As a true-blue Democrat, I jumped to read this article, expecting to read about how the writer had seen the error of his ways to come over to our side. I learned a lot. I applaud his reasons for leaving the Republicans and disagree with most of his assertions about the Democratic Party (not all, however). He actually made me want to consider his anti-Democrat reasoning. What surprised me the most, however, were the beliefs of the Republican Party of the past. I found myself in agreement with almost all of them, thinking we could actually talk about these ideas. I stunned myself and thought, Oh, how wonderful it would be to stop calling one another names, to respect one another’s views, and to stop suspecting the other’s motives to be devious. At least I can dream.
Donald Trump has only pulled back the curtain and revealed what has been there for decades. Court packing has been a Republican priority for decades. Voter suppression has been a priority for decades. Extreme, irrational hatred of Hispanic people has been there for decades. Before Trump, you were able to turn a blind eye, and now you are forced to see what you refused to see before.
I think the final takeaway from Nichols’s article is that both political parties have become irrelevant for the average American. The Republican Party is catering exclusively to the ignorant zealots who are poisoning their base, and the Democrats talk tough but are afraid of scaring away the folks who would never vote for them anyway. They ignore their base, assuming incorrectly that they can just count on these people’s votes. Meanwhile, the GOP is unwilling to sacrifice power by standing up to the idiots, bigots, and corrupt in their ranks. We need new parties, ones that are less demonizing of the other side, and less crazy.
Colorado Springs, Colo.
Tom Nichols believes that “America is an exceptional nation with a global mission” and “that we are, in fact, a shining city on a hill and an example to others.” I am not American, and it never ceases to amaze me how deeply the myth of American exceptionalism penetrates, even to highly educated, articulate people who construct subtle, politically self-aware arguments such as he does.
America is one country amongst many on this planet, with many great things about it but also many deep, deep flaws. For many of us living in Europe, America absolutely isn’t a shining city on a hill. At best, we certainly don’t envy your gun crime, your poor education system, your grossly unfair health system, or lack of paid maternity leave for women. At worst, these and other aspects of American life are despised and regarded as completely retrograde.
This seemingly blind belief in America’s exceptionalism is simplistic in the extreme, and belies a complete lack of perspective on its real achievements, as well as those of other countries that, no more and no less than the U.S.A., also have “a mission” (although I would never describe it as such).
Tom Nichols replies:
America, as Mike Wilson notes, needs a functional center-right party as much as it needs its center-left. Aggregating interests of the right and the left (which is what parties are supposed to do in the first place) is the only way a massive, diverse federal system can make policy and remain a democracy. I think Rich Fitzgerald is wrong to argue that today’s Republican Party is no different than what it was in years gone by; parties are not perfect, and they cannot pick their members, but to see no differences between any historical versions of the GOP is, in my view, just another expression of rigid partisanship. On that score, I appreciate that Charlene Thompson could see that Republicans and Democrats might actually have common goals (even if we disagree vehemently about how to achieve them!), and I can only say that I share her dream of more thoughtful and civil discourse.
I understand Nell Foster’s rejection of American exceptionalism, as it is a response that Americans of both parties have heard for many years since the end of World War II. I am the grandson of European immigrants whose move to the U.S. helped my family live the American dream, so I can only confess my exceptionalist bias. As a resident of Brussels, however, Foster might reflect—perhaps when driving past NATO headquarters—on the American role in creating the global system of institutions, trade, and cooperation that helped to create the stable, peaceful Atlantic community in which she now lives.
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