Republicans from Reagan to Trump: Replacing courage with cowardice

When did the GOP add cowardice to its platform?

Published June 15, 2018 2:01PM (EDT)

Donald Trump; Ronald Reagan   (Reuters/Mike Blake/AP/Photo montage by Salon)
Donald Trump; Ronald Reagan (Reuters/Mike Blake/AP/Photo montage by Salon)

My choice in political parties was clear from my first opportunity to vote. I supported everything the Republican Party stood for in America – fiscal conservatism, individual freedom and responsibility, free market capitalism, the works.

I was influenced, as so many Americans were, by Ronald Reagan. He defined Republicanism to me and other Americans by doing more than simply expressing the party’s values. Reagan lived them, winning enormous numbers of supporters to his side on the basis of his character alone. Even long-time Democrats awarded him their vote because he expressed values that Americans long cherished – trust, honesty, respect for others, equality for everyone, and keeping the promises you make.

Republicans scored congressional successes on Regan’s qualities over three presidential elections, counting George H.W. Bush’s coat-tails ride.

Where are they riding now?

Where are the Republicans who once shared Reagan’s celebrated vision of a great shining city on the hill?

Because we no longer fit that image. Very little glow shines from America to the world these days. And the hill we once stood upon has become an odorous pit of mud-slinging speeches and immoral behavior. We have become a nation led by a man whose primary attributes have little in common with Ronald Reagan or any other Republican leader in our history. The current Chief Executive of America shapes his actions with personal insults, unscrupulous business tactics, arrogant bragging, volatile decision-making, and hostile attitudes to our allies.

While multiple voices among America’s media, social groups, industry and other sectors shudder at the man’s behavior, one group appears to fashion its role according to three baboons from my childhood days – the ones who could see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. Most Republican politicians refuse to acknowledge the unsavory antics of the current resident of the White House. Instead, they search for angles to support his capers and comments. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz burrow in the mud searching for compliments to bestow on the man who has treated them with the utmost disdain and, in the case of Cruz, threw insults at Cruz’s wife in the most despicable manner.

They and others attempt to justify their position with an elegant gold-plated political word: Loyalty. To which I respond with a working-class stainless steel reply: balderdash.

Hey, loyalty to a political party is both admirable and essential, but only as long as the party’s principles reflect those of the nation it chooses to govern. Loyalty to an individual whose actions and values are objectionable and damaging is more than just misplaced. It borders on treason.

The man currently in the White House is not the Republican Party nor, until recently, has the Republican Party been the man. Believing each is a direct reflection of the other is not only wrong; it is dangerous in the extreme. The present occupier of our highest office was not elected to remold the Republican Party to match his vulgar style and questionable ethics. He was elected to reflect the Party’s values according to the apparent needs of the nation.

This is surely evident to every citizen even slightly familiar with America’s history. It should be flashing neon-bright red in the minds of Republican leaders who, in their heart of hearts, lament the gulf between what America needs and what the current White House resident delivers. Even if they refuse to publicly admit it.

Their response to every questionable antic of the current president appears to be a hardening of their partisanship and a refusal to acknowledge the right – indeed the obligation – of other elected representatives across the aisle to even discuss the problem.

That’s when so many Republicans step behind a curtain labeled “Loyalty.” It is not loyalty that prevents congressional representatives from speaking the truth and doing what they know is right. It is cowardice. And it is both regrettable and tragic.

They fear the reaction of the current president’s most vehement supporters, and well they should. He achieved his victory, such as it is, because in 2016 too many Americans believed no one else was taking their down-to-earth concerns seriously.

Unemployment, unfair treatment by government and business, and a general sense of isolation creates its own outrage. Trump tapped that reservoir of anger so effectively that many Americans who normally treasured the same qualities admired so much in Ronald Reagan – and so absent from Trump – overlooked the offensive aspects of his candidacy and trusted him with their votes. Little has changed for the vast majority of them, but both the trust in Trump and the anger at their situation remains.

The reservoir of rage remains, and instead of searching for ways to address the real problems facing these disenchanted Americans most Republicans choose to muzzle themselves. Others find the freedom to speak their minds by choosing not to seek re-election, a sacrificial cop-out. The truth is that Trump’s words may echo the mood of his supporters, but his actions do little or nothing to benefit them. Steps to deal with their concerns can and must be taken, beginning with a toning down of the man’s untruths, exaggerations and impossible promises. Unfortunately, this would mean disagreeing with him, something that demands a rare ingredient in politics these days: courage.

If Republicans in office are troubled by the current president’s antics, yet choose to whisper their concerns privately, they need to be reminded that courage once represented the basis of this country’s concept and existence.

Otherwise, they have no credible defense against the charge of cowardice and craven self-interest.

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By Donald L. Sheppard

Donald Sheppard, a retired entrepreneur and business executive, is the author of The Dividends of Decency: How Values-Based Leadership Will Help Business Flourish in Trump’s America.

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Donald Trump Gop Republicans Ronald Reagan