Patti Davis is the author, most recently, of the novel “The Wrong Side of Night” and the daughter of Ronald and Nancy Reagan.
Dear Republican Party,
I have never been part of you, but you have been part of my family for decades. I was 10 years old when my father decided to stop being a Democrat and instead become a Republican. From that point on, you were a frequent guest at our dinner table — and an unwelcome one to me. I wanted to talk about my science project on the human heart, or the mean girls at school who teased me for being too tall and for wearing glasses. Instead, much of the conversation was about how the government was taking too much out of people’s paychecks for taxes and how it was up to the Republicans to keep government from getting too big.
You went from an annoying presence at the dinner table to a powerful tornado, lifting up my family and depositing us in the world of politics, which no one ever escapes. I know it’s not completely your fault. My father’s passion for America, his commitment to try to make a difference in the country and the world, and his gentle yet powerful command over crowds that gathered to hear him speak made his ascent to the presidency all but inevitable. He would have gotten there one way or another; it just happened to be as a Republican.
You have claimed his legacy, exalted him as an icon of conservatism and used the quotes of his that serve your purpose at any given moment. Yet at this moment in America’s history when the democracy to which my father pledged himself and the Constitution that he swore to uphold, and did faithfully uphold, are being degraded and chipped away at by a sneering, irreverent man who traffics in bullying and dishonesty, you stay silent.
You stay silent when President Trump speaks of immigrants as if they are trash, rips children from the arms of their parents and puts them in cages. Perhaps you’ve forgotten that my father said America was home “for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness.”
You stayed silent when this president fawned over Kim Jong Un and took Vladimir Putin’s word over America’s security experts. You stood mutely by when one of his spokesmen, Rudolph W. Giuliani, said there is nothing wrong with getting information from Russians. And now you do not act when Trump openly defies legitimate requests from Congress, showing his utter contempt for one of the branches of our government.
Most egregiously, you remained silent when Trump said there were “very fine people” among the neo-Nazis who marched through an American city with tiki torches, chanting, “Jews will not replace us.”
Those of us who are not Republicans still have a right to expect you to act in a principled, moral and, yes, even noble way. Our democracy is in trouble, and everyone who has been elected to office has an obligation to save it. Maybe you’re frightened of Trump — that idea has been floated. I don’t quite understand what’s frightening about an overgrown child who resorts to name-calling, but if that is the case, then my response is: You are grown men and women. Get over it.
My father called America “the shining city on a hill.” Trump sees America as another of his possessions that he can slap his name on. A president is not supposed to own America. He or she is supposed to serve the American people.
In their book “How Democracies Die,” Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt warned: “How do elected authoritarians shatter the democratic institutions that are supposed to constrain them? Some do it in one fell swoop. But more often the assault on democracy begins slowly.”
Trump has been wounding our democracy for the past two years. If he is reelected for another term, it’s almost a given that America will not survive — at least not as the country the Founding Fathers envisioned, and not as the idealistic experiment they built using a Constitution designed to protect democracy and withstand tyranny.
My father knew we were fragile. He said: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same.”
So, to the Republican Party that holds tightly to my father’s legacy — if you are going to stand silent as America is dismantled and dismembered, as democracy is thrown onto the ash heap of yesterday, shame on you. But don’t use my father’s name on the way down.