“This fever too shall pass” is the response I got from a GOP legislator while venting about the damage that President Trump has caused to the party. But when the fever breaks, who will be there to pick up the pieces of the GOP? Many have already taken the easy way out; they just abandoned the party. This is especially true of young people who see a world affected by racial strife, environmental degradation, and economic inequality. They can be forgiven for thinking that only one party contemplates these issues – as only one party currently contemplates these issues.
But as they will soon find out, running to the left is not a solution. The American left has focused on these issues for decades, and their solutions have not made a difference, except potentially to exacerbate them. Rather, abandoning the GOP for the modern Democratic Party further emboldens ideologues that have consolidated power and set the stage for a leader like Trump. After Trump is gone, the Republican Party needs to rebuild through the voice of people like me, younger, often newer, but no less committed conservatives.
The continued promotion of voter suppression in order to win elections will forever blemish the GOP. When ideas no longer hold sway among adherents, it is those ideas, not the means to validate those ideas, that need to change. The ends do not justify the means. Increased voting restrictions, suing to prevent the counting of ballots, and the purging of rolls is not to prevent voter fraud. It is to prevent the acknowledgment that your party’s views no longer convince a majority of the electorate. The conservative Heritage Foundation’s Election Fraud Database lists 1,298 proven incidents of voter fraud from 1979-2020. In 2016 this database lists 50 proven instances of voter fraud out of 136.7 million votes cast.
Trump and his allies, however, have been systematically delegitimizing America’s electoral integrity by claiming the election was “rigged.” This is not harmless rhetoric. These statements have forever tarnished one of our greatest strengths, peaceful transitions of power and some of the world’s freest and fairest elections. Of even greater consequence is that Trump’s actions invite rogue and less friendly nations like Iran, China, and Russia to meddle in our elections. A weaker, more disunited America increases their power, and they know it.
I just finished a great novel about life in North Korea by Barbara Demmick called “Nothing to Envy.” A scene in this book made me think about the lack of GOP resistance to Trump. A recent graduate of a prestigious Pyongyang University is sitting in one of the mandatory Saturday indoctrination sessions in a building without heat. As he looks around the room shivering from the cold, he sees everyone else staring glassy eyed as the professors regurgitate party propaganda. He wonders if they harbor the same doubts about the regime. He is confident they do but finding out risks certain death. Trump is no Jong-Il, Stalin, or Mao—he is not even a Jong-un. However, when good people within the power structure do nothing to stop a leader’s worst inclinations for fear of retribution, they create unstoppable movements.
Yes, there are minor instances like Sen. Ben Sasse’s “blood bath” comment. Or the vote by Sen. Mitt Romney to convict Trump for his “appalling abuse” of power. But this is not enough, and in an age of disinformation and negative partisanship fed by a 24/7 opinion news cycle and social media, it does little to influence the electorate. Saudi Arabia may still prefer to beat and dismember democracy advocates, Putin still uses nerve agents, yet we in America have a leader who prefers to dispatch his rivals via tweets and childish, misogynistic, or downright racist nicknames. Trump’s words and indiscretions — such as his Bible stunt—are shrugged off or overlooked by his “team mates.” Unfortunately, these are not innocent acts. Trump’s tweets feed harmful conspiracy theories, embolden white supremacist and militia groups, and threaten the health of our pluralistic, civil, and democratic nation.
If, after the fever breaks, true conservatives do not stand up, I fear the desire for change may never come or there will be nobody — especially young voices — left. History will not forget those who allowed this man to deconstruct the values and institutions that have made America the greatest country in the world. Obtaining a long sought-after court pick, policy outcome, or regulatory burden removed is not a justification. History will not judge kindly those who said nothing and will judge those even less kindly who wait until Trump is no longer a threat to speak up.
But even more important, it is also the reason I implore people to stick with the Republican Party and not give up on their conservative ideals.
I am not worried about a totalitarian regime led by Trump taking over, our nation is too strong and his resolve too weak. I am more fearful of the stain his legacy will leave on this country and the GOP. I am also fearful that there will not be any young, committed, and forward-thinking conservatives left to rebuild the party. When we see people of conviction and integrity, good people, people of faith, like Amy Coney Barrett, or Vice President Mike Pence not standing up to Trump, it is more than concerning, it is the ultimate betrayal. It will take good people from within — younger and committed conservatives — to say enough is enough. Only with a strong internal challenge will we as America shake this terrible fever. I hope it too shall pass; it cannot come soon enough.
Benjamin L. Gerber is a former director of energy and labor policy for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, an energy attorney, board member of the Minnesota Conservative Energy Forum, and believer that we can always do better.
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