grant. He won the Civil War, went after the Klan and ushered in Reconstruction – a trifecta. And then: Teddy. Freaking. Roosevelt. Holy cow! His energy, dynamism and fearlessness made him my political idol right away. He remains so to this day. I later found out that hometown heroes Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass were also Republicans as was Harriet Tubman whose Underground Railroad had stops not more than 20 miles from my house. I knew very little about Reagan, but he seemed like a nice guy and he had survived an assassination attempt, so I put those on the “plus” side. All in all, my 12-year-old brain determined the Republican Party was the party of energy, strength, and possibilities where everyone had a shot at the American Dream.
Sign me up.
Given my very early roots in the party you can imagine how difficult it is to see it dying right before my eyes. The Pandemic has brought untold sorrow on hundreds of thousands of families all across the country. It’s bringing down a political party in the process. Don’t get me wrong, the Republican Party has been on life-support for years. It has transformed from the Party of possibilities to the Party of what can’t be done. It has replaced energy and strength with anger and weakness. I don’t even refer to it as the “Republican” Party anymore. It’s the “Right Wing Party” that provides safe harbor for hate, fear, conspiracy theories and defeatism.
Here in Idaho, the Right Wing Party has steadily defined itself as anti-prosperity, anti-opportunity and anti-business. The people of Idaho have proven to be far more energetic and dynamic by passing Medicaid Expansion and nearly getting a ground-breaking Education Initiative on the ballot prior to the lockdown. The Right Wing Party’s failures will only be amplified by the Pandemic given the proposed cuts to education coming down the pike. Lawmakers haven’t even dug us out from the setbacks caused by the Financial Crisis a decade ago. Now we’re about to go even deeper in the hole to the tune of $99 million in K-12 cuts. Higher Education cuts are sure to follow. Governor Little talks about how Idaho will fare better than other states coming out of the Pandemic but fails to acknowledge our state wasn’t faring all that well before.
The question I have is whether leaders like Little will have the energy and strength to stand up against Right Wing Party legislators who try to make these devastating cuts permanent.
Will they have the energy and strength to stand up when Right Wing Party legislators try to take healthcare away from thousands of Idahoans?
Will they have the energy and strength to enact policies that will give all Idahoans a fair shot at prosperity in the years to come?
As an OG Republican, I’m not holding my breath. The party that captivated my young mind has gone the way of that folder I had so many years ago. Lost to the ages.
A 12-year-old brain is naturally idealistic and filled with lofty, often incomplete, notions of what is possible. As the years went on, I came to understand that all of the Presidents mentioned above had their warts – even my idol TR. Some of them were glaring. But beneath the blemishes was a foundational belief in what was possible for all Americans. An energy and strength that superseded and survived whatever missteps they made as leaders.
In a time where the American landscape is literally defined by death, it’s sad to see it go.
Jeremy J. Gugino is a Democratic communications volunteer.
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