Monday, May 30, 2016

Confessions of a Frustrated Republican

My father was a lifelong Republican.  Unlike some who are born into rich Republican families and vote to preserve their inheritance and privilege, and unlike those who are born in limited circumstances, raised as Democrats, but switch to Republican once they’ve attained wealth, my father held to his conservative beliefs and suspicion toward government from a childhood spent in poverty, through an adulthood where he rose through the middle class, and into the relative wealth of his last years.  As with his parents, his Republicanism was rooted in a hatred of Franklin Roosevelt’s policies and the man personally that bordered on the pathological.  Given my admiration for FDR, you can imagine some of the “discussions” we had around that subject.  (My dad had a grudging respect for Harry Truman, and it annoyed him when I pointed out that on many domestic issues Truman was a good deal more liberal than FDR.)

There were times, however, when my father veered from Republican orthodoxy.  He derided the religious right as “Jesus freaks” who had gained too much prominence in the Republican Party, just as Barry Goldwater had complained.  Nor did he care for the party’s recent penchant for immigrant bashing.  As far back as the 1960s, he had great respect for Cesar Chavez, sympathy for migrant farm laborers, and felt if Americans had become unwilling to pick fruit and perform other “menial” tasks for low wages, we should welcome people into the country who would.  As someone who grew up on a farm, my father knew what it was like to have to rise before dawn, pitch hay, pick eggs, and milk cows - only to be kicked by a cow that wasn’t in the mood.  He saw U.S. born Depression-era farm hands treated like dirt and knew it was worse for migrants, even in the best of times.  Between the migrant farm issue and the Vietnam War – which my father came to regard as a mistake – my father decided to support Robert Kennedy in 1968.  He had been very impressed with how RFK’s reaction to Martin Luther King’s assassination helped prevent violence in Indianapolis.  Then RFK was assassinated.  My father told me he decided to sit out the 1968 election because he didn’t like Humphrey and he thought Nixon was “sick” mentally.

The above paragraph, however, should not detract from the fact that the bulk of my father’s political beliefs were conservative.  During the 90s he railed against Bill Clinton’s sexual peccadilloes and delighted in reading the Ken Starr report aloud.  My father was an NRA member and favored their view of the 2nd Amendment, despite the fact that his own brother accidentally shot himself.  He hated Welfare. 

Two weeks before he died, my father called me to wish me a happy birthday.  During our conversation (which tended to ramble in later years as my father’s hearing deteriorated), he told me he was favoring Kasich in the primaries and that under no circumstances would he vote for Donald Trump if “that asshole with his whore wife” is nominated.  “I’ll just stay at home like I did in ’68.”  I listened to his statement and said little – knowing his decision would hardly make a difference as he lived in California which is certain to vote Democratic.

As it turns out, my father will not vote in the upcoming election – but not for the reasons he outlined.  But I suspect my father’s not the only Republican to view the ascendancy of Donald Trump with disdain and alarm.  And I suspect there are many Republicans who will sit home on November 8th.