How the Republican Party lost a loyal supporter.
I used to be a Republican. Back in high school, in the 1980s, I completely bought into Cold War fear-mongering and believed that the United States needed a new kind of leadership. My parents talked about the type of Democrats there had been during the Kennedy and Johnson years and how they didn’t exist anymore in America.
During the 1970s, I waited in line at the gas stations with my father in our family car, hoping we could get enough gas to last until the next odd numbered license plate day allowed us to partially fill up once again. I had seen our country suffer heavy losses in morale during the years following the Vietnam War, and I trusted along with Mom and Dad that a charismatic candidate named Ronald Reagan would lead us to greatness once again.
In many ways, the 1980s and early 90s were a period of time when our country as a whole saw prosperity and growth. I moved out to Oklahoma in 1989 and saw first hand what a true Red State was like. Virtually everyone I knew was kind and generous in many ways. When times are good, it’s easy to support things like the arts, education and shelters. It’s not difficult to feed someone who doesn’t look or act like you, but if they believe differently, well that could cause some ripples on an otherwise steady political pond, where “our way” is right and a different way is wrong.
Then, during the 1990s, my ideology slowly began to shift. The change in my way of thinking didn’t happen suddenly. The Republican Party didn’t lose me all at once; our divorce took several years to finalize. What I began to see were a specific set of principles and priorities that manifested themselves into a belief system I could not espouse. I wasn’t recognizing the party I thought I had known in my high school days. It seemed like the party was changing. I had voted President George Herbert Bush into office with my first eligible presidential ballot, and then I voted his son into his first term, largely swayed by what was my adopted home state of Oklahoma at the time. That was the last time I voted Republican.
What initially attracted me to the Republican Party, if I’m honest, was the idea that if I worked hard enough, I could get rich. After all, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, the mouthpieces of Republicans during the 90s, told me that was all I needed, and neither one of them had ever gone to college. The message I took in was that anyone could pull himself up by his own bootstraps, opportunity existed for everyone and the government was the enemy.
What I slowly began to realize as I became an adult, got married, and had children was that bootstraps don’t exist but social contracts do. Opportunity is available to those with the right connections and our government is meant to be of the people, by the people, for the people. When we make that which is beneficial to us all a societal priority, we make life better for ourselves and for everyone.
I make my living as an actor and writer. I see how important the arts are to society on a daily basis. They should receive substantial support. While there are many republicans who do support the arts, I know of very few who feel there should be support on the national level. To be a truly great and lasting civilization, the arts must be a high priority. The continued lack of support of the arts from Republicans during my 13 years in Oklahoma beat kinks into my loyalty armor. That hit me where I live; but it was more than just personal, it affected the entire community.
I also began to see a significant difference in what Republicans and Democrats value when times get tough. When the financial crisis hit, many people lost a great deal of money. Certain banks were too big to fail, and executives were allowed to continue to make obscene amounts of money when they should have been in jail. Those at the highest levels of government deemed that the lives of those at the highest levels of business should be largely unchanged, while those who had worked hard and prudently invested suffered greatly.
What struck me on an everyday level, however, was the general attitude that surfaced on social media and on the streets regarding the general population’s individual ambitions as we recovered. I didn’t recognize it during the “Me” era of the Reagan days, but it was surely there. The general attitude of the Republican was “I’ll get mine for me and my family, and you get yours” while the Democrats seemed to display an attitude of “We’ll do better as individuals if we first do better as a community.”
In the end, it all came down to what type of society I wanted to live in; one where everyone looks out for himself, or one in which we all look out for each other. Party allegiance isn’t what it used to be. Like the Democrat ideals of my parents’ early political days and the Republican worldviews of mine, party visions change with the times. The question shouldn’t be, what party do you support? It should be what kind of person do I want to be?