A Comment on the 2016 Election
It’s said that someone encountered Benjamin Franklin outside the Constitutional Convention at its close in 1787 and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” According to notes made by Dr. James McHenry, one of Maryland’s delegates to the Convention, Franklin answered “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
- 1593. Benjamin Franklin (1706-90). Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. 1989
1593. Benjamin Franklin (1706-90). Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. 1989
How we got where we are
That’s an apt comment, given the current state of the 2016 Presidential election campaign with just three weeks left until November 8th. “Do we keep the Republic intact, or not?” A narrower focus requires a follow-up question: “Can the Republican party be saved?”
Given all the infighting among Republicans during their primary battles and subsequent jockeying by down-ballot candidates to craft a winning stance on the salient issue for each of them—‘Are you for Trump, or against him?’—keeping the ‘Grand Old Party’ together will be a gigantic task, it would seem.
To describe how far things have deteriorated, we have to go back to the founding of the Republican Party, usually dated to a meeting on March 20, 1854, in Ripon, Wisconsin. The GOP, as it’s now known, began as an outgrowth of the anti-slavery movement. Following that small gathering in Wisconsin, more than 10,000 people gathered outside “under the Oaks” in Jackson, Michigan, and an organizing convention was held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on February 22, 1856. Most of us are much more familiar with the Republican party’s winning candidate for the presidency of the U.S. in 1860 when a lanky, plain-speaking man from Illinois—Abraham Lincoln—was elected to the nation’s highest office on November 6th that year.
- The Origins of the Republican Party
The Origins of the Republican Party
The current situation
Since then, there have been others elected President who were members of the GOP—some famous, some infamous—but all of them were party loyalists who espoused the basic tenets of the Republican party: smaller government, limits on federal control, conservative fiscal policies, strong national defense, a commitment to individual liberties and responsibilities, not to mention tolerance, inclusiveness and optimism! (italics mine).
And then along came Donald Trump, who seized on the name ‘Republican,’ gave lip service to party affiliation, and campaigned for a year and a half on positions that have not only angered many voters, but disgusted many in the very party he claims to represent.
This isn’t just the opinion of the present writer. It’s a notion voiced by any number of Republican strategists and observers, as well as the editorial boards for dozens of normally conservative and even Republican newspapers—including the local paper in the area where my wife and I reside each summer, a normally solid Republican county!
A definitional look back
Why is that? Why does the 2016 Republican candidate for the presidency seem so un-Republican? Maybe it goes back to the place where this article began, and that word Benjamin Franklin used to describe the patchwork government the Constitutional Convention created: a Republic. That form of self-rule dates to around the year 1600, and is described by one online dictionary as a “state in which supreme power rests in the people via elected representatives.” It comes from the Latin word for “commonwealth, state, or common weal,” and aims for what advances the ‘common good.’
Our Founder's notions
Our Declaration of Independence uses a different phrase to describe the aims of our United States government: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and that basic objective is outlined by the Bill of Rights, ten amendments that protect individual liberties and privileges.
A closer look at the present
Yet this year we’ve had to endure the comments and behaviors of one major party candidate who’s violated most, if not all, of those “unalienable rights” by attacking immigrants, a world religion, disabled persons, Hispanics, and women. In addition, he’s encouraged violence among his supporters and sowed the seeds of rebellion in the past few days by falsely claiming there’s massive voter fraud (“1.8 million dead people still on the rolls”) and also charging that the national elections are “rigged.”
Some concluding thoughts
I shudder to think how Abraham Lincoln would react to the current state of affairs in our country and in his political party, or Dwight Eisenhower and Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan for that matter.
The Republican Party has drifted away from its original principles, and its current candidate is dangerously close to tearing to shreds the first principles on which our nation was founded. We need people of all political persuasions—Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian and others—to work together in support of a more balanced approach to governing, and we need leaders who will encourage that kind of cooperative effort.
It’s time to reclaim the vision that all great presidents and legislators of the United States have held—a country where freedom is cherished for all, and where diversity and inclusion are seen as strengths of democracy, not threats to our existence.
I encourage all who read this to vote on or before November 8th, 2016, and do so with the above thoughts in mind. Let our voices be heard, but always without rancor or hate.