The divide between Republicans and Democrats has widened over the last four years since Trump was voted in as a Republican president, and anytime I find out someone is a Republican I’m nervous. The word no longer simply means someone is “socially and fiscally conservative.” I have never thought that “agreeing to disagree” on human rights and gender equality could ever be a solution for the greater good, but I believed that no matter who was in office there could be some level of bipartisanship.
Trump made my beliefs look naïve at best. He has shined a bright spotlight on the fact that identifying as a Republican means to align yourself with him: a narcissistic, misogynistic, racist liar. My fear of Republicans hasn’t been unfounded, and they were on stage for the entire world to see when Trump supporters stormed Capitol Hill to protest and attempt to overturn Biden’s election win. Yet, when I looked for comfort from my local and state leaders, the words of our Republican governor were what I needed.
Part of Vermont Governor Phil Scott’s official statement regarding the rioters in D.C. was this: “Make no mistake, the President of the United States is responsible for this event. President Trump has orchestrated a campaign to cause an insurrection that overturns the results of a free, fair and legal election. The fact is the results of this election have been validated by Republican governors, conservative judges and non-partisan election officials across the country. There is no doubt that the President’s delusion, fabrication, self-interest, and ego have led us—step by step—to this very low, and very dangerous, moment in American history.”
Unlike other elected Republicans who changed their stance once their life was at risk by men who waved Trump and Confederate flags throughout the halls of the Capitol, his remarks were not the result of some come to Jesus moment he finally had. This was just one more way he was disgusted by this country’s ongoing display of domestic terrorism; his words were a continued effort, as a human being who has been able to see beyond the expectations and identity of his political label, to see what’s right and wrong.
People will argue that we shouldn’t be so concerned with labels, yet this is often because of the faulty idea that we can all just get along in spite of them. Ask any marginalized group or person—myself included—if our labels have been embraced or made better for being stamped with the “live and let live” ideology. We use labels to define ourselves as a way to show the world who we are and what we stand for. In doing so, we use those labels to find people who are like us; we find and build communities of support.
Hopefully there are places to find common ground even through disagreements, misunderstandings, and unwavering differences of opinions, but our sense of self often lies comfortably with like-minded people—and it’s hard to challenge our own biases and beliefs when so many people are confirming them. How we align ourselves politically has always been a source of personal pride and tension at family dinner tables. The words Republican, Democrat, and Independent are not just about how we vote, but how we live, how we want to see money spent, and how many rights we believe citizens should have.
I live in Vermont, a Democratic state that is home to Bernie Sanders, was the first state to allow same-sex unions, and which just voted in the state’s first transgender legislature. But our communities have been guided by a Republican governor who has let go of labels and refuses to follow “party lines” for the sake of loyalty or identity. No politician is perfect and no state or community is free from bigotry and hatred, but our governor and state of 600,000 has consistently shown how politics can be pushed aside if it means people are better able to take care of one another.
Our governor and the team of people he has surrounded himself with have led us through this pandemic with the nation’s lowest positivity rate, and one of the best vaccine distribution rates in the country. Scott often addresses mental health and the need to reduce stigma around addiction. He knows how important it is for the state to offer affordable childcare so families can work. He supports the BLM movement. He is guided by science and common sense and voted for Biden because voting for Trump would have been to vote for a power hungry racist. He was the only incumbent Republican governor in the United States to publicly announce his support for Biden. “I put country over party,” Scott said.
My hope is that one positive thing Trump did during his presidency was to show Americans that putting all of your identity into one label is dangerous and short-sighted. For too long other Republican politicians fell behind Trump because of party lines, and in doing so they were just as complicit in what happened at the Capitol. Even after seeing the mobs and being forced to take cover because Trump’s supporters entered the building, several Republican senators still sided with him and defended his falsehoods and fantasies. I hope they and the rest of the entire Republican party wake up to what they have ignored to happen for too long and work to make changes for the betterment of the party and the entire country. Perhaps Vermont’s Republican governor can be their guide.
For myself and other Democrats, I don’t want us to ever become so jaded that we can’t put aside our labels to applaud someone whose labels don’t match ours. I am still sure of my values and identity—including the part of me who is able to see someone for who they are through words and actions, and not simply in name.