What Does it Mean to be a Republican?

Staff Podcaster Aaron Holton ’25 argues that the Republican party in its current iteration betrays American values, and calls for a defense of constitutional ideals.

This summer, just over a year after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, we again witnessed the erosion of our democratic institutions at the hands of the judiciary. Alongside the abolition of affirmative action, the conservative majority Supreme Court ignored the tradition of stare decisis by discarding the precedent set by Grutter v. Bollinger.

I am filled neither with sorrow nor regret, but rather a deep anger. An anger I feel my white colleagues may never know, and one that people of color across the country know all too well. For far too long we have tolerated the antics of the Republican party and its elected officials. For far too long we have allowed blatantly hate-filled and violent inciteful language to run amok within our political institutions. It’s time we make clear what it means to be a Republican in this nation.

American democracy, but more importantly the soul of the nation, is at stake. We stand at a time in which we must decide what it means to be an American. What it means to embody the ideals outlined in the Constitution, and what it means to align yourself with a party that has strayed so far from its ideals of equality and freedom, as expressed by one of its most influential presidents, Ulysses S. Grant. Currently, the Republican party remains not even a ghost of what it once was, but instead a reanimated corpse, rotting and decaying before our very eyes. It has abandoned the ideals and promises outlined and represented by the Constitution (liberty, choice, and compromise, to name three) and has cast away democracy altogether. To be a Republican in this nation is to willingly align yourself with fascism and exacerbate the decline of democracy both nationally and globally.

I could go back as far as Reagan to outline this indictment, but I feel it is best to begin with the election of Obama. Have we forgotten the “birther” conspiracies that permeated throughout the Republican party during his presidency? Or perhaps I need to remind us of claims that Obama was a member of ISIS, or himself a threat to national security due to having the middle name Hussein. Some of you still may be skeptical by this point, so I’ll address the end of Obama’s presidency, when the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016 left a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Rather than allow President Obama to proceed with the nomination process, Republicans blocked it, citing it inappropriate for a president to appoint a Supreme Court nominee during an election year, and to instead let the people of this nation decide. However, when confronted with the same opportunity after the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Republicans committed the very offense for which they intended to indict Democrats.

Subsequently, I turn our attention to the Republican party of more recent memory — specifically, 2016 to the present. They have continued to stand behind a president who is responsible for an attack on this nation’s capital, and principles core to the heart of American democracy: the peaceful transition of power. There exists no Republican, except perhaps a few on the margins, who possess the spine to oppose Donald Trump, even as he stands accused of 91 federal charges. Is this not absurd? Are those in this community who willingly express their support for this party not ashamed of such actions?

It might be pertinent to discuss my time at Amherst to ground some of you. I recall briefly sitting in a class on Zoom and seeing a “don’t tread on me” flag in the background of one of the participants’ videos. For those unaware, the flag, which displays a black snake on a yellow background, is associated both with the American far right and those responsible for the attack on our nation’s capitol on January 6. I also recall a conversation with a different student who stated that affirmative action was the implementation of “reverse racism,” which is an idiotic notion that supposes systemic discrimination against white people. Not even Amherst College, a supposed bastion of “progressive idealism,” is free of the corrupting influence of Republican politics.

I recognize that my writing insinuates an “apocalyptic” future. That if we fail to act now, there may be no time to act. Perhaps this is wrong, and there exists hope. However, I believe that individuals can only be judged by their actions, not their words. Who are we but a facade of progressivism if, when our ideals are confronted with challenge, we fall to inaction or passivity? The time to act is now. The time to vote is now. The time to test your ideals is now. And so I ask who are you? One who holds true to the ideals and promises expressed in this nation’s founding documents, or a Republican.