My father was born in Hamburg, Germany, just short of three years before Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, sparking World War I. Food was scarce for Germans during those war years, and my dad nearly starved to death. So, as soon as he turned 18, in October of 1929, he made his way, alone, to the promised land of America. Two weeks after his arrival at Ellis Island, the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. Dad credited his survival—and that of his newly adopted homeland—to the federal works programs instituted by FDR. Dad became a committed Democrat, a loyalty he maintained until his dying day in 1999.
When I was 14, I sat in the back of my dad’s ’56 Ford pickup as he drove around town, stopping periodically so I could hop out and distribute Hubert Humphrey for President fliers. At the time, I had little interest in politics; I simply did as my dad requested of me.
By the time of my 18th birthday, in 1972, I had become more interested in politics. So, with no prompting from my father, I campaigned for and then voted for George McGovern.
Then, in 1973, I became a “born again” Christian. That event changed much in my life, including my party affiliation. That was five years before the official start of Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority,” which forever tied evangelical Christianity to Republican politics. But even in ’73, evangelicals were beginning to align themselves with the Republican Party. I went along.
I remained a loyal Republican—much to my father’s disappointment—until 2017. I not only voted a strict GOP party line for those 44 years, I also became deeply involved in the conservative evangelical political movement. I gave six years of my life to serving as an editor in the Public Policy division of the huge and highly influential evangelical ministry known as Focus on the Family.
In 2004/05, my work at Focus was largely responsible for the resignation of Anne Peterson, the Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Global Health at USAID. At the time, I celebrated that event as both a personal victory and a triumph for righteousness. (It’s a long story, and I won’t bore you with the details.) Now I’m not so sure I was right—in that instance, or in my conservative pursuits more generally.
But during those decades, I also served at local GOP caucuses and did other grassroots volunteer work for conservative causes. I was all in, committed, just as my father had been for liberal causes.
Then Donald Trump came along and changed everything. When the goofy “reality” TV show host announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, I thought it was a mere publicity ploy. He couldn’t be serious. Certainly, no one but a few radical kooks could possibly take him seriously—I assumed. But then he began winning primaries. I was stunned, shocked, flummoxed when he swept through the South like General Sherman, leaving a scorched field of GOP opponents—and forever decimating many long-proclaimed (but apparently never really valued) conservative principles.
I pleaded with my conservative friends and relatives to see the massive chasm between Trump’s character and the principles they’d long proclaimed as sacrosanct. I soon saw that principles pale when power is offered in their place. My calls for them to repent were—and still are—met by either angry name-calling (yes, I’m a “hater”) or silence.
I can come to but two possible conclusions about my conservative evangelical friends who became zealous Trumpists: 1. The “discernment” they claim as a gift from God was a joke, or 2. They never really believed in any of the principles they previously proclaimed as inviolate. (So, in a weird, roundabout way, I’m thankful to Trump for revealing to me the shallow, power-hungry, mean-spirited entity the GOP–and much of evangelicalism–has become.)
So, in early 2017 I officially canceled my membership in the Republican Party and registered as an Independent. Following my repeated failures to sway my entrenched and intransigent Trumpist friends and relatives, I have shifted my focus to encouraging other Independents and Democrats—and the few remaining rational Republicans—to unite and do all we can to end the insanity and evil of Trumpism.
And—dare I say it (most of my friends will be furious, but Dad would be proud)—I’m considering returning to my political roots and registering as a Democrat. It seems to me now that what this country needs is a new FDR with a new WPA.
Increasingly, I’m thinking Father Knew Best.