Losing Lincoln

For a very long time, the Republican Party was synonymous with the man who was arguably America’s greatest president, Abe Lincoln. For most of my life, I heard the GOP referred to as the party of Lincoln. Today, no one can make that claim with a straight face.

Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and guided the nation through the Civil War to save the union by ending slavery. Today’s Republican Party openly harbors white supremacists and eagerly employs race-baiting rhetoric to fan the flames of division.

More than 30 years ago, I worked as an aide to three Republican state representatives. Two of the three clearly could not stand where they stood then and belong to today’s Republican Party. The third might manage to still fit, but it would be iffy. Back then there were still Rockefeller liberals in the Republican ranks. And Teddy Roosevelt progressives. And civil rights Republicans out of Lincoln’s mold. And pro-labor Eisenhower Republicans.

Today, all those breeds of Republican are gone. Now nearly all Republican office holders are right-wing reactionaries. The few with moderate impulses walk lockstep behind their extremist leaders for fear of angering them.

Lincoln could not be a Republican today. Teddy Roosevelt couldn’t either. Or Dwight Eisenhower. Or Nelson Rockefeller.

Today’s Republican leaders obviously know this. And are OK with it. With moderates excommunicated from their congregation, they lack the breadth of appeal to be a majority party. They are OK with that too. They don’t care about representing the majority of Americans. They only care about power. To hold on to power they must abuse power.

Lincoln famously observed that if you truly want to test a man’s character, give him power. The men who lead today’s Republican Party are being put to Lincoln’s test, and their character is revealed. They disrespect the will of the people by drawing congressional and state legislative district boundaries to rig elections so they can hold by far the most seats even when they win far fewer votes than their Democratic opponents.

Now after Democrats swept every statewide race in Wisconsin this year, Republican legislators are in a rush to go into “lame duck” session before those newly elected Democratic officials are sworn in to strip the new governor and attorney general of some of their powers.

To hold on to power, today’s Republicans must abuse power. They must foresake Lincoln. And they must ignore the will of the people.