Let’s address the elephant in the room

By: Kiley Roach

Throughout the last two weeks, several of our speakers and site visit hosts have reiterated the sentiment that the Republican Party has devolved into the party of Donald Trump. The party is no longer loyal to its Reagan-year roots of fiscal responsibility, moral governing, and open-door trade policies. Instead, the issues that have been pulled into focus were the campaign promises of candidate Trump, such as immigration, withdrawing from NAFTA, appointing swaths of conservative federal judges, and removing troops from the Middle East. In addition to these shifts in policy priorities, many have associated the Trump’s rhetoric with more radical, right-wing extremism and racist attitudes.

Whether or not the perception that the Republican Party is bigoted and hateful is true (which is not my perception, but I that is a topic for another blog post), conservatives in the party that do not hold such attitudes have been deemed guilty by association. Members of Congress like Steve King (R-IA4), who have been made racist remarks or expressed their allegiance to white supremacist ideologies, are emblematic of this splintering alt-right faction of the party. King has since been stripped of his committee assignments and asked to resign due to the remarks, showing that Republican Party leadership stands in opposition to such rhetoric. Regardless of the action taken by Congressional leadership, the inflammatory rhetoric used by the President binds extremism with Republicanism.

These are unsteady waters for most conservatives to navigate, especially for conservatives of color. Today, at the Washington Center, Ron Christie spoke with students about his books, Black in the White House, Acting White, and Blackwards. Christie described his experiences working as a young, ambitious senior advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney in the early 2000s. While his books refer to the integration of his racial identity with that of his Republican identity while working under the Bush Administration, his remarks today hardly touched on the intersection between race and politics.

I approached Christie after his keynote had concluded, and I asked him about how he, as a black man, marries his conservative ideology with his racial identity in a time where they are viewed as mutually exclusive traits. Without hesitating, he gave me a concise answer:

“You know, it’s really hard.” 

He went on to emphasize that the coalition of hateful and extreme Republicans within the party is a small faction and not representative of the party as a whole. He told me that, while they are loud, they are vastly outnumbered. He told me that he often gets questioned about why he remains a conservative even though he is a person of color. All I could do was listen and nod.

Christie is representative of an underserved and largely unheard portion of the Republican Party. Earlier in the day, I heard a fellow student refer to him as a “controversial” speaker because of his “conflicting” identities. I’m not sure they were right.

It is no secret that the values of the Republican Party are shifting under the influence of Donald Trump’s leadership. However, I am not convinced that the party is simply moving towards more extreme ends or widely holds racist attitudes. The era of Reagan was one that trailblazed the meaning of being a conservative: it meant being moral, being smart with spending, and being protective of Constitutional liberties. The era of Trump may not be defined by those principles, but that does not necessarily indicate that entire the party is moving in the wrong direction.

These are still open debates. As we move closer and closer to 2020, it seems evident that candidates that readily accuse Trump (or any other potential primary challenger to Trump) of being racist and bigoted. This uncivilized discourse is not conducive to progress and disincentivizes bipartisan cooperation now and in the future. If the American people writ large are opposed to alt-right rhetoric, then they must take it upon themselves to reclaim responsibility for their representatives and promptly remove them from office. That is how democracy functions. That’s how you address the elephant in the room.

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