Forty years ago, I took a sabbatical from journalism to work as a political operative for the Republican party. The move, I said, was a chance to see how the government worked from the inside. Instead, I had a front-row seat to watch the party of Abraha Lincoln turn into an extremist mob of hate and thuggery. Now, I watch, in horror, as GOP elected officials excuse the disgraced and corrupt former president Donald Trump’s stealing and hoarding of top-secret classified documents, a clear crime under America’s Espionage Act and an offense considered treasonous by an increasing number of citizens.
Some Republicans claim Trump handling the documents is “just a storage issue” or “no different than having an overdue library book.” These are often the same Republicans who excuse the Jan. 5 Capitol riot, which trashed the building, forced elected officials into hiding, and led to too many deaths, including Capitol police officers.
“No big deal,” says these Republicans. “Just legitimate protest activities.”
Fortunately, federal judges are sending participants in the riot, including wayward police officers like Floyd Countian Thomas Robertson to serious prison terms. Robertson, a graduate of Floyd County High School and a member of the Rocky Mount Police Force issued violent warnings on Facebook about tearing down the government and ignored a judge’s order to keep his nose clean while on probation. When he was caught buying many guns through various sources, the judge revoked his bail and put him back in jail to await trial, which we feel was just what he deserved.
Trump, as expected, is promising to pardon any and all of those sent to prison for their part in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, another reason to make sure he never, ever, enters the White House again.
Sadly, I saw the beginning of the end of the GOP as an effective and viable political party during my time in Washington. I watched firebrand Newt Gingrich, a hypocritical Congressman from Georgia lie and cheat his way to power in the 1994 GOP takeover of the House with promises in his fake “contract with America” that he scrapped as soon as they won.
Gingrich said he had no need for compromises or bi-partisan coalitions when he became Speaker of the House. “My way or the highway,” he said. It turned out to be a highway to hell and Gingrich left office in disgrace after violating House ethics rules and getting caught banging a committee staffer who is not his latest wife (he dumped several previous ones after he cheated on them).
Gingrich has been one of the insiders for Trump and is now being subpoenaed for appearances before the Jan. 6 select committee and a grand jury in Georgia for his clandestine and illegal activities.
For the record, I worked for Gingrich in the early 1990s for his “GoPac” political operation, taught at the American Campaign Academy that he controlled, and worked at the Republican Convention in Houston for his group before walking away from him and politics in 1994, the same year I joined Alcoholics Anonymous and returned to journalism. The moves were not coincidental.
It was the beginning of hate and violence becoming part of the GOP political playbook back then and we see it in full force now in Washington and around the country. We also see political nastiness prevalent in the small, Blue Ridge mountain Virginia town where I now live in semi-retirement as the local board of supervisors, where chairman Joe Turman had to step in and tell people to sit down, shut up and let the meetings proceed normally.
I covered the supervisors for more than 16 years after returning to Floyd in 2004 and saw decorum vanish from the nastiness of Tea Party types, militia members, and others in public comment sections. I saw people like former GOP county chairman Bob Smith talk to others in the audience during meetings and interrupt members of the board. His rudeness was not an exception but had become the rule of him and others in the audience.
I remember one meeting where Smith loudly interrupted a board discussion on prayer in public school with “you can’t do that. The Supreme Court has outlawed it!” As someone who reports on Supreme Court decisions, I felt that was not correct and asked him about it during a break.
“Oh, I heard it on the radio,” Smith said. It turned out he heard it on a show by Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing host who told almost as many lies as Donald Trump. No such ruling was ever made by the Supreme Court.
In last week’s Floyd Press, editor Abby Whitt reported on Turman’s anger at the disruptive behavior of those attending the board meetings.
“I don’t know why you expect us to help ya’ll when you abuse us, put us down, run us down, accuse us of doing stuff when the only thing’s we’re trying to do is be fair and honest with all the citizens,” Whitt quoted Turman as saying to the troublemakers.
In response to Wade Woolson of Check, a frequent critic of the board, Turman told him “if you are going to stand there and bash us and tell lies, we don’t want you here. If you have something constructive to say, say it! “
Woolson has questioned the zip code of Little River Supervisor Linda DeVito’s home, saying she doesn’t live in the county. In reality, Courthouse Supervisor Jerry Boothe told him, she lives close to the county line and shares a zip code in the adjoining county.
“Instead of making an accusation, a simple phone call to the County Registrar’s Office would have answered your question,” he told Woolson in the meeting.
Woolson had also criticized interim supervisor Levi Cox for driving too fast but later admitted that he, too, exceeds the speed limit. “I like to drive fast too,” he said.
Turman said he and the board welcomes public comment but added that the comments should be made without anger, hate, or violence.
Good suggestions but it might not be possible in a county where the national leaders of the political party that controls Floyd County support a former president’s illegal corruption and hurls insults and obscenities just about every time he opens his big mouth.
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