I feel like it is Christmas, my parents have gone through a nasty divorce and I don’t know whose home to go to. On the one hand, my old home is still there, but someone new has moved in, gutted the place and made it utterly unrecognizable. On the other hand, the new house is completely unfamiliar and feels cold, foreign and unwelcoming.
That’s how I’ve been explaining how I feel about politics since Donald Trump was elected president. I feel like a political orphan. I grew up a child of the Reagan ’80s and I’ve proudly worked as part of the Republican Party my entire adult life. I believe in the core conservative tenets of limited yet effective government, personal responsibility, a free-market economy and a strong national defense — vintage Republican values.
But that’s not the Republican Party I see leading in Washington. Those aren’t the core values driving the conversation. Instead, what I see all too often is an angry mob preying on people’s worst fears, trampling over the weak and shutting out any dissenting views.
Rather than hold our new president to account and demand that he lead with integrity, comport himself with diplomacy and engage the public with honesty, too many in my party quickly shun any disagreement or suggestion of impropriety, all the while the smoke signals billowing out of the White House indicate trouble nearly every day.
The emperor may have no clothes, but we are determined to avert our eyes and blithely march forward.
Still, I’m not a Democrat. I don’t look to the left and feel welcome, either. I see just as much bitterness, divisiveness and infighting at times, and I do not see an open-minded acceptance of the viewpoints of an independent, pro-life woman.
I watched my Facebook feed during the inauguration and saw friends celebrating and toasting the new administration at the famed Black Tie & Boots inaugural ball for Texans in Washington. But I didn’t feel like celebrating. I think how you win matters, and the tone the election set was not one I wanted to applaud.
The next day I watched again as friends across the country peacefully, yet energetically, protested the new administration. They had sign-painting parties, loaded their kids in strollers and Baby Bjorns and marched on Denver, Austin, New York, Los Angeles and Washington. But again, I didn’t feel like I belonged at the Women’s March, either.
One hundred days in and not much has changed. I’m still in political limbo. While selected Trump moves, like the Neil Gorsuch nomination to the Supreme Court and the response to a chemical attack in Syria, have provided some cover for reluctant Trump supporters, his whiplash-inducing about-faces on major policy positions have only served to deepen my concern and validate my choice to break with my party in November.
The good news is that while I may feel like an orphan, I’m not alone. I regularly have conversations with people on both sides of the aisle who don’t feel like either party is truly representative of their views and their values. Many Americans are sick of partisan politics, with too many elected officials only doing what’s necessary to get elected and keep their primary voters happy.
I think most Americans want a government that works. Conservatives and liberals have differing views on how much government is necessary, to be sure, but fundamentally we share a desire to live in healthy, educated and safe communities.
As a conservative, I want a government that provides the basic infrastructure for our democracy to function, but then steps out of the way. But I also recognize that there are vital functions, such as public safety, transportation and public education that need to be met. And the social safety net that only government can provide with consistency is a necessary function in our broken world.
Yet the policy signals emanating from the White House are inconsistent and unpredictable and only intermittently align with conservative principles. It’s a symptom of what happens when personal gain and political expediency, rather than a core set of values, are one’s modus operandi.
The current tone of the political rhetoric emanating from our leaders is not one that calls us to a higher purpose. It all too often devolves into a dog whistle that divides us, fractures us and pits us against each other.
I would love to be motivated and inspired by public servants who put people first and politics second, by leaders who put country before party. Where are those leaders? I see flashes and glimmers and glimpses of hope when, once in a while, someone stands up for core conservative values and against the president and the party. But they are uncommon.
So for now, 100 days into this new administration, I will comfortably wear my new label with pride: Vintage Republican. And I will hope, pray and work for a kinder, more pragmatic and constructive political system where bipartisanship and collaboration aren’t dirty words. And you know the good thing about vintage? It may be out of style just now, but the classics always come back.
Jenifer Sarver is a Republican communications strategist in Austin. She wrote this article for the Dallas Morning News. Readers may e-mail her at email@example.com.