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EDITORIAL: The Grand Old Party is at a crossroads as Americans suffer

Abraham Lincoln | Sun-Times file photo

Here in the Land of Lincoln, we are forever entwined with the Republican Party, which our state’s namesake led to greatness.

So we, perhaps more than any other state, are aghast at the party’s casual abandonment of its historical principles and its lurch toward bellicosity, nationalism, divisiveness and militarism.

We put on our stovepipe hats and ask: Where is the Republican Party that was grounded in solid good sense, in civic-minded virtue? Where is the party that had a stirring vision of national greatness that included us all? Where is the party that reminds us a house divided against itself cannot stand?

EDITORIAL

Where is the party that would have stood tall against the shameful, vainglorious greed that Washington, D.C., exults in today, against the cynical fomenting of racial animosity, against the needless provocations in foreign policy?

Where is the party that would say that a tax-cut plan, such as the one now under consideration in our nation’s capital, cannot explode the budget deficit and favor only the wealthy?

To our Republican friends we say: We need an articulate, right-of-center political party, a party that is thoughtful, with a consistent point of view. Instead, we see a party riven between a powerful mega-donor wing out to enrich itself and an opposing wing chiefly motivated by inchoate rage, a rage that rides high in the polls in every primary.

Yes, the Democratic Party has enormous problems of its own. It lost a presidential contest to a crass narcissist. It has failed to persuade many members of the working class it has their interests at heart. As an opposition party, it struggles to seize any significant part of the nation’s agenda.

But the Republican Party’s fall has been wider and deeper, to the detriment of the nation.

Average Americans are struggling as they grapple with problems that at times feel insurmountable. Young adults no longer can count on earning more than their parents did. Wages have been stagnant for decades. Rapid technological change feels threatening. Too many people live paycheck to paycheck, or without a steady paycheck at all. They need a political party that is in their corner.

This is a time for open, enlightened, caring debate between political parties, a time for creating a swirling cauldron of opinions from which the best ideas arise.

Instead, we see voters viscerally cleaving to parties or groups, motivated too much by intense dislike of their opponents. We see debate framed as a winner-take-all, zero-sum game in which one side wins only if the other loses. We see a scramble to suppress votes rather than a campaign to win voters over.

This is not entirely the party’s fault. With his egomania and childish and divisive tactics, President Donald Trump has pulled the underside of American politics into the limelight. He seeks to lay blame for America’s ills at the feet of immigrants, international trade and the “elites.” But even before Trump, the Republican Party was stoking racial tensions as part of its “Southern strategy,” pushing for tax cuts to benefit the wealthy and taking aim at programs, such as Social Security, that benefit ordinary people.

Gov. Bruce Rauner on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Screen grab from campaign video.

Three Republican senators — John McCain, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake — have recently called passionately for a return to traditional Republican values. But none of them is running for re-election. We fervently hope to hear more such voices. Unfortunately, the other 49 Republicans in the U.S. Senate and the Republicans in the House have showed no sign of heeding their words. Even here in Illinois, a Republican governor campaigning for re-election seems more interested in driving around the state on a motorcycle, dressed to appeal to alienated voters, than in calling for unity.

America’s foes revel in this opportunity to turn us against one another. A party of rancor cannot defend us from such threats. Give us back a political party that unites us, that binds us together with a vision for the future and an appreciation of the nation’s proud successes of the past.

Only a political party committed to those ideals can give us the government of the people, by the people, for the people that Lincoln so greatly cherished.

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