A Democrat Reconsiders Her Republican Upbringing
Born in 1947, I grew up in a Republican household in Illinois. Like most adolescents, I followed my parents’ political party. In 1964 I was a junior in high school and “a Goldwater girl.”
In college I became a Democrat because I liked the Party’s commitment to civil rights, equal education and their seeming commitment to ending the Vietnam War. I have voted for some local Republican officials, but by and large, after high school, I put the Republican Party behind me.
Since the election of Trump, I have been rethinking my experiences in my parents’ Republican household. I remember how my father thought that Eisenhower understood the gravity of war and dignified my father’s service in WWII. After “Ike,” it seemed he was in the habit of being and voting Republican — Nixon, Goldwater, Nixon. He died a Republican in 1976.
By that time my mother had become more sympathetic to the Democrats. Kennedy got to her with his eloquent syntax. An eighth grade language arts teacher, she loved to teach her students how to diagram sentences and used his famous quotations: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” “Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”
Because she didn’t have a college degree, she taught in the small farming communities outside Danville, Illinois. In the late 60s, she coached the debate teams. She and my father would go to their competitions. Many of her students won blue ribbons. My father boasted, “Her students were eloquent, presenting and defending their positions on different issues. I’m so proud of them and their coach.”
Even though Kennedy had cracked open her heart with exemplars of the English language, my mother probably voted for Reagan. I’ll never know. In the next elections, she told me that she voted for Clinton and Gore. After 2000, Alzheimer’s disease left her in a world without politics.
The Republican household of my childhood was conservative. Our parents attended church regularly and put my sister and me in a religious school until the new integrated junior high opened. My mother explicitly taught us to treat everyone with respect, regardless of race, religion or nationality.
We were not allowed to swear, as that was the lowest form of expression, or label people, as labeling was not a valid form of argument.
Lower middle class, both my parents worked outside the home. Although he never came close, my father believed that anyone could be a millionaire. They worked hard, my father a traveling salesman for a company that sold grain bins, and my mother a teacher.
We were expected to work — babysitting by 8th grade and then waitressing and clerking in a store in high school. My father had a gun for hunting locked up in a cabinet. I never saw him take it out or use it, but we did once eat the goose he shot for Thanksgiving.
Looking back, I grew up in a proud Republican household.
When I saw the video and heard Trump use the word pussy, I first thought of my Republican parents. That thought surprised me. As an adult, I am well aware of how frequently women are exploited and demeaned by some men with power. But I imagined both my parents’ responses — my father’s embarrassment in front of his two daughters and his wife and my mother’s horror at Trump’s undignified use of the English language. And his sloppy Tweets. She would not have had her eighth graders diagram his sentences.
Not only would my parents have thought that what he said on the tape and in many of his Tweets was unworthy of a public figure, but they would also have been shocked to learn that he is President and the nominee of their Republican Party.
Trump’s continual debasement of the English language and human beings and his use of fallacies and distortion of reality would have certainly led my mother and I’m pretty sure my father to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. And they would have justified that vote with their Republican principles — hard work, honesty, decency, equality and a faith in the future of our democracy. And, yes, paying one’s fair share of taxes.
I have come to have a new respect for the Republican household of my childhood. Even after I became a Democrat, my parents were open to discussions about the role of the government in private and public life. And when we disagreed about how government should function, we came back in the end to core values that bonded us.
My parent’s Republican Party was a far cry from the Republican Party of today. I’m glad that they are not here to witness it, but I’m sad to think that they are not here to vote with me in this election, for once, for the same Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates.