(Note: the following was my response to a reader who wondered what has become of the Republican Party)
Once upon a time, beginning the 1850s, America had two political parties, called Republican and Democratic, that shared a common responsibility for governing the country. They had different ideas about war and peace, spending and taxation, as parties generally do and they competed every four years to see which one would have the opportunity to put its ideas to the test.
Then things changed. Beginning 30 years ago with the election of Ronald Reagan, which more than anything else validated for the right wing of the GOP that America was and must be forever more a "center/right nation," Republicans got it in their head that the purpose of politics was not to govern at all but to advance a very specific project to roll back the 20th century and undo all those changes that kept white Christians and wealthy businessmen from running the country as they saw fit. And so anyone who got in their way had to be stopped or destroyed by whatever means possible.
And so it is no coincidence that of the two non-Republicans who have been elected post-Reagan the first was impeached and the second denied the dignity of fellow citizenship.
Looked at this way it makes perfect sense that the right wing of the Republican Party would take to the streets within a few short weeks of the new president's inauguration in an effort to de-legitimize him for precisely the same thing their own most recent president was most guilty of himself, namely driving the nation into debt.
This is not our grandfather's Republican Party. And within the context of American traditions, history, conventions and democratic norms, it is not even an American one but one rooted in an authoritarian conception of the one-party state and the division of the populace into "legitimate," i.e. god-fearing, conservative and perhaps even Christian Americans and everyone else who supports the Democratic Party.
Not all Republicans feel this way, but enough to shape the character of the party and control the behavior of people like Mitt Romney who need it to achieve their life-long dream of doing something his father never did, become President of the United States.
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