In late 1981, when I was in the fifth grade, I had an assignment to write a letter to a famous person. I chose Ronald Reagan. In my letter I told him that I thought he was doing a great job as president, among other lines of praise.
I received a response a few months later, thanking me for my letter and "for being my friend."
I don't know what happened to that letter. One thing I do know, though, is the betrayal I felt four years later, when I watched him making a speech on television. The part of this speech that stood out at me was his use of the word "liberal" as though it were an insult.
There was a Mad Magazine article from a few years prior that highlighted the differences between liberal and conservative in a humorous way and I knew that I leaned more liberal than conservative, although I would be quick to point out that neither liberals nor conservatives have any "lock" on either the truth or the best solutions to a given problem.
That speech motivated the teenage version of me to take a much more honest look at the Ronald Reagan I had praised a few years earlier. Indeed, the praise my nine-year-old self heaped upon him stemmed entirely from the understanding that he wanted to cut taxes and not even from the consequences of those tax cuts. And I didn't like much — if anything — that I saw in this new assessment of the man who would remain the president for more than two years still.
For two side notes to this assessment, I strongly suspect that my high school bully hated that I did this, and my feelings towards Michael Dukakis's campaign stop in my high school skewed in his favor at about the same time.
It shouldn't be a surprise, then, that I registered as a Democrat when I reached the voting age of 18 in 1990. The only election since then that I've missed, was in 1993 when I was an exchange student in Russia.
I still maintain that neither liberals nor conservatives have a lock on the best solutions. I am open to trying most proposed solutions and will reject only the ones that are too costly to implement, too unlikely to succeed, or which have been demonstrated not to work. (Easy example: the problem of teenage pregnancy. Comprehensive sex education has been demonstrated beyond any doubt, to reduce the rates of both of teen pregnancy and STD infection. It is the correct solution. Abstinence only education fails at both and is unnecessarily expensive.)
So this means that, despite my official registration as a Democrat, I am open to voting for other political parties, even the Republicans. I watched in horror throughout the 90s as members of the Republican Party followed Reagan's lead in using the word "liberal" as an insult, as if that were the end of the debate. An ad hominem attack that, if you leaned to the left, shouldn't even be thought of as an insult.
I further watched the GOP cling to the thoroughly disproven hypothesis that tax cuts for the richest members of our society somehow creates jobs and spurs economic growth. What it does do is allow them to hide their money away and keep it to themselves while offering relatively few benefits to the rest of the country, especially at a time when the infrastructure is crumbling and ethnic hatred is on the rise.
Then came 2004. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), was running for reelection as the senior senator from Pennsylvania. I liked the man, having met him on at least two occasions previously. He had some ideas I didn't entirely care for but for the most part, he served the state and the country well. He received a primary challenge from a congressman named Pat Toomey, who modeled himself as being similar to my other senator, Rick Santorum.
Now let me make it clear that at no time during his twelve years serving as my junior senator (1995 to 2007) did Mr. Santorum say or do anything of note that made me think of him as deserving of an important position within the government. If he represented the future of the Republican Party, then I expressed my concern for that future.
So that scared me about Pat Toomey. And it frightened me even more to have to watch Sen. Specter hew rightward to fend off the challenge from Toomey. Although Specter did fend him off, the vote was far too close for me to feel comfortable. It was at that moment that I realized that I could not, in good conscience, vote republican.
This was not an automatic giveaway to the democrats, mind you, but that feeling has persisted for thirteen years now, and the Republican Party has only gotten worse in the intervening years.
I know I've said this already in this essay, but it bears repeating: neither liberals nor conservatives have a lock on the best solutions. We should not categorically dismiss any proposal or policy solution on the basis of either the identity of the person proposing it or whether the proposal is considered "liberal" or "conservative". (Those two terms are quite fluid anyway… Ideologically, for example, Barack Obama seemed to hew relatively close to the opinions of Dwight D Eisenhower but regularly got criticized by Fox News for being among the most liberal presidents in history.)
So Reagan started the vilification of his political opposition. The two Bushes fostered it. It spread to the House of Representatives when Newt Gingrich became speaker of the house but his successor as speaker, Dennis Hastert, made things worse by creating a new rule that effectively rendered the minority party in the house impotent.
And now we have a legitimate Nazi in the White House, next to a white supremacist, at the hand of a president who based his entire campaign on xenophobia and white resentment. After the tragedy in Charlottesville, VA last weekend, Trump couldn't call out the people who were responsible because they're the only ones who still support him unequivocally.
Donald Trump doesn't love his country. He loves himself and little else. He himself is a symptom, a natural progression from the enmity that started within the Republican Party nearly 40 years ago.
More than a month before the election, I wrote that, of all major party candidates for the presidency in American history, Donald Trump was the least deserving of any votes. I'm not going to say "I told you so" but I will say that I may have been too kind to the man in that essay. He's a disgrace and an embarrassment to the office he holds, his political party, and his country.