The Conservation of the Republican Party
From my African perspective, one of the things that I most admire about America is your constitutional and representative democracy. And one of the things I most admire about your democracy is how—contrary to the fears of, say, John Adams, George Washington, and Alexander Hamilton—the institution of the political party has served effectively (even if unevenly) to harness the passions of citizens toward the pursuit of the public good. Joining a political party, as I’ve written for Comment magazine, is the means by which a raw passion for justice gets tempered into an effective instrument for long-term political contribution in democracies like yours.
But all is not well with your democracy. To its shame your Republican Party is reaping, in the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, the consequences of its own behavior during the presidency of Barack Obama. That the frontrunner in the race to become the next Republican candidate for the presidency of the United States of America should be a demagogue of this caliber is a direct result of the demagoguery that your Republican Party has indulgently tolerated in recent years.
The people who have been managing your Republican Party appear to be handing over the house keys to a motley crew of vulgar nationalists. In the likely event that Americans vote in droves for the Democrat in the forthcoming presidential election, I imagine that this crew and their champion will lose interest in the rather demanding and frequently boring everyday chores of partisan politics and leave the front door slapping in the wind as they wander off to their next enthusiasm. There would be a lot of cleanup to do, a fair bit of repair, and the plundered furniture would need replacing. But at least the bones of the thing would still be in place. If I am mistaken and the usurpers become comfortable in the home they’ve invaded and enamored of the hormonal rush that comes with political hand-to-hand combat, then there will be a brawl for repossession.
My hope is that responsible citizens of your United States will respond to this dismal state of affairs not by abandoning the Republican Party or, more generally, abandoning participation in the democratic process, but instead by staying in or joining the Republican Party. Not so as to make a desperate and futile last-ditch attempt at stopping the tide bearing Mr. Trump towards the candidacy, but so as to improve the chances that anything resembling your historical Republican Party might survive Mr. Trump and this tide.
The collapse of one of America’s two great parties, or its abandonment to meretricious usurpers, will not only do damage to the ideals and interests of the coalition of constituencies contained in that party: it will fray the fabric of American democracy. I don’t believe that this fraying will be cataclysmic or irreparable, but it will be severe and require long years to repair.
My hope that people like you, reader, will work for the restoration (or, if need be, repossession) of the Republican Party at this inauspicious time is not the result of partisan enthusiasm on my part. I am not a member of the Republican Party nor can I be, being only a grateful guest of your USA and not a citizen. My concern is for the health of your system of representative democracy—the health of which is of considerable consequence for the rest of us around the world. The people your democracy raises up into government office at the federal level and the decisions those people make while in office have direct, immediate, and lasting consequences all around the world. In addition, your ways of doing things have a significant indirect influence insofar as they affect the aspirations of other nations.
The conservation of your Republican Party is about something that matters more than the issues of the day or the ideas and interests that this particular party represents. It is about the maintenance of a certain kind of democracy in America. A democracy that allows itself to be constrained by law and precedent, that respects the results of thorough deliberation over long centuries, that frustrates mobs and would-be despots, that demonstrates to the rest of the world what it looks like to negotiate deep disagreements among citizens without succumbing to bullying and violence.
The social ecology of American democracy demands two large and healthy parties. The months ahead will see the ravaging of the Republican Party. When the noise of the presidential election subsides, the party will need the kind of people who care about its conservation as an institution and who care about the conservation of a deliberative democracy in the United States. As with anything that really matters, this restoration or recapture will be slow, hard, subtle, and frustrating work—but necessary work for the reputation of constitutional democracy globally.
Gideon Strauss is a Senior Fellow of the Center for Public Justice and Associate Professor in Worldview Studies at the Institute for Christian Studies.
Photo Credit: Ronald Reagan giving his acceptance speech at the 1980 Republican Party Convention in Detroit, via Wikimedia Commons.