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The End of Independence

For more than 30 years I’ve been registered as a voter under various third-party affiliations, or, more recently, as an independent voter. I’ve always been the first to admit that more often than not I vote for Democrats, especially in close races. But I’ve never been even close to slavish in my political outlook or my voting. My all-time favorite California politician was the late B.T. Collins, a multiple-amputee Vietnam War Green Beret combat vet, appointed by Jerry Brown as Director of the California Conservation Corps (Collins transformed the agency), and later Jerry Brown’s Chief of Staff, before being elected to the state assembly as a Republican. (Collins, obviously, would be demonized as a RINO or worse by today’s GOP.)

I voted for Assemblyman Brian Dahle in the last election because so far as I can tell he’s a good guy who has the best interests of his constituents at heart, I firmly believe that in many ways conservative policies align with rural values, and I’ve yet to see Dahle’s hair burst into flames. No matter our disagreements on numerous policy matters, Dahle is an able and honest representative of the rural people of his district. And let’s face it—our backwater of California is firmly Republican. I’m not much for tilting at windmills, so if it’s a given that my representative is going to be a Republican, I want someone who doesn’t make me feel nauseous when he opens his sock-puppet mouth. Speaking of which: I have publicly offered to ring doorbells for Dahle if he should ever choose to challenge our current U.S. Congressman.

My status as an independent voter has always been an act of rebellion against the forces of conformity—those who want us to join Their Cause and fall in line behind Their Leaders. There’s something about my make-up that doesn’t cotton to political shepherds and sheep. And chanting. I haven’t attended a protest or political rally in decades—even ones addressing issues that I’m passionate about—because I abhor call-and-response chanting. Every time I see progressives grouped together on TV, there it is—the chanting that literally makes me shudder.

“What do we want?!”

“A vague and unrealistic plan to achieve an overly simplistic socio-political outcome!”

“When do we want it?!”

“NOW!”

I get it—for many, the chanting is affirming and energizing. For me, it’s worse than fingernails on the blackboard.

What have I gained for my feeble non-conformity? Have I swayed people toward what I think of as my left-of-center pragmatism? Not at all. My conservative friends think I’m a flaming libtard, and my liberal friends (and oldest child) think I’m some kind of weirdly iconoclastic conservative. The current zeitgeist is us’uns against them’uns, and any self-styled middle-of-the-road compromisers must be playing some sort of confidence game—a trick to gain advantage.

President Trump, if you haven’t guessed by now, is my personal last straw. The GOP has become the Party of Trump. His regressive minions alarmingly number in vicinity of 35-40% of Americans. They have embraced a rabidly authoritarian, nationalistic, isolationist worldview, with undertones of racism, sexism, and xenophobia. Party of Trump followers appear to be motivated primarily by anger and fear. They wallow in feelings rather than facts. Their leader is a narcissistic, mean, inarticulate, dishonest buffoon, and they love him for it. Trump fawns over the despotic leaders of our foes while degrading our closest allies, and his followers find no fault because they share Trump’s authoritarian instincts.

This isn’t hyperbole: If the Party of Trump is allowed to consolidate its hold, America is lost.

I have great respect for those GOP politicians who have sacrificed their careers by calling out Trump for what he is: A dangerous, possibly deranged demagogue who is openly hostile to America’s long-held democratic values. Sen. John McCain has fully rehabilitated himself in my eyes (after the debacle of elevating Sarah Palin to Prime Rube status) by opposing Trump when it’s the right thing to do, even as McCain battles a terminal disease. But such brave GOP politicians have proved as rare as rocking horse manure.

I have tried on several occasions to bait Assemblyman Dahle into articulating an opinion on Trump—to break ranks with GOP leaders who refuse to criticize Trump—but he’s steadfastly refused to rise to the fly. I’ll admit that he’s playing it smart, politically. But this isn’t about mere politics. It’s about the future of the country that my grandkids are going to inherit, and I don’t have a lot of good time left to help set things reasonably back on course. I’m forcing myself to veer away from my natural centrism and cynicism to become a True Believer. As such, I state with a large measure of disappointment: Mr. Dahle—unapologetic and therefore silently complicit member of the Party of Trump—no longer has my support.

Next week my longstanding status as an independent voter comes to an end. We lack a parliamentary system in this country, and on the larger stage of American politics third parties are a throw-away-your-vote joke. I’m going to apply dabs of menthol Vicks below my nostrils and fill out the forms to register as a Democrat.

For the first time in decades, I’ll be voting straight-ticket along party lines. It’s time to pick sides—right now—on the less-than-sure bet that it’s not already too late. The Party of Trump, and all that it represents, needs to crater in the next couple of elections. If a GOP defined by the sensible Western libertarianism of my family’s Colorado ranchers, roughnecks, and nail-benders rises from that smoldering crater, great. If not…oh well.

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