Power Over Principle

If the founding fathers had witnessed the last twelve months of American politics, they would be rolling over in their graves. In the af­termath of the most turbulent election cycle in decades, Americans seem to have forgotten the most basic founding principles of the coun­try. When the founding fathers gathered to craft the constitution, they were driven by the pur­suit of achieving the common goals written in the preamble through compromise: establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, promoting the general welfare, and others. Without com­promise, our bicameral legislature, for example, would have never been implemented. Both the Democratic and Republican parties are respon­sible for resisting compromise today. However, while the former has expanded on (and arguably radicalized) its historical positions of higher taxes and federal government oversight, the latter has strayed from its founding principles of individual and regional freedom. In abandoning its tradition­al values for the sheer preservation of its power, the Republican Party is falling off the rails.

The transformation of the Republican Party is due in large part to the changing opinions of the electorate. During this election cycle, support for the Republican Party has come from both true conservatives and individuals who are simply fed up with governmental gridlock and feel left behind. Even establishment Republicans are ral­lying behind Donald Trump, a man who strong­ly challenges traditional notions of conservatism, as a last-ditch effort to save their party from a potentially irreparable rift. Even Speaker Paul Ryan, the figurehead of the Republican Party, has resigned to supporting Trump, even after condemning Trump’s most polarizing comments and threats. Ryan’s endorsement symbolizes the extent to which Republicans have begun to re­sist truly conservative values in favor of electoral victory.

The Republican party-before-values mentality is not limited to the federal level. Just weeks af­ter Democrat Roy Cooper was narrowly elected governor of North Carolina, the Republican state legislature voted to drastically reduce the power of the incoming governor. Some effects of this power blockade include requiring all cabinet ap­pointments to be subjected to senate approv­al and reducing the number of governor-con­trolled state employees by over two-thirds. Professor Steven Greene of North Carolina State University claims that while he thinks it “reason­able” for a legislature to vote to limit executive power, he disapproves of the decision to exe­cute such far-reaching policy in the context of a lost election. This action begs the question of whether or not North Carolina Republicans care about preserving free and fair elections or care only about their own party’s victory. If ensuring that propagating your point of view is the only way to preserve “freedom,” it may be time to go back to the drawing board and carefully con­sider the principles of compromise and collec­tive rule that the founding fathers envisioned. This turbulence begs the question of whether it is really more important for North Carolina Republicans to win and to further their party’s agenda than it is for our founding democratic principles to be upheld.

Ultimately, the Republican Party must decide whether the preservation of the Republican Party is more important than the future of the Republic. By subscribing to Trump’s bigoted rhetoric, the Republican Party indirectly alienates Black Americans, Latino Americans, women, and oth­ers. Similarly, by attempting to siphon the pow­er of the newly elected Democratic governor, North Carolina Republicans are challenging the will of the people that elected Cooper. Regardless of what Republican leaders may claim, to many Americans, by aligning with Trump and taking roundabout measures to cling to power on both the state and federal levels, the Republican Party has morphed into a party symbolizing bigotry and oppression. For a party that is supposed to emphasize individual freedoms and free market principles, how can this be?

Although one could argue that supporting the nominee of one’s party is, by virtue, a way to engage with the democratic process, this argument seems difficult to defend when it has become customary to prioritize the sheer pres­ervation of one party’s power over its guiding ideologies. The Democratic Party undoubtedly has its fair share of issues, but the Republican Party is more clearly forgetting its roots. Even after sweeping the 2016 election, Republican leaders must return to these roots and the founding principles of the Constitution instead of challenging and abandoning them in order to establish an enduring legacy. The demise of the Republican Party will come not merely with the changing attitudes of the electorate but through the abandonment of the traditional conserva­tive roots on which the party prides itself. It is essential to remember that the United States was founded with the principle aim of resist­ing tyrannical government. As such, a party that fails to acknowledge and accept the interests of the people in the face of its own thirst for pow­er is a form of tyranny in itself. As long as the Republican Party continues along this path, it will continue to menace the credibility of the state and the well-being of the American people.

Ryan Mendelson

Ryan Mendelson '19 studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at ryanmendelson@wustl.edu.

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