This past weekend, a group of protestors demonstrated on the grounds of the State Capitol. Their message was controversial to begin with, as they objected to many of the public health policies initiated by state government. It then took a more ominous turn as some dressed in military-style garb threw a rope over a tree in front of the Governor’s Mansion and proceeded to hang Governor Beshear in effigy.
As a student of history, I know that hanging someone in effigy was generally accepted political theater in times past. However, given our nation’s dark history with lynchings and political assassinations, the undertones of such an act make it beyond being in poor taste in today’s society. The fact is, times change and such acts take on new meanings. For example, at one point it was considered honorable to participate in a duel, but now not only is that illegal, but we include a clause in the oath of office to ensure our elected officials never have.
To me, the larger topic is not that the act was committed, but why such people feel that it ever appropriate to do so. What makes a person think it is ever right to hang a person in effigy? What makes a person think it is appropriate to wave a confederate flag at a rally over policy during a pandemic? What makes a person think it is suitable to flash racist gestures when posing in a photo with an elected official?
Sadly, these type of activities are becoming more common, which in turn means they are becoming more accepted. We all know that there have long been people who are white supremacists, conspiracy theorists or hold anti-government views. However, these people used to live on the fringes of society and were not involved in the political process.
I’m sure the Democratic Party has its share of bad actors as well. And while the Republican Party may not have necessarily invited these people into our ranks, we have to be intellectually honest in the fact that we have not been unwelcoming to them. Slowly but surely, these people have integrated themselves within the Republican Party to the point that many traditional Republicans, especially those whose names are on ballots, are afraid to oppose their views.
I am not an elected official. And I no longer hold a party position. But, as a Republican, and one who has dedicated much of his life to the strengthening of our party, I’m tired of having to defend the brand because of the vitriolic venom that is spewed by these people. I genuinely believe that the vast majority of Republicans, like me, do not hold views such views. But as long as we are not willing to stand up and call out wrong when we see it, we simply aid and abet. We can no longer be afraid of losing votes because no electoral victory is worth this type of association.
Our party leaders need to wake up and see that the antics and skewed worldviews of a small, but very vocal, minority are having a negative effect on our party as a whole. The quiet acceptance of them does nothing but drive away sane and rational people. This minority has become a blight to our party that is causing our brand to be sullied. Or, to put it in more traditional Kentucky vernacular, “You can’t waller with the pigs and not get dirty!”
We need to stand up and say that the protests in Frankfort, complete with hangings and confederate flags, are wrong. We need stand up and say the white supremacist march in Charlottesville was wrong. We need to stand up and say that anyone who campaigns on racism, xenophobia, homophobia, religious intolerance, or anything else that seeks to divide us as a nation is wrong.
I registered to vote as a Republican when I was 17 because, as Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat, once referenced it, the Republican Party is a “party of ideas.” Some of the best changes in American history have been put forth by Republicans. Our party is responsible for the Emancipation Proclamation, the creation of the National Park system, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, victory over the Soviets in the Cold War and the list goes on.
I became a Republican because I believe in a strong national defense, pro-life policies, fair tax codes, government transparency, a free market economy and judges who believe in textualism. And, while the term may have been overused to the point of being trite, I genuinely believe in compassionate conservatism.
My Republican Party makes no false distinctions based upon race, gender, ethnicity, religion or sexuality. And it is high time that we cast aside those within the party who do. After all, what good is a victory if you have to sell your soul to attain it?
To those who want to spread hate of any kind and wish to associate with the Republican Party, I would say, as the great Gloria Gaynor famously did, “Just turn around now, ‘cause you’re not welcome anymore.”
Tommy Druen is a Scott County resident and former Chairman of the Scott County Republican Party.