2021 Republican Party Victory? 1877 = 2021

Wounded GOP
HARPER’s Magazine 1877

On January 13, 2021, the House of Representatives completed a historic second vote for impeachment of President Donald J. Trump. Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) announced he was open to voting in favor of conviction in the Senate. McConnell was clearly trying to protect the conservative core of the GOP as corporate and private donors declare they will no longer contribute to the political campaigns for Trump’s enablers and possibly, the entire party. Likewise, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced that President Trump “bears responsibility” for the riotous attack on the US Capitol. However, McCarthy, also sought to appease Trump supporters by walking a tightrope, holding the President responsible for the riot, but voting against impeachment.

Donald J. Trump earned the votes of 74 million Americans in 2020. Most of those voters live in heavily gerrymandered districts. Even after January 5th certification of the presidential election results, a majority of Republicans believed the presidential election was compromised by fraud in the states. It is increasingly difficult for moderates in both the Democrat and Republican parties to win in gerrymandered politics. This is especially true for members of the House of Representatives. Hardcore Trump supporters comprise 35% or more of voters in red GOP House districts. Republican House members need those votes to stay in power. Some may also fear for their lives and the safety of their family members after threats from Trump extremists.

In 1877, the Republican Party made a compromise to win a victory they believed would save the GOP. In an unwritten agreement, GOP leaders agreed to end Reconstruction in order to win the White House for the Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes. It was a victory for Republicans, but in hindsight came at a tremendous price.

Ending Reconstruction killed the possibility of redistributing wealth in the South built on slavery along with any possibility of political and social equality for blacks in the former Confederacy. The action also underscored the American status quo built on white supremacy throughout the entire United States. Further, many poor whites were disenfranchised and disadvantaged as Jim Crow became a model for establishing racial hierarchies in America. The Republicans were victorious in 1877, but the party’s ideals of greater equality for all Americans were badly wounded. Hopes that the Civil War and Reconstruction would open pathways to a more equitable America where “all men are created equal” and had the right to profit from their labor died in the shadows of political compromise.

I applaud the Democrats and 10 Republicans in the House of Representatives for voting for impeachment on January 13, 2021. They voted to condemn a president who incited a violent attack on Congress by fueling false claims that he won a fair election that he clearly lost. Moving forward, even if it is painful, today’s Republicans must purge Trump and his hardline supporters from the GOP. Without that, the party will be wounded in ways that will ultimately weaken American democracy and any hope of living up to the country’s ideals. The US needs two healthy parties for democracy to survive.

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