Did I Change More, or Did the Republican Party?

A friend asked me to sum up my thoughts on being registered as a Republican after reading my post on the primaries yesterday. My initial reaction was short: “A remnant of an earlier Bryce and an earlier Republican Party. Feels like both the Party and I have each moved in different directions in the past decade. Hard for me to tell who moved more.” But I’ve continued to think about the question, and I decided it warranted a full post. (Even though that makes for two political posts in a row. Sorry.)

I was most definitely raised Republican. My family was Republican, and my church was (and continues to be) dominated by Republicans. When I was old enough to start actually paying attention to politics (around seventh or eighth grade, as I recall), I would listen to Rush Limbaugh and agree with pretty much everything he said. I even got his book, The Way Things Ought to Be. Of course, I also didn’t really know anything other than Republicanism. (That I was aware of, at least.) Back then, Democrats were all misguided or nefarious. (I did and said a lot of things back then that I still feel very sorry about to this day. Jokes I made. Casual comments I tossed off here and there, without even realizing just how hurtful they could be. I’m honestly surprised some of my high school friends are still friends with me, and I’m thankful they managed to overlook some of my more egregious character flaws back then.)

I went to school at BYU, in a Republican-dominated state, surrounded by a Republican-dominated student body. Ironically, that’s when I first began to start questioning the assumptions I’d made my entire life. Having grown up on the East coast, I had been surrounded by people who believed different things than I did and came from different backgrounds. True, I just recognized those differences in some areas, like religion and race, but I still saw that there were differences, and that those differences didn’t make those people better or worse than anyone else. I loved a lot of things about BYU (and continue to love it), but one thing I was never a fan of was how uniform the student body could be. I felt like so many people were cookie cutter twins, and I realized that some of the thoughts and opinions I had were different than what everyone else had. My views on religion, for example, were less by-the-book.

(It’s a simple example, but it serves to illustrate my point: at the time, the church’s stance on R-rated movies was “don’t see any of them.” I didn’t like that stance, and disagreed with it for a number of reasons I won’t go into here. But that disagreement definitely marked me as Other on BYU’s campus. Once you’ve been marked as Other, you begin to realize that Other isn’t the same thing as “Bad.”)

Then I went on my mission to Germany. For two years, I was talking and listening to people from all walks of life. I talked with former and current Communists. Former Nazis. I met current skinheads. I made friends with a ton of refugees from Ghana and Sierra Leone. And these weren’t casual conversations. I would go up to people and start talking religion. If there’s a way to find out what people really think about life, try talking to complete strangers about a real hot button topic, day in, day out, for two years. This didn’t cause me to lose my faith. (It actually strengthened it, as I began to question things and figure things out for myself, until I was a member of my religion not because I was raised that way, but because I honestly believed in it.)

In any case, I came home even more Other than I had left. I know it sounds strange to say that a straight, white, Latter-day Saint would feel Other when he was surrounded by other straight, white, Latter-day Saints, but I believe there are many different ways to be Other. Sometimes, when almost everyone is so similar, “Other” begins to be measured in much smaller gradations.

Still, I was staunchly Republican. I voted for George W, and I thought it was divine intervention that made it so that he won the election in 2000, especially after 9/11 happened. I felt like Bush led the country perfectly through that, and I didn’t understand why anyone could see it any other way.

In 2007, I moved to Maine. Still Republican, though with a streak of rebelliousness that anyone else would call mild-mannered, but which had continued to set me apart in Utah. In Maine, of course, I felt like an arch-conservative. Like that liberal streak in me was only there in comparison to other conservatives. (True.) I participated in the local caucus process, rubbing elbows with other staunch Republicans, and it was all fine and good. I had a Mitt Romney sign in my yard in 2008.

Then John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate.

I know it seems like such a silly thing to have such a big impact on me, politically speaking, but the more Sarah Palin spoke, the more disillusioned I became with her, and by proxy, with McCain’s decision to have her be his running mate. In the end, I voted for Obama, mainly because of that one decision. Part of it was that Palin presented the world in such stark terms, and that those terms seemed so . . . uninformed. Part of it was that in my short time in Maine, I’d already begun to meet many people who weren’t just sort of different from me. They were very different. LGBTQ+, different religions, different races (even in Maine), different politics, different socio-economic statuses. To hear Republicans paint some of these groups with so broad a brush felt wrong to me. It was forcing a black and white worldview on a situation that was anything but.

Four years went by. I heard many Republicans bemoan Obama as being terrible, even though I didn’t see anything that wrong with what he’d been doing. A different approach, perhaps, but I was more disillusioned with how little the rest of government seemed to get done. I continued to be dissatisfied with the way Republicans labeled other groups. It reminded me too much of the sort of ideology I’d seen skinheads espouse in Germany, and it made me very uncomfortable.

Still, when Mitt won the nomination, I voted for him. I believed he was a better person than how he was portrayed, and I thought he would do a great job as President. (Honestly, I still do. Though my criteria for “great job as President” has changed quite a bit over the Trump administration.) I wasn’t crushed when Obama won again, though. The last four years hadn’t been terrible, and I thought he’d gotten some good things accomplished. I knew many people who were desperate for good health care, for example, and I was happy that something was being done to get them access to it.

I met other politicians in the higher ranks of leadership. I met all of Maine’s Congresspeople. And Republicans began to stonewall just about anything that would come up for debate. I was very unhappy with their tactics, disappointed that they would dismiss as a matter of rule anything the Democrats came up with. Those four years of Obama’s second term made me like the Republicans less and less.

Cue the 2016 election. Clinton was far from my first choice. I had a deep-seated dislike of the Clintons that stretched back to my Limbaugh-loving days as a high schooler. I thought they were generally dishonest, and I had deep reservations about bringing them back to the White House. But the Republicans somehow managed to nominate Trump, and my opinion of him is well documented.

I voted for Clinton. It wasn’t even a contest in my mind.

Since then, my opinion of Republicans has fallen even further. The way they’ve thrown their values out the window in order to stay in power has nauseated me. All of that’s easy enough to trace on my blog, so I don’t need to go into details.

But let’s go over the main hot-button issues that separate the two parties today. (The non-Trumpian ones, at least):

  • Health Care: I believe our health care system is broken. It’s far too expensive, and it relies almost wholly on insurance. I would like to see affordable options for everyone. Do I want the whole thing socialized? Not necessarily. I just want someone to be able to be unemployed and still be able to get treated if they get cancer. I’m so sad every time I see another GoFundMe set up to help people pay for medical treatment. That’s a failure as a country to deliver basic care to all its citizens. The Affordable Care Act was a step in the right direction. I hoped it would be the first of many.
  • Gun Control: Again, this is something I have documented on my blog. I am 100% in favor of gun control.
  • Abortion: In general, I’m against abortion. But I believe there should be exceptions made for certain cases (rape, health of the mother/child, incest), and I’m not in favor of any laws that don’t allow for those exceptions. If the choice is “totally legal unrestricted” or “completely banned,” I will go with the first.
  • War on Terror: I’m very disturbed by our country’s escalating use of drones to carry out assaults around the globe. The latest strike on the Iranian general was just the next step in this trend. I don’t like it. Overall, I think we’re spending too much on defense, but ironically, I think we need to keep spending that much on defense because we’re being such an international menace to so many.
  • Immigration: The wall is a terrible idea. Closing our borders to so many is a terrible idea. The awful rhetoric being used against immigrants is despicable. The camps we’re stuffing refugees into are wrong on so many levels. Again, this harkens back to the days I spent befriending people in refugee camps in Germany. When you personally know people in these situations, it becomes much harder to ignore the plight of strangers in the same spot. You can’t dismiss individuals the same way you can dismiss labels.
  • LGBTQ+: Now having known many more people who identify on LGBTQ+ issues, it’s increasingly difficult for me to justify laws that discriminate against them. It’s the same principle as the immigration question, for me.
  • Environmentalism/Climate Change: How in the world anyone can continue to staunchly argue Climate Change isn’t real is beyond me. But then, people also believe vaccines cause autism and that the world is flat. People will believe all sorts of things, it seems. I would like to see an approach where we try our best to reduce our impact on the environment. Where we protect it instead of destroy it. Does that mean I’m going to stop flying? No. I’m not to that extreme. But we can do more, and I believe we should.
  • Education: I work at an academic library. I see the difference a good education can make for students. I’m fully in favor of more education and making it affordable.
  • Taxes/Redistribution of Wealth: I believe there’s a huge disparity today between the rich and the poor. The top tax rate is 40% right now. Historically, it’s been as high as 70-90%. I’m not saying it has to go that high again, but I do believe there are ways to pay for the different efforts we need to make to help our citizens have access to basic needs. Some of those ways are “higher taxes.”*

Overall, I find myself in the middle of many different issues. But lately Republicans have been painting things as an either/or situation. That black and white approach to all these issues makes me feel like I have to go with the option that’s more reasonable, and (to me) that’s almost always the one espoused by the Democrats. For example, would I be as staunchly in favor of gun control if some reasonable measures had already been passed? Doubtful.

I feel like the Republicans have shifted to the right by a great degree, and then dug in at that position and said that anything that disagrees with that position is terrible. I am concerned by the reaction of this (to have the Democrats go even stronger to the left), but until Trump can be shooed off the stage, I’m not sure what else can be done.

I have plenty of Democrat friends who think I’m far too conservative on many issues, and plenty of Republican friends who think I’m far too liberal. I tilt to the Democrat side of the aisle right now because of how repugnant I find Republican tactics, but I’d love a centrist approach, where reasonable measures are taken to solve big problems.

So . . . that’s the longer answer to the question. It still doesn’t feel like it’s the whole answer, but at least it gives some overview of where I was and why I am where I am now.

*I get a kick out of the current argument I’m seeing circulated among Republicans who want to support Social Security but say they’re against anything to do with Socialism. “Social Security is paid by the workers. They get out of it what they put into it.” Hogwash. I’m paying Social Security now with little hope that I’ll ever get out of it what I’m putting into it. I know it’s in precarious waters, and you know what? I’m at peace with that. Why? Because retirees need to live too, and me paying Social Security can help them. I pay taxes. Some of those taxes go to help me. Some of them go to help other people. But the thought that Social Security is somehow vastly different than other taxes just doesn’t hold water, in my book.

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