It’s never good to characterize entire groups of people on the basis of prejudice. When we make sweeping generalizations, they are generally based on foundations of racism, sexism, antisemitism, and every form of discriminatory ideology. Offensive stereotypes appear often in crudely written op-eds where selected evidence about individuals is applied to whole categories of people. As LGBTQI+ individuals and allies and many other minorities or oppressed groups, we have all faced generalizations and prejudices. I try never to generalize, and I always try to see people as individuals not as part of a group. However, I’m guessing that like me many of you were raised with generalizations about groups of people. I was surrounded mostly by Republicans when I was growing up, and as minority groups gain increasingly more equal rights (though many of us still have a long way to go to be fully equal), I have seen Republicans begin to generalize more and more and in increasingly nasty ways. While I have worked hard to avoid the easy tendency to overgeneralize, not everyone has. This question persists in my mind: are today’s Republicans nasty? Have they increasingly gotten worse? Have they become the inheritors of prejudice and hate from the Southern Democrats of the 1950s-1970s?
Certainly, there are nasty Republicans, as there are nasty people of every political persuasion. Perhaps nasty Republicans just make for easy pickings. A prime example of this is the collective televised behavior of Republican Senators and Representatives during the impeachment hearings where argument and nastiness were blended into a toxic attitude designed to distract attention from what Trump had done. They seemed so afraid of Trump turning against them, that they berated Democrats and any accusers of Trump’s wrongdoings. The behavior of Republicans during the impeachment was one of the most shameful circus acts in American politics.
What provokes my bigger question is the possibility that nastiness has become the essence of Republicanism. This process did not begin with Trump. It’s been brewing for decades. Rush Limbaugh has personified the meanness of conservatism since 1988 calling feminists whores and Nazis, stereotyping gays, and repeating racist comments. His success spawned an industry of right-wing talk radio hosts copying his nastiness, and sometimes being rewarded with political office. Now, there is at least one television network dedicated to this type of behavior: Fox News. It doesn’t seem to matter what lies or half-truths they relate to their audience as long as it appeases their base.
Alex Jones began as a talk radio personality creating Info Wars in 1999. His utter disregard for people in the deepest grief has landed him in court, sued by the families of young victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. But before that, Jones’ willful nastiness earned him Trump White House press credentials. When Trump gave Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom during his State of the Union address in February, he placed public nastiness in front of his Party for their instruction.
Trump has changed the rules of public political behavior. When he was still a candidate vying for the Republican nomination, and viciously attacking Hillary Clinton in ways unprecedented for a presidential campaign, Limbaugh said, “Trump can say this stuff as an outsider. He can say this stuff as a nonmember of the elite or the establishment.” That distinction is now gone. The Republican establishment, headed by Trump, says things like that every day. Previously, most politicians tried to at least be somewhat civil, but since the Bill Clinton era, political discourse has gone downhill, and it’s trying it’s best to reach the bottom with the Trump administration and Congressional Republicans. And it’s filtering down to state and local politicians, too. I was horrified when Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick suggested back in March that fellow seniors should risk their health for the sake of the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Talk radio hosts helped eliminate moderation from Republican politics. According to Brian Anderson, author of Talk Radio’s America, “Any Republican who sought out compromise or who rejected political warfare found him or herself a target of conservative media.” These radio talk show hosts turned politics into a blood sport. Now many elected Republicans sound like radio commentators instead of statesmen.
How nasty can a Republican candidate be and still win the party’s official approval? Roy Moore ran for the Senate in 2017 with full approval of the Republican National Committee, despite having publicly disparaged Islam and homosexuality, being removed from the Alabama Supreme Court (not once, but twice) for refusing to comply with federal court rulings, and having said that America was great during slavery because people “cared for one another.” He only lost RNC support when it turned out he was a child molester, yet Trump still endorsed him and the RNC reversed itself and got behind him again. Thankfully, Democrat Doug Jones won that election. Whether he will win reelection in 2020 is doubtful; he won that special election by the slimmest of margins. My mother refers to him as “that idiot Doug Jones,” though she knows absolutely nothing about the man. I know he’s a better father than she is a mother, because he accepted his gay son something she never will do. I will always be disgusted with my parents for voting for a child molester who fought all his life to take away people’s freedoms over a good and decent man who spent his life as a champion for justice.
In a side note: I was at a restaurant with my mother one night. We were about to go see a musical at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. My sister won’t go to things like this so my mother plans them when I am home. She doesn’t like having a gay son, but ironically, she prefers my fashion advice, my cultured background, and many other things which are stereotypically gay about me. Go figure. Anyway, we were at this restaurant, one of my favorites in Montgomery (Charles Anthony’s Restaurant At The Pub), when Roy Moore walked in with his wife who he met when she was underage, and his drug addled son who has been in and out of jail most of his adult life. (He’s even been barred from entering one Alabama town.). I was utterly disgusted. I literally got sick to my stomach at the sight of such a vile person. It ruined my otherwise pleasant night.
I think it’s also reasonable to argue that common Republican political maneuvers are nasty. Voter suppression, gerrymandering, and taking away powers from newly-elected Democratic governors are dirty political tools that have become the hallmark of 21st century Republicanism. Not to say Democrats haven’t tried similar tactics in the past, it’s that those tactics do seem in the past for the Democratic Party. Whereas, the official policies of Republicans in Washington remain beastly: caging immigrant children and the treatment of Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria.
What about your neighbor who votes Republican, but seems like a nice guy? Is he responsible for the nastiness of other Republicans? I believe supporting a politician, approving publicly of a politician, means accepting responsibility for that politician’s actions. There has been a saying going around that has a lot of truth to it: “Not all Trump supporters are racist, but all of them decided that racism isn’t a deal breaker.”
With an approval rating of 90 percent of Republican voters, Trump lacks any need (other than basic human decency) to restrain himself from his basest impulses. In the month of May, he topped himself. He retweeted a video in which a Republican New Mexico county commissioner said, “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.” I mentioned in a blog post last week that I posted on Facebook a list of Trump’s worst transgressions with links proving them. One of the replies I received was simply, “He is still better than a Democrat.” I was so upset with that comment I wrote:
I am not so sure about that. He is a person who shows absolutely no compassion or understanding of human decency. As I said before, he’s a bully and seems to enjoy putting other people down and calling them names. I dealt with bullies all the years I was in school, and I didn’t like it then, and I do not like it now. It’s really sad that people follow one party so much that they excuse a person’s atrocious behavior only because he’s not a member of the Democratic Party. A president should be a role model, and if you think Trump is a role model, then that makes me even sadder.
I received no response from the original commenter. While any decent person would have apologized, they obviously didn’t care enough to do so. That broke my heart; I’ve known this person all my life. She is a family friend, and I’m not sure I will ever be able to look at her again without total disgust. It may be too great a leap of generalization to say that Republicans are nasty people. But in their full-throated support for Trump no matter how nasty he gets, America’s Republicans promote nastiness.
The American political climate needs a real and drastic change. The partisan hatred needs to stop. The nastiness needs to stop. I can remember growing up in Alabama at a time when campaign ads got nastier and nastier. That changed when the nastiest of the politicians lost their elections. But I fear with Trump as president, those days are returning. And they aren’t just television advertisements. Attacks also take the form of tweets, political pundits, Facebook posts, and numerous other social media sites. It’s a total embarrassment that people who are supposed to represent us in this great republic, represent us as a petty, nasty, idiotic people.