OTHER VOICES: The Founders Would Gag at Today’s Republicans

Editors’ Note: Excerpted from the July 5, 2019, New York Times.

The cult of Trump has embraced values and beliefs that Jefferson, Washington and Lincoln abhorred.

By Timothy Egan

Image result for cult of trumpKids in cages and tanks for the tyrant. After that dictator-friendly Fourth of July, it’s time for all true patriots to conduct a political gut check.

Like many people, I’m worried about the Democrats. A majority of Americans are desperate for someone to dislodge the despot from the White House. And yet some Democrats are pushing policy positions — such as taking away private health insurance from more than 150 million people — that are deeply unpopular.

But as troubled as I am by the Democrats, I’m terrified of the Republicans. In numerous surveys of a party that has adopted the worst pathologies of President Trump, Republicans have shown themselves to be explicitly anti-American. The Founders would gag. So would Abraham Lincoln.

Consider the Republicans’ view of the First Amendment, the most sacred of the freedoms embedded in this country’s governing blueprint. Just under half of Republicans now believe government should be able to shut down “biased or inaccurate media.” And close to half of Republicans have adopted Trump’s authoritarian view that the news media is “the enemy of the people.”

I don’t expect Republicans to know Thomas Jefferson’s words by heart — that if he were forced to choose between “a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” This from a man who was subject to a lifetime of biased and inaccurate press.

Regarding the other foundational liberty in the First Amendment, restricting an “establishment of religion” by the state, the cult of Trump would throw that under a steamroller of bigotry as well.

A majority of Republicans think Christianity should be the established national religion. And half of all Southerners — the deepest, most anti-American part of Trump’s base, with the DNA of Civil War traitors still coursing through the region — believe the United States was founded as an “explicitly Christian” nation.

George Washington made clear it was otherwise in a letter to a Jewish congregation in 1790 celebrating religious tolerance and diversity. “The citizens of the United States have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy,” he wrote.

Jefferson expressed a similar feeling, touting a homeland for “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.”

Another founder, the immigrant Alexander Hamilton, would get the boot from Trump’s Republicans. He distrusted populists who disdain the rule of law, so there’s no place for him, a due process enthusiast, among the “lock her up” crowd. And he believed that immigrants were a source of greatness and renewal — a sentiment still shared by a majority of Americans.

But as they have picked up Trump’s hatreds as their own, Republicans have turned a cold shoulder to the wretched masses yearning to breathe free. Less than 40 percent of Republicans, in three recent polls, now believe immigrants are a benefit to the country. This could be because of ignorance: Even though the vast majority, 77 percent, of immigrants in this country are legal, a plurality of Republicans believe they are not.

Trump has compared himself to Abraham Lincoln, which is like comparing a noxious weed to a redwood tree. When the anti-immigrant Know Nothing party was at its height in the 1850s, Lincoln had this to say: “I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be?” He continued, “As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it, ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.’”

The modern-day Know-Nothings are the pink-faced mobs calling for a wall at Trump rallies. They are the architects of a government policy that puts children in filthy cages and forces them to drink fetid water, that sees helpless and newly orphaned babies as subhuman — all while laughing at the cruelty.

Democracy is not mentioned in the Constitution nor in the Declaration of Independence. It’s a human construct, more fragile than any of us believed until now. But when it’s gone, no one should be surprised.

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