I sympathize with you. I really, truly do.
When I turned 18, I registered as an independent and never looked back. Like you, I wasn’t terribly fond of either party. And honestly, I don’t feel that much differently today than I did back then.
I have always disliked the Republican Party a little more than the Democratic Party, but that’s mostly because of the bitter taste that the Iraq War left in my mouth. I’ll never scrub that stain from my memory. I’ll never forget the false accusations of treason that right-wing pundits and commentators leveled at anyone who dared to challenge the wisdom of going to war with Saddam Hussein.
Traitor! Terrorist sympathizer! Anti-American asshole!
Every time the decision to invade Iraq was questioned, Republicans would reach for the American flag and wrap themselves in it, knowing as they did that the fabric of that flag is infinitely stronger than the threads from which the GOP’s interventionist foreign policy had been woven. Of course, if the merits of that policy been strong enough to withstand scrutiny, the party wouldn’t have had to resort to such cowardly tactics to defend it.
But that was the Republican way.
The Democrats weren’t much better, but they could at least tolerate a little dissent. They didn’t reflexively throw a tantrum and reach for a star-spangled security blanket whenever they were faced with criticism. Sadly, however, they didn’t bring much else to the table to entice voters away from the GOP. Their entire platform was based on the very boring idea that you could simply tax your way out of every problem. What’s more, they were just as allergic to accountability as Republicans were, and almost just as partisan.
Through my young, cynical eyes, I saw two parties that were equally flawed, equally dishonest, and equally hypocritical.
What I also saw, however, were two parties that were at least decent enough to abide by a rudimentary ethos grounded in a universal respect for the norms, values, and traditions that transcend partisan politics and unite Americans as a people.
You could hear that ethos manifest itself in the words of former President George W. Bush when he insisted that the United States “treasures the relationship we have with our many Muslim friends” and respects the “vibrant faith of Islam which inspires countless individuals to lead lives of honesty, integrity, and morality.”
You could hear it manifest itself again in the words of former Republican Senator John McCain when he pushed back against the implication that then-Senator Barack Obama was a closeted radical Muslim. “He’s a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign’s all about,” McCain said in response to a racist comment from an audience member at a 2008 presidential campaign event.
And you could hear that ethos manifest itself yet again when Mitt Romney conceded the 2012 presidential election to President Obama. During his concession speech, Romney was notably gracious and emphasized the necessity of greater cooperation between Republicans and Democrats. “At a time like this, we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing,” he said. “Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work.”
It is because of that ethos — an ethos that for many decades served as a buffer against the radical impulses of the extremists in each party — that I didn’t lose much sleep on the night that President George W. Bush was reelected to the White House. It’s why I wasn’t too worried about the potential consequences of a John McCain or Mitt Romney presidency, either. I was confident that no matter who was at the helm of the ship, they would never deliberately steer that ship into a squall and risk drowning everyone onboard.
But I don’t have that confidence anymore. And neither should you.
Today’s Republican Party bears no resemblance whatsoever to the party that put George W. Bush in the White House, or the party that nominated John McCain and Mitt Romney to represent it in the 2008 and 2012 elections, respectively. Today’s Republican Party has no tolerance for religious pluralism. Or for immigration. Or for freedom of speech. Or even for democracy itself.
Some on the left will say that this is what the Republican Party has always been, but history tells us otherwise. Just a decade ago, moderate, rational statesmen like Romney and McCain were regarded as quintessential Republicans. Today, McCain is widely remembered as a traitor to his party, while Romney leads a dying breed of anti-Trump Republican rebels who refuse to sell out for the sake of saving their political careers.
That transformation may have been predictable, but the rapidity of it certainly wasn’t. Anyone who paid attention to politics back then knew very well that the radical wing of the GOP was larger and more influential than the Republican establishment could bring itself to admit. That John McCain had to defend Obama against racist Republican voters is a testament to the widespread hatred that was festering in radical conservative circles at the time.
Nevertheless, very few people could have foreseen just how quickly Republicans would surrender their future to the darkest, most vile elements within their own party. Very few people could have predicted that, in just a mere four years, they would abandon the moderately conservative politics of Mitt Romney in exchange for the uber-nativist, autocratic politics of a reality television star.
That’s one of several reasons why I certainly don’t blame you, third-party voters, for Trump’s rise to power. Like many of you, I didn’t think he had much chance of actually winning the 2016 election. And after he won, I had hoped that his victory would prove an anomaly, a one-time roll of the dice by disaffected Republicans who rejected Trump’s most radical positions but appreciated his willingness to prioritize their concerns and punch back against Democrats who looked down their noses at “flyover country.”
But that hoped died an agonizing death at the subsequent elections of other radical Republicans, like Lauren Boebert, Ron DeSantis, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Jim Jordan.
None of these people are fit, either morally or intellectually, for political office. Boebert is a bona fide anti-LGBTQ bigot. Jim Jordan, like many other Trump loyalists, is an anti-democracy conspiracy theorist who thinks the 2020 election was stolen by Democrats. DeSantis is a far-right strongman who uses government power to punish free speech and wants to prohibit doctors from providing transition-related health care to transgender youth. And Greene is a genuine white supremacist who has a penchant for harassing teenaged survivors of school shootings and appears to believe that Democrat Nancy Pelosi should be murdered.
This is what the Republican Party is now — a radicalized, bigoted, anti-democracy party. Its moderate wing, which has proven itself both principled and brave, is fighting like hell to keep conservatism alive. But it’s also very small, mostly impotent, and wields virtually no influence on the direction of the party. If Mitt Romney, Liz Cheney, and the other moderates within the party really want to free the GOP from the grasp of its far-right leadership, their best hope lies with their left-wing rivals on the other side of the aisle.
You already know what I’m going to say next. As a third-party voter, you’ve undoubtedly heard it hundreds of times before, and I’m sure you’re just as sick of hearing it as I am. But I’m going to say it anyway because all the evidence suggests that, this time, it really is true.
In this upcoming election cycle, it’s time for us to choose a side. It’s time for us to stand with the so-called “lesser of two evils.” It’s time for us to vote against the Republican Party by voting for the Democratic Party.
I know you hate that with-us-or-against-us framing, and I don’t blame you one bit. I’m not fond of it myself. I firmly believe that the duopolistic nature of our politics is one of the reasons why this nation is as polarized as it is right now. I also still believe today, just as I did when I registered as an Independent all those years ago, that the Democratic Party is a very flawed, hypocritical, and dishonest party.
But I cannot say that the two parties are equally flawed, equally hypocritical, or equally dishonest. And I definitely cannot say that they’re equally bad. Because they’re clearly not equally bad. One of them is much, much worse than the other, so much so that I cannot fathom ever voting for a third-party candidate again, at least until the GOP rediscovers its sanity and ditches the divisive politics that gave rise to the likes of Trump and his merry band of bigots, charlatans, and grifters.
And to be clear, I do believe that will happen eventually. As I’ve argued before, the arc of American history has always bent towards progress, and not even Trump is powerful enough to bend it back in the other direction. No matter how much more pain and suffering this nation has to endure before it finally changes course, I have no doubt that America will emerge intact, and that democracy will survive.
I also refuse to believe that the average Republican voter is cut from the same hateful cloth as Donald Trump or any of the other aforementioned right-wing radicals. I instead choose to believe that they’re motivated not by a desire to do evil, but by an immeasurable fear of the uncertain future we are all facing at this moment in time.
Globalization and automation have altered the economic landscape of the country in dramatic fashion. The opioid epidemic has wreaked havoc on white, rural, conservative families all throughout the United States. The ongoing effort to expand green energy production, as necessary as it obviously is, has introduced even greater uncertainty into conservative communities that for generations have depended on the jobs that fossil fuels provide.
That’s why I can’t totally blame Republicans who, when they peer into the future, see a giant wall of fog, recoil at the uncertainties that lie beyond that wall, and conclude that they have no choice but to rally behind decisive, no-nonsense leaders like Trump, even if those leaders are nothing more than a bunch of self-serving opportunists masquerading as the saviors of conservative America.
Uncertainty is a terrifying thing, to be sure. But on the bright side, it’s also temporary. And with the proper governance, we can hasten its demise, resolve the collective fears of the Republican voters who put these far-right politicians into office, and give conservatives a fighting chance to take their party back.
Ironically, the biggest obstacle standing in our way is the GOP itself. Donald Trump and his like-minded, far-right allies have no intention of addressing their constituents’ fears. On the contrary, they have amassed enormous power and influence for themselves by exploiting those fears. And if they want to hold onto that power and influence, they need to keep those fears alive.
We can’t let that happen. There is simply too much at stake now. Women have lost their right to choose. Climate change is threatening to drown entire nations under a rising sea. Far-right terrorism is a growing problem that radicals like Trump refuse to tackle. We can’t let that man back into the White House, nor can we afford to turn our eyes away from the hatred and extremism perpetuated by his minions in the GOP. We have to set aside our displeasure with America’s two-party duopoly and throw our support behind Democrats in this year’s midterms and the 2024 presidential election. It’s our only viable option.
Once our goal has been achieved — once the GOP is back under the control of rational, respectable leadership, and Trump’s brand of far-right politics has been relegated to the ash heap of history — we can happily return to voting for third-party candidates again, if and when we so choose.