Lincoln and Reagan wouldn’t recognize today’s Republican Party

Are the candidates running for office as Republicans really impostors?

The Republican Party was formed in 1854 to stand against the expansion of slavery. Now, Nikki Haley, one of the two leading candidates for the Republican nomination, says "the United States has never been a racist country." The Supreme Court ruled in 1857 that enslaved African Americans were not citizens of the United States. So, slavery wasn't racist, Gov. Haley?

Republican President Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill establishing the U.S. Forest Service, and Republican President Richard Nixon signed the bill establishing the Environmental Protection Agency. The administration of former President Donald Trump, who is running again for the White House, slashed over 100 environmental rules and policies relating to water pollution, emissions, toxic waste, wildlife and oil drilling.

For most of the last century, the Republican Party was known as pro-business. The cover of the current issue of the British periodical The Economist warns, "He's winning: Business Beware." The reference is to Trump and the way his "most chaotic tendencies could threaten America, including its companies." The Republican Party used to stand for balanced budgets and free markets, but in its lead story, the magazine warns of tax cuts leading to greater deficits and inflation as well as higher tariffs inhibiting international trade and raising consumer prices.

The interstates in this country are officially known as the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. Why? Because that Republican president pushed through passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. Former President Trump's pronouncements of "Infrastructure Week" became a long-running joke during his administration. It was left to his successor, the Democrat Joe Biden, to get the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the $1.85 trillion Build Back Better Act passed to rebuild roads and bridges and invest in airports, public transportation, electric delivery systems, high-speed internet and clean water.

In his final speech as president, Republican icon Ronald Reagan said, "We lead the world because, unique among nations, we draw our people — our strength — from every country and every corner of the world." In announcing his run for the presidency, Trump called immigrants from Mexico "rapists." Mike Johnson, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, has named immigration as "the true existential threat to the country."

For most of President Eisenhower's administration, the individual income tax rate for the richest Americans was 91%, while for those at the lowest level it stood at 22%. After Trump pushed through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017, the effective tax rate on the bottom half of earners was higher than for billionaires. That doesn't seem fair, does it? Despite the high tax rate, economic growth was stronger under Eisenhower than under Trump.

The postwar Republican party stood for defense of democracy abroad. As the first military commander of NATO, future President Eisenhower reminded Congress what could be achieved when the United States bound up its "heart and soul in material ways with our friends overseas." As president, Trump threatened to pull the United States out of NATO. The Republican majority in the House of Representatives, encouraged by Trump, is stonewalling support of Ukraine against Russian aggression.

A 1977 poll found more Republicans supported abortion rights than Democrats. In 2022, the Republican-appointed judges on the U.S. Supreme Court took away the right to abortion they had extended to women in Roe v. Wade. Since then, Republican legislatures in 14 states have completely banned abortions. And the potential for more governmental intrusion looms. Justice Clarence Thomas has suggested the Supreme Court "should reconsider" a case that protected use of contraceptives by married couples.

In his 1960 State of the Union address, President Eisenhower declared the federal government's first duty was to protect the right to vote "against all encroachment." According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 14 states passed laws in 2023 making it harder to vote. The state legislatures of all but one of those states had Republican majorities.

And perhaps most important of all, the Republican Party once stood for support of the Constitution. Abraham Lincoln said, "We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution." In contrast, Donald Trump said to regain office, he might have to support "termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution." According to a poll taken last summer, a third of Republicans believe "true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country."

The Republican party of Lincoln, Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Reagan indeed has a glorious past marked by stalwart support of legal immigration, the right to vote, free enterprise, anti-racism, limited government, democracy abroad, environmental protection and infrastructure.

But that grand old party is no more, alas.

© 2024, Creators

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