Remembering My Dad, and a Republican Party That Was

Today would have been my dad’s 91st birthday. A lifelong Republican, he would be astounded and appalled at the state of our nation and world if he were alive today.

The rise of the Orange Menace would have left him deeply puzzled. And ashamed. His GOP cared about small businesses and worried over the size of government, but it always acknowledged its relevance and necessity. His GOP was never mean-spirited or bent on punishing the poor for being poor, as this Republican Party has been since the 1990s. His GOP would never have considered abolishing two of the nation’s signature social safety net programs—Social Security and Medicare—that raised a majority of our elderly out of poverty and eased the ravages of old age.

His GOP understood that a functioning democracy required people of good faith on both sides of the aisle to hold the interests of all people in equal measure. His Republicans knew that governance required negotiation and compromise, and placing the common good above their own craven grabs for power and money.  

How far we’ve strayed from that principle.

I am slack-jawed at the recklessness with which the GOP has moved to abolish the health insurance of more than 20 million people in this country. The chaos that will ensue in both the health care and insurance industries will be equally devastating.

Are there no grown-ups in this party? People who can put all Americans’ interests above their own? Who do they think they are helping?

These truly are dark days.

Rise up. Speak. Resist.

Photo by mheim3011/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by mheim3011/iStock / Getty Images

A good friend of mine fled Nazi-occupied Hungary with her family during World War II. Her parents had gone into hiding and she was placed in a Christian boarding school in Budapest in an effort to shield her. She was forced to wear the yellow star on her clothing, and by sheer luck and her own chutzpah ultimately escaped a death camp sentence.

On the phone the other day, I said: “Well, perhaps this will all work out. Perhaps the president-elect won’t actually turn out to be the despot he appears to be. Maybe he won’t actually go through with all his ill-conceived promises.”

She said: “I have lived through this. Don’t think it isn’t what it seems.”

I am reminded of the adage: When someone shows you who he is, believe him.

As each extreme Cabinet pick is revealed, I grow more anxious. His pick for Health and Human Services is an Obamacare foe and ardent anti-abortionist. The president-elect has chosen the nation’s most vocal climate change denier to head the EPA. This week, he announced an anti-minimum wage, anti-labor fast-food mogul to lead the Department of Labor. Ben Carson—a neurosurgeon, not to mention nutcase—has been tapped for Housing and Urban Development. His Education secretary choice is a staunch anti-public education, pro-voucher advocate who would dismantle much of our educational system.

Trump, who attended—and thrived in—a rigid and harsh military boarding school as a teen, is packing the Cabinet with former generals and other military chest-beaters bent on advancing a pro-conflict stance globally.

These extremists have the potential not only to undo many of the Obama administration’s hard-won policies—policies that have provided rights previously denied to the LGBTQ community and other minorities—but may do lasting damage to our country’s foreign relations and economic policies.

As for “draining the swamp,” he’s nominated people who are anything but outside the establishment, and most are millionaires and billionaires.

They want to return to an America that hasn’t existed in decades: a paternalistic, authoritarian society dominated by white and male dinosaurs. Never mind Trump’s inability to control his emotions, his thin skin pricked by the smallest slight. He has opened the door to a Republican Party whose influence and policies have been roundly rejected by a majority of Americans (2.7 million more than voted for him, and counting).

I am afraid for the homeless, the mentally ill, the arts and education, women, children and all those who are the least among us. The whole country is in danger of losing its soul if we turn our backs on the poor. To counter a popular Republican trope, there is no such thing as the “welfare state.” Since the 1960s, welfare (once known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children) has increasingly been replaced with welfare-to-work programs intended to get welfare recipients into jobs. In 1996, Congress and then-President Clinton approved the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which replaced AFDC with Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). For the first time states were required to meet minimum work participation rates to receive federal funding.

Today, virtually no one receives welfare without proving they are working or actively seeking work. Food stamps, renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), provides a stipend for food each month (in debit cards) to the poorest of the poor. The allotment is based on the family’s income. The maximum monthly benefit for one person is $194; a family of four would qualify for up to $649 (again, depending on income). Could you buy groceries for a month on that? It’s a travesty.

Earlier this year, Speaker Paul Ryan, speaking before the Conservative Political Action Conference, repeated what turned out to be a false story about the reduced and free lunch program offered at schools across the country. He told about a little boy who didn’t want a free lunch; he wanted to be able to bring a brown bag lunch to school because that would mean his parents cared about him. It was hogwash, as is the myth that those who receive government assistance are lazy. The fact is most of those kids’ parents do work, often two or three jobs. It’s just that minimum-wage jobs and part-time work often don’t add up to a livable income, especially in the more expensive regions of the country.

Don’t even get me started on Ryan’s dream to privatize Medicare and Social Security.

I am appalled at the fact that most of Trump’s Cabinet picks are driven more by ideology than by facts and knowledge. And his willingness to attack (by Twitter, no less) individuals and corporations, and engage in uninformed conversations with foreign leaders without regard for the consequences, is alarming.

I know there are several efforts at recounts and Electoral College vote switching to try to change the outcome of the presidential election. I applaud them. But I think it is more incumbent upon us—citizens, artists, writers, thought-leaders and educators—to stand up, speak out, and resist these disastrous choices and their beliefs at every turn.

If you can attend one of the many Million Woman Marches being planned around the nation, go, speak, let your voices be heard. Writers Resist is organizing events in January all across the country for writers to express our concern.

Do not remain silent or allow yourself to be lulled into the delusion that this president-elect will not be who he has showed us to be.

In 1963, the white ministers in Alabama urged Martin Luther King Jr. to moderate his rhetoric and tone down his call for peaceful resistance in the civil rights cause. In his thoughtful and stirring letter from the Birmingham jail to those who had criticized him, he wrote:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

King was talking about the fact that rights denied to black Americans were rights indirectly denied to all, and white Americans didn’t have the right to tell blacks to simply wait for the laws to be changed in due course.

We, all of us, are responsible for standing up for those Americans whose lives may be terribly affected by the changes anticipated from a Trump presidency. None of us has the luxury to wait and see what will happen. That’s what good people in Germany did when the Nazis came to power, and Hitler promised to make Germany great again.

Rise up. Write. Speak. Take action. Resist.