My dad’s grandmother lived more than 80 years, and never voted for a Democrat. On the porch of her farmhouse near Independence, Iowa, in election year 1928 she told him why: “The Democrats killed two of my brothers.”
They were on her porch 63 years after the Civil War, but the emotional wounds of our nation’s costliest conflict were kept fresh by post-war politicians to prolong the divisive hate for political purposes. General Ulysses Grant’s partisans in his 1868 presidential campaign proclaimed: “Behind every rebel rifle there was a Democrat. Vote as you shot.”
Variations of that theme were used to rally the faithful by “waving the bloody shirt” in the solidly Democratic South, as well as in solidly Republican New England and the upper Midwest where my father grew up. The political realignment which resulted from the Civil War continued from the 1860s to the 1930s.
The Democrats were the party of Jim Crow and apartheid for generations after the war on the United States in defense of slavery. In 1924, the Democratic National Convention agreed by only one vote to condemn the Ku Klux Klan. Prominent Democratic leaders, including President Woodrow Wilson, were kind in their comments about the Klan.
That attitude began to change with the New Deal policies of President Franklin Roosevelt, which prominently shared Depression-era government relief with black southerners as well as those who once owned them. That was the beginning of a political alignment that now may be ripe for realigning again.
The “solid South” is as one-party solid as it ever was, but now solidly Republican. “Up North” isn’t as solid for the Democrats as the South once was, but Democrats are as dominant there as the Republicans once were.
The signs now point to a new political alignment. The constitutional safeguards are well enough established, I think, that the United States will survive the rise of Trump. I’m not sure the Republican Party will.
A solid majority of present-day Republicans is blindly loyal to a president that a solid majority of the rest of the country sees as a morally blind, bloviating demagogue, who has as much use for the truth as a billy goat has for a marriage license. A minority of Republicans, including me, agree with the rest of the country. I have not the slightest doubt that the Republicans who repudiate Trump will be judged well in the annals of history. They may not, however, survive the near-term judgment of the followers of the born-again confederacy, now in domination of the once Grand Old Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln.
We Republicans today openly confront ourselves, but the divided Democrats soon will, too. The Sanders’ faction is seething to stage its own populist rebellion against the corporate-connected elements of their party. A bitter and divisive battle is brewing.
Historians have speculated that if the liberal-minded Lincoln were alive today, he would be a Democrat.
What about Robert E. Lee, subject of the Charlottesville statue, and symbol of the old Democratic South? I’m betting if Lee were alive, along with his fellow Southerners, he would be marching with the Republicans.
Lincoln and Lee serve today as symbolic examples of two war-torn and increasingly feeble old political parties, each now a house divided against itself. Neither can long endure half of one mind and half of another. Maybe multiple parties will emerge. Maybe two very extreme parties. But just maybe the moderate thinkers of both today’s Democrats and Republicans will find more in common with each other than either will with the purists working to purge them.
Bob Brown is a former Montana Secretary of State and State Senate President.