Reclaiming the Republican Party

Extreme Prejudice and Xenophobia Are Fundamentally Un-American

These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” These were the words Thomas Paine used to start his work The [AmericanTK] Crisis, which was highly influential in launching the American Revolution.

I feel we may be at a time like this again. As a long-standing Republican, I am dismayed by the comments of some Republican and conservative leaders. At the national level, the continuing and unbelievable degree of prejudice and xenophobia expressed by Donald Trump is unacceptable.

At the local level, too, these views are sometimes expressed. My friend Andy Caldwell, the longtime executive director of COLAB (Coalition of Labor, Agriculture & Business), provides a case in point. I like Andy personally, and he and I have worked together on (and occasionally on opposite sides of) many issues over the years. But when he expresses views on national issues, they are often harsh and extreme.

Here’s what he wrote recently: “Why don’t we have the fortitude to ruthlessly use profiling and the suspension of civil liberties in an effort to root out terrorist sympathizers and recruits here at home? … We need to round up all the imams and their adherents who are preaching jihad and either deport them or imprison them for sedition and treason” (Santa Barbara News-Press, June 26, 2016).

These words are frightening. Especially as someone whose father was Jewish and born before World War II in Austria, I completely oppose any calls that could be interpreted as advocating the wholesale imprisonment or deportation of leaders or members of any religious group.

Words matter. They matter a lot. Equally troubling was Andy’s statement that the internment of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent during World War II was justified because “[He has] yet to learn of any other options available to protect the homeland from spies and saboteurs as it related to the war with Japan.” This is completely false. There was not a single documented Japanese-American spy or saboteur in the United States during World War II.

In order for the Republican Party and conservatism generally to retain vitality and electability, it must shed these and similar views (Andy, I should note, has no official position with the local party). The Republican Party should be reclaimed for more tolerant and inclusive views that focus on government efficiency, lower taxes for working families, less regulation, privatization of some public services, higher standards in education, free trade, and reform of public employee pensions. These and related issues provide ample space for political activity and possible majority coalitions. By way of contrast, to advocate the ruthless use of profiling, suspension of civil liberties, and rounding up of imams, and to defend internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, will do nothing but turn most voters off.

More importantly, such rhetoric is not merely politically unwise but fundamentally un-American. The essence of America is our civil liberties. Our nation was founded on the idea of inalienable human rights — that all people are equal and there is no natural monarchy or aristocracy in which some have more rights than others. Muslims and imams have as many rights as Protestants and ministers and Catholics and priests. Freedom of religion, indeed, is perhaps the most basic American right. It is the first right listed in the Bill of Rights.

The United States cannot move forward with political extremism. Extreme political rhetoric should be opposed whenever it appears. We must not become un-American through our involvement with the world.

There’s a reason Donald Trump received fewer than 150 votes in Isla Vista in the June primary (of more than 5,000 votes cast): His views are repugnant, regressive, and reactionary. As long as he is the Republican standard-bearer and his views are expressed by many across the country, the GOP will do nothing but head downward. The Republican Party must be reclaimed for more tolerant views.

Lanny Ebenstein is a former member of the Santa Barbara County Republican Central Committee.

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