Betrayal is a bitter feeling, the sharp taste of bile rising in the back of one’s throat as the proverbial knife is sunk deep into one’s back. There’s a hopelessness, a sort of dull ache that sort of trickles from behind the eyes as the deception is laid bare, followed closely by the sharp feeling of nausea. This, of course, is merely the initial reaction. The reality in the duplicity, in this sort of bifurcation of self, is that one never truly recovers. The emotional wounds scar over with tough tissue, and one never truly trusts again. Remaining in the arrogant belief that one’s friends or family would never cross that trust no longer a possibility, the only recourse is to move forward in plain disregard of the words of those closest to one’s self. This is how it feels watching the Republican Party today. A bitter, nearly hateful anger burns inside as I find myself questioning everything I once believed to the deepest cores of myself.
I was raised a member of the Republican Party. The Party in which I had always desired to work and grow, to study the Founders and carry forth a vision for the benign influence of good laws under a free government. I deified the words of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, they became my Bible. I took them at their face, and I bent the knee to conservative-libertarian beliefs. My father and I often relished in the words of the Founders together, we studied American history together and I cultivated a passion for politics and history rooted in the steadfast belief in American exceptionalism.
My dad read American history to me as some fathers share the music of their childhood, playing the hits. From my father, I learned about the American Revolution and the patriotism of the colonists who bucked a great and tyrannical power in the name of their own freedom. I learned about the Civil War, and how Republican Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves and crushed the Southern uprising in the name of national unity, giving his life as a martyr for the cause of binding the wounds of a broken nation. It was a Republican who freed the slaves, I was constantly reminded, and it was the Democrats that built the systems of slavery. I was told the stories of soldiers in the Second World War who liberated great European cities like Rome and Paris from tyranny, and how Berlin slipped into the angry grasp of the communists. We discussed the rise of communism as anti-American, and how socialism must never take root here. We talked about how the success of the 90’s came from Reaganomics in the 80’s, and the great promise of capitalism. He decried college educations as a waste of money, and pushed for the trades as an alternative. My dad was a Republican through and through, and he made me into one too. But there came time where my father became disillusioned with the Party. He began to call himself “libertarian” as opposed to Republican, or conservative. He began to say that he was a “constitutionalist” who just “wanted the constitution upheld.” He told me that the best way to ensure I got the information from the media correctly, I should hear it from multiple sources. I should seek truth, not news. I took this to heart and harbored a general mistrust of individual news media. I know today that I was not alone, and my father was not alone in these feelings.
When I was 15, I began attending Minnesota Teenage Republicans meetings. At 18, I was working at the Minnesota State Fair GOP booth. By 22, I was attending BPOU meetings and having coffee with my state representatives. I was well on my way to being a full-fledged member of the Party and was planning to run for Congress by the time I was 30. I believed so strongly in the principles of the Republican Party and conservatism that I would have all-out arguments with my friends and my girlfriend over issues like over-taxation and the suppression of free markets by bloated bureaucracy. I was engaging in debates at bars with complete strangers over the issues of legalization of marijuana and police brutality. I cited John Locke to more people than I care to admit. I attended pro-life rallies in Minneapolis, I attended Tea Party events prior to the 2010 midterm elections. In all honesty, I was probably too overzealous, and I drove more people away than I brought in. But I was young, and I knew what I believed and it was ridiculous to me that anyone could believe differently.
2016 changed me, though. It damaged me, in ways that still manifest themselves today. After years of feeling like Republicans were in the political wilderness, that neoconservatives were being demonized for, I was caucusing for Ted Cruz. He was not my first choice, that choice was Marco Rubio. Both fizzled in spineless, feckless whimpers to the one candidate I vowed I would never support. I said then that the Republicans rolled in radioactive waste, believing it would make them a superhuman, and denied the cancer that followed. They won the battle, and they claimed they had won the war. Many of my heroes, those whom I idolized within the party, had sold themselves out to defend this man in the name of winning an election. As it came out later, we learned that they not only sold themselves out to win, but they sold out the integrity of the Party as well. Their nomination of Donald Trump, and subsequent election influenced by Russia at the invitation of the candidate, put me into my own political wilderness. I left the Party, and I began to cast about seeking answers to the questions I now held. My trust in the system was demolished.
Was I lied to? Were the things that I was told as a child not true? Were the beliefs I held so flimsy, that they would be thrown away by those who are supposed to protect them? I leaned into libertarianism further, and explored the Libertarian Party, but it was not for me. I went to college for the first time, and spent my time in classes which challenged my worldview. I thought carefully for the first time about issues which had never been anything other than opposition views to my mindset, such as racial, gender, and class inequality. The lessons I’d learned in my childhood had framed how I took in the information my father had taught me. Of course I would overlook the scope of slavery in the Civil War, there was no discussion of how it impacted the war itself in my lessons. The stories of segregation in the United States and Jim Crow were lost on my childhood, instead being pushed to focus on our great victories in World War II. “Manifest Destiny” was not a dirty word in my household, it was seen as the nation taking its mantle as the greatest nation in the world. But we’d never discussed the genocide committed against the Native nations along the way, and the bodies upon which we built our nation. I took philosophy classes which took a depth into John Locke and the philosophies of Enlightenment which I had never considered, and challenged my beliefs on the scope and purpose of government.
To say it bluntly, everything I had ever learned, believed, or been taught, was a bald faced lie told to preserve my sense of patriotism and to use it as a veil to uphold the teetering grasp on power which Republicans believed that they held. They used emotional manipulation surrounding the history and legacy of my home, a history and legacy built on half-truths and fabrications, a sales pitch, to prevent myself and millions of others from thinking critically about our true legacy and history. I had been betrayed by those whom I trusted the most. I had been betrayed by the ideology under which I had made grave decisions, ended and began friendships, risked relationships, voted for leaders, and who I listened to and trusted in the media was based in my perception of their steadfast belief in the nation as I was told it existed. My father went the other way, following the Republican Party down the rabbit hole of conspiracy and falsehood. He stopped listening to multiple sources, instead getting his information from The Blaze and The Epoch Times. He began to argue that he needed to defend the President because no one in the media would, and that any attacks I levied on the President were based on corrupt sources. It culminated one day in his kitchen, as I shared news from the day about yet another sign of corruption from the President. He accused me of relishing in the President’s pain, and that I enjoyed the idea that the President of the United States should be investigated. I saw in his eyes the same fiery, defensive attitude which I also saw in the President’s fiercest defenders in the media.
In his accusations, his anger, and his defensive stance, I felt the last tie to the America I had been raised to believe in slip away into a pain of existential crisis. I fell deep into a hole of self doubt, where the questions I had been asking myself for three years became my cushion, and then became by defense. I asked my dad the questions which became my sword and shield against those who speak in favor of the President: “how can you claim to believe what you do, yet defend a man who defies them,” “what do you believe the purpose of government really is, if not to defend its own people,” and I asked him “what do you stand for?” My dad, like every other person to whom I have posed these questions, could not answer.
When laid bare, drawn out of the shell of “constitutional libertarianism” and the word-shields of false histories and fairy tales of an idyllic Americana, my father and his Republican peers have shown the shame of what they have truly done. What these people have done is to adopt a willful ignorance of fact in the face of comfort, to take the easy road instead of the road of hard work, to appeal to the deepest fears of the lowest common denominators in our nation. My father is not a stupid man. He is, by every measure, one of the smartest men I know. He is a man who puts more importance on faith and family than he does on politics. He does not trust easily, but equally does not give up trust equally. He is deeply patriotic, and he loves this nation with his whole heart, a love which he passed to myself and my siblings as well. In many ways, this made him ripe to be duped by American conservatism. It made him an easy mark for con men like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, and Rand Paul, who prey on the patriotic and turn their passion for their country into a vitriolic defense of their leaders.
It is, in many ways, an ideological cult which decries dissent as “attacks,” and begs defense in the name of fairness. Soon, these defenders of fairness find themselves agreeing with those whom do not share their values simply for the sake of defending a person or leader whom they believe has been treated unfairly. It prevents these patriots from seeing the facts clearly, as any dissent is an attack. To state the facts of American history contrary to their belief is an attack on American history, to state the facts about the history of oppression in this nation and its continuance today is an attack on those who serve America, and to speak plainly about the high crimes and misdemeanors of the President of the United States is an attack on the President and the country he serves. If you state facts contrary to the idea of pure patriotism, you cannot agree with patriotism. If you do not agree, you are an enemy. If you are an enemy, you cannot be trusted. This is the trap into which Republicans have led millions of their constituents, to turn their own patriotism into a weapon to be used to attack their own ideals, as well as the ideals they had previously defended. The Republican Party has perpetrated a fraud upon their own members and supporters, upon their own ideology.
I believed it too, you’re not alone. I believed the lies because they made me feel good. These lies made me feel proud to be an American, not because the country was great, but because I was told lies that made me believe that the country was ideal, that it could not be better than our history. I was told that the country was in decline because of the Democrats’ ideas and failures, and that we must defeat them and return to what made America great. This, too, was a lie. America is not great because of what we are, or what we have been. Patriotism rooted in truth comes from the idea of American greatness comes from the idea of tomorrow, the belief in a more perfect union, constantly unfinished. The most damaging lie which conservatism has adopted is that our pinnacle is behind us. You don’t have to believe that. The Republicans, like American history, do not need defense in the name of some ill-defined fairness that holds them to a lower standard of conduct simply because the messenger of the facts does not hold the same political beliefs. We must accept, like my father taught me, that when all of the sources point the same direction, we must not turn to the idea of grand conspiracy. We must learn to see truth and fact.
There’s pain in betrayal. There are deep wounds in addressing the fact that we were duped for our entire lives, that the things for which we fought hard were based in lies to uphold the power of others at our own expense. There is embarrassment in believing lies. We must admit that we were lied to, and that we defended those lies because they comforted us. Then, we must stand up to call them for what they are and the pain which they have caused. Our government must reflect our values, and the fact of the matter is that the Republican Party abandoned our values for the prize of temporary victory. They played us for fools to envelope themselves in immense power.
If it’s truly to be morning in America, then it’s time for those of us who wandered to wake up. It’s time for us to speak out about the lies, and to be there for those who come to the same realization that we were lied to. Most importantly, it’s time for us to relish in the truth, that our best is not behind us. We can build a more perfect union. The first step is to bind the wounds of the betrayal, and to scrub the infection of the lies with facts and with truth.