Donald Trump: The Picture of the GOP


In the Oscar Wilde novel – “The Picture of Dorian Gray” – a young handsome man looks upon a portrait of himself and wishes that the picture would grow old instead of himself. Mystery grants his wish, and he never grows old. Not only does his face never reflect the corruption of aging, but the physical effects of his sins show only on the picture. His cruelties, debaucheries, depravities, vulgarities, and even murder turn what once was a representation of youth and beauty into an ugly grotesquery, a witness to his sordid monstrousness.
As this much too long presidential campaign comes to an end, I say that Donald Trump, the presidential nominee of the Republican Party, the man elected by Republican voters and half-heartedly supported by the GOP leadership, is not some stranger from a strange land that has kidnapped an innocent political party and turned it into something that it is not. I say: Trump is the Republican Party. He is the picture of the GOP that shows a party that has traded its soul for votes.
Slavery and racism are the original sins of the United States, a nation, as Lincoln says in the Gettysburg address, “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” They became internal contradictions of a country that wanted to preserve both freedom and equality, both equality and property. This is especially difficult when there are millions of human beings who are neither free nor equal under the law, and, at the same time, considered to be the property of citizens. They are, according to the Constitution, counted as only three-fifths of a person.
In the 1850s, the question of the spread of slavery to territories carved from land taken from Mexico after the Mexican-American war led to protests in the North. A group of citizens from the dying Whig Party, the Democratic Party, and the Free Soil Party gathered in Ripon, Wisconsin and decided to form a new Republican Party if the Kansas-Nebraska Act became law. The founders of the party chose the name Republican to honor Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republican Party of the 1790s. They wanted a party to promote civic virtue, to stop the spread of slavery, and to provide opportunities for small farmers and the common person.
Immigration was also an issue in the 1850s. The suspicious groups were Irish and German. Many of them were Catholics in a predominantly Protestant country. The Irish were accused of not wanting to assimilate and to become American. There was worry about their influence in the electoral process. Later, during World War I, the problem would be the loyalty to America of German-Americans and any other hyphenated groups.
The Republican Party, like every other institution in the United States, could not escape race prejudice, and it found itself having to live with its own internal contradictions. During and after the Civil War, it became a party that not only saw itself as a party for the ordinary person, but it also became identified with big business interests in the East and in the Midwest. The party of Lincoln accomplished many great things at its inception and since — the end of slavery, the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments that ended slavery, provided for equal protection of the law for citizens, and guaranteed equal voting rights for men, respectively. Yet, the party that today claims to be the party of small government expanded the role of the federal government with the income tax, a national bank, a give-away of public land in the West and the transcontinental railroad.
Humankind faces a complex struggle over the good, the bad and the in between. Political parties are human institutions that cannot escape this struggle. The question becomes: what does the party and its leaders choose? When Donald Trump says that immigrants coming into the United States must demonstrate that they accept American values, he is showing the traces of Theodore Roosevelt and the Anarchist Exclusion Act, or the Immigration Act of 1903. T.R. said about anarchists or people who were hostile to government:
“They and those like them should be kept out of this country; and if found here they should be promptly deported to the country whence they came.”
Progressives applaud Theodore Roosevelt for all the progressive things he did, including conserved natural resources; busted monopolistic companies; enacted regulations on meat inspection and pure food and drugs; and regulated railroad prices. He was the first American president to win a Nobel Peace Prize for the negotiated end to the Russo-Japanese War.
While he also was the first president to welcome an African-American – Booker T. Washington — to the White House to dine with him, his disposition of the Brownsville matter was a stain on his reputation. In 1906 in the town of Brownsville, Texas, a shooting incident killed a white bartender and wounded a white police officer. Local whites accused black soldiers stationed at Fort Brown of being responsible for the shootings. The white commanding officers said all the black soldiers were in the barracks at the time of the shootings. When the soldiers were asked to name the person among them who was responsible, they did not. They could not. Roosevelt waited until after the November election to dismiss the 167 soldiers without honor, causing them to lose their pensions. In the 1970s further investigations proved the soldiers were innocent and the army reversed the 1906 order.
We see this grotesquery reflected in Donald Trump’s refusal to admit that the Central Park Five are innocent. In 1989, a young white woman was raped and assaulted while jogging in New York City’s Central Park. Four young black men and one Latino were convicted of the assault and served between six and 13 years in prison. In 2002 another man confessed to the assault, and DNA evidence supported his confession. The young men were released and were later given a multi-million dollar settlement. At the time of the incident, Trump bought full-page ads in New York’s major newspapers to call for the death penalty in the case. After their release, he thought that the young men did not deserve a multi-million dollar settlement for the years they spent in prison. He has refused to acknowledge their innocence during his presidential campaign. (
When Trump suggested rounding up nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants and deporting them, he referenced President Dwight Eisenhower’s “Operation Wetback.” While Trump called the deportations “humane”, they were anything but. People were left in the desert with no water. Ultimately, the program was ineffective. (
The Republican Party has a long history of making the argument that government ought to be run by and for the sake of big business. These arguments go back at least to the 1920s. While Trump claims that he is running for the sake of ordinary people, his tax plan benefits the rich.
In 1964, Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee for president, did not support the civil rights bill and won the support of Dixie-crats that later became reliably Republican in the face of its southern strategy. That the KKK endorses Trump is no surprise. Richard Nixon spoke of a silent majority and law and order, anti-black code language that Trump echoes today. Ronald Reagan campaigned at the Neshoba County Fair in 1980, the county where three civil rights workers were tortured and killed in the 1960s. He spoke of state’s rights, language that his audience would have understood as giving them license to continue acts of torture and terror of the local African-American population. Reagan courted white working-class democrats in the North with talk of welfare queens, lazy African-Americans taking their hard-earned tax dollars.
George H. W. Bush won election over Michael Dukakis largely thanks to Lee Atwater’s use of Willie Horton, a black man who committed rape and assault after being furloughed from a Massachusetts prison. Supporters of George W. Bush spread rumors during the South Carolina primary that John McCain had fathered a black child. The truth is that he and his wife had adopted a dark-skinned daughter from Bangladesh.
After President Obama’s election, Republican Party leaders did not shut down the speculation that he was not born in the United States. They were happy to ride that wave, the energy that brought Donald Trump to prominence inside the party.
The 2012 Republican presidential primary was rife with the candidates trying to outdo themselves on how hard they could be on illegal immigration with loud complaints against the media. Mitt Romney had a distant relationship with the truth, with one of his top advisers saying that they would not allow the campaign to be ruled by “fact checkers.”
All of these things were shameful acts that corrupted the soul of the Republican Party and made themselves evident on the face of the party which is now Donald Trump.
In the novel, we are left to meditate upon the toll our sins take upon our soul lives and on our physical selves. We do not escape our own vulgarities, hypocrisies, and cruelties, because, in the end that is what sin is, an act or acts that rank our own lusts and longings over the well-being of another. It is the act that takes us off balance between that which is good for ourselves and that which is good for the Other. It is the idolatry of excessive self-interest.
Yes, the Democrats also have to answer for a multitude of sins. We all do. The first step is to recognize that they exist, then to confess that we were wrong and may still be wrong, and then work to increase sustenance and joy for all on the earth.
For the history of the Republican Party see:
“To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party” by Heather Cox Richardson
“The Republicans: A History of the Grand Old Party” by Lewis L. Gould
Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of and author of Just Peace Theory: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Pubic Conversation.

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