What do you do when the group you’ve belonged to your entire life no longer represents your values?
This has often been a problem in the melting pot that is America. Children upset parents by rejecting traditional customs, like arranged marriage.
But it is also a problem in politics.
In some countries, especially parliamentary democracies, political parties are much more fluid. French President Emmanuel Macron’s party didn’t exist two years ago, but won a landslide majority this spring.
But in the United States, our two major political parties are almost like families. Each has been around for more than a century and a half. They change gradually, they mutate, but it is virtually impossible to imagine either disappearing, partly because our political structure is designed for a two-party system.
Culturally, our parties are very different.
Democrats have long been a coalition of different ethnic groups who may not love each other, but hate Republicans more.
The Republican Party, on the other hand, began as a pro-business and pro-freedom party. The party was founded to oppose slavery, and attracted the support of most African-Americans who were allowed to vote.
That began to change during the Great Depression, when Robert Vann, the publisher of the Pittsburgh Courier, advised black Americans to “turn Lincoln’s picture to the wall,” and vote Democratic because the New Deal promised economic benefits.
That happened, but a solid third of black voters continued to support Republicans out of loyalty to the party’s civil rights roots.
That ended in 1964, when Democratic President Lyndon Johnson became a strong supporter of civil rights, and Republican nominee Barry Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act. Since then, Republicans have usually gotten less than 10% of black votes. But a few blacks were Republicans, often because they believed the party’s belief in self-reliance was what African-Americans needed to break the cycle of dependency.
Wayne Bradley, the Michigan Republican Party’s director of African-American engagement, was one of those.
He also was among the 8% of black voters who supported Donald Trump. But he has been troubled by his party’s response to the controversy that began in Charlottesville, and also over GOP support for Confederate statues.
Over the weekend, Bradley posted on Facebook:
“You can’t claim to be from the party of Lincoln and defend the Confederacy.”
His reward was to reap a torrent of abuse.
“This is no longer the party of Lincoln, it’s the party of Trump!” one man posted.
Many news outlets also reported that Bradley was attacked by Antrim County GOP Chair “Trucker Randy” Bishop, who loudly called him to be fired for “placating liberals.”
Few noted, however, that Trucker Randy moved to Antrim after two felony fraud convictions in Macomb.
The fact is that Wayne Bradley is clinging to a vision of the Republican Party that basically no longer exists.
President Trump has said he is grateful that fewer blacks voted last year than in the last presidential election, and was slow to condemn the racists in Charlottesville.
Republicans are also now the party defending the statues of those who would have seen Wayne Bradley as property, not a person.
Bradley may wish to believe otherwise. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that this isn’t Lincoln, George Romney, Bill Milliken, or even Richard Nixon’s GOP.
*Correction - A previous version of this post said that since 1964, Republicans "have usually gotten less than one percent of black votes." The correct number is "less than 10%." It has been corrected above.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.