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Mind of a Progressive: Bookends on The History of The Republican Presidency

by Gary Thompson

My wife and I went to see the movie Lincoln at the Smoot Theater Sept. 13.  This is part of a collaboration between the College (WVU Parkersburg) and the Smoot Theater called “Challenges to Democracy”.  It is a film series, and showtime is every second Thursday of the month from September through December.  Future movies will include Selma (the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery) and Milk (San Francisco’s Gay rights activist city supervisor, gunned down in his office by another city supervisor).  Milk is especially poignant to me as I lived in San Francisco for 20 years before moving back to Parkersburg.  It looks like it will be a great series.

But enough about the series … The movie was great; how could it not be?  … it was directed by Steven Spielberg (Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, The Post, etc.).  It very effectively portrayed the push, led by Lincoln, during the four months from Jan. 1865 to April 1865 to gain passage of the 13th Amendment in the US House of Representatives.  The 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America abolished slavery and involuntary servitude within the boundaries of the United States.  That Amendment had been passed by the Senate in Dec. 1864.  The movie depicts the struggle between the moderate wing of the newly formed Republican party (it held its first convention ever just 11 years earlier in 1854) the anti-amendment faction of the House led by the Democrats and the radical left wing faction of the Republican party.

Radical left wing faction of the Republican party … in that day and age it seems like an oxymoron of a sentence.  But in those days, that’s what it was.  Those radicals believed not just in “equality under the law” for Negros in America, but that they were, in fact, Human Beings equal in every way to the white people of America.  Such blasphemy! … the radicals were ridiculed by the Democrats that if this amendment were to pass that the US would start down a slippery slope from which it could never return.  Next thing you know Negros would be enfranchised with the right to vote, Women would be enfranchised with the right to vote!  Why, even inter racial marriages would follow from this vote.  Everyone know that was a sin against man and God!

Spoiler Alert!!!  The amendment passed.  Plenty of political sausage making was required, but the amendment finally passed.

Watching this movie, I was struck by the juxtaposition of the Republican party of 1865 and the Republican party of 2018.  In 1865 the Republican party had a dominating left wing faction that disrupted the House of Representatives in much the same way that the current right wing faction of the 2018 Republican party, called the Freedom Caucus, disrupts the modern House of Representatives.  The difference is that the convictions that drive them are in polar opposition.

The 1865 Republican party under Lincoln’s leadership believed in equality for all.  They fought tirelessly to grant the rights promised by the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution to all Americans, including and especially, possibly the most disenfranchised minority of the time; the American Negro, in most states held as slaves, bought and sold as chattel.  This fight eventually led to the passage of the 15th Amendment which gave American Negros the right to vote, the 19th Amendment which gave women, of all colors, creeds and religions the right to vote, Brown v Board of Education, the repeal of Jim Crow laws, Loving v Virginia which struck down laws banning inter racial marriage and most recently Obgerfell v Hodges which grants same sex marriage to same sex couples.   The Democrats of 1865 were correct.  Passage of that 13th Amendment definitely sent this country down a slippery slope, but it is one of which most American are extremely proud.  Very few of us want to go back to the “good old days” of Jim Crow or beyond.

But some of us do.  Neo-Nazi and White Supremasits have gained their voice with the rise of the post-truth modern Republican party led by Donald Trump.  Federal courts have to force Republican controlled states to redraw their congressional districts because they have gerrymandered them with the express intend of disenfranchising African Americans from their vote.

Lincoln signed an Executive Order, called the Emancipation Proclamation, that freed Negro slaves in the American South.  Donald Trump has signed an Executive Order, called the Muslim Ban, whose goal according to Trump himself is a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States

Republican Abolitionists established the Underground Railroad to help American slaves escape slavery and establish themselves as free in the northern states.  Trumpist Republican want to “Build The Wall” in order to keep oppressed Latinos out of this country.

Republican Abolitionists fought against families of American slaves being torn apart and sold to different owners due to the fact that they were considered no different than horses or cattle.  Republicans, led by Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions tear Latino families apart and put preschool children into cages at America’s southern border for the express purpose of “deterring immigration”.

Lincoln memorialized the fallen veterans from both the North and South in his Gettysburg Address.  Trump likes “people who weren’t captured”, and refused to even maintain the flag at half mast on the passing of John McCain; an undisputed, old school Republican war hero.

Yes, I was struck considering the evolution of the Republican party, Lincoln to Trump.  Bookends in the history of Republican presidents.

In the words of Cindy McCain “The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great.”

In my words “Let’s Make the Republican Party Great Again!”

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