On the 15th of September I finally went down to the county building and walked into the office that handles elections and voter registration and left the party I’d belonged to for 39 years.
I’d been thinking of doing so for a long time. Part of hanging on to the failed relationship was the hope that with just a little more time the party would regain some of the standards and principles and ethics it once claimed were bedrocks of its foundation. It just wasn’t going to happen, and I reluctantly faced up to the truth and the reality.
I’ve been married to the same wonderful woman for almost as long, and she’s the only wife I’ve ever had, so I’ve no idea if leaving the party is like leaving a spousal relationship in the most minor way. It was a little bittersweet. I have no intention of leaving the wonderful spousal relationship. But in the case of the party it just became too much of an obvious choice for who I am and what I do and what my values have been.
Mostly it became an obvious choice for what the party has devolved into.
Who I am
I’m a veteran. I served in the Army from ‘73 through ‘76. I’d been drafted and, partly because I didn’t want to be the last man killed in Vietnam, I signed up in hopes of staying as far away as possible from what, even then, I knew was a futile war. It worked.
I’m a business owner. I employ 10 to 15 part-time staffers in a small retail food establishment and have managed to stay in business in Las Cruces for about 15 years, sometimes in the face of strong protestations from my CPA. I’m totally familiar with the requirements put on small business by governments and the ephemeral rewards of keeping the doors open in the face of a host of obstacles.
I’m an investor. Mostly through luck and a very successful spouse and a generous family I am involved in the stock market and oil production on a very modest scale as well as real estate. I’m one of those who gets a bit concerned with the wild fluctuations of a stock market that partly decides when I get to relax some and spend more time with the grandsons. I have more than a passing familiarity with the oil business and the myths many folks hold of how it works.
I’m a community volunteer. I have spent years in the past on boards and as chair of a few of the local organizations such as the Red Cross and La Piñon. I’ve also logged about 15 years as a volunteer firefighter in my local fire department and have awakened my wife too many times to count to get up in the middle of the night to go out and assist my community. I’ve washed a lot of trucks, given a lot of kids rides and been witness to the sadness and tragedy all firefighters experience in this line of service.
Because of my veteran status and the support of a wife way more intelligent than me, I am also a college graduate of a New Mexico school. Not only did I manage to get a college degree, I obtained a two-year diploma from a trade school. I’m an alumni both of the old Albuquerque T-VI in diesel mechanics as well as UNM, where I earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics.
I’m a gun owner. My father and mother came from the darkest of hollows in West Virginia to New Mexico, where I was born. Hunting, fishing and “putting by” were what they did and what we did growing up. My father taught me early how to use firearms and how to respect what they mean.
I’m a father and grandfather. My family represents the iconic climb on the economic and educational ladder many think is part of the American Dream. My parents never graduated from high school. All three of my parents’ children graduated from college. Our son and his lovely wife graduated from college, one with a law degree and one with a PhD.
If punch cards were given out for party qualifications, I think my card would be pretty much complete. Probably only a few items would raise eyebrows to a lot of regulars in the party.
I’ve been a contributor to the ACLU for decades and a card-carrying member for the past 10 or so.
I’ve never understood how one could be a member of the party and not also support the work of the ACLU, but that’s another story for another time. I have found almost all the work of the ACLU to be in tune with my patriotism, public service and private business interests.
The birth of a cult
So why have I bored you with all the details and too much information about my background and affiliations? I do so to illuminate, just a little, the picture of who I am, how like others in the party I am, and what my interest and involvement has been in my country and community.
Thirty-nine years is a long time for any human endeavor. We aren’t talking geologic time, so almost four decades means something. But, like I said in the beginning, the reality and truth will overwhelm the past accomplishments eventually. Whatever was good can be replaced by what is not good. Things that stood for something and represented shared values can be replaced by the base and ugly and false.
That’s why I gave a lot of thought to the move before I walked into the county elections office and changed my party affiliation from Republican to independent.
When I look at the current leaders of the Republican Party, I don’t see anyone who resembles what they once stood for and advocated. What I see now is a group of leaders who seek power for power’s sake, not for what good they can accomplish.
What I see now is a Republican Party that would rather see vast numbers of my fellow Americans suffer than sit down in civil discourse and work for the common good. What I seen now is a Republican Party that panders to the basest fears of race, class, religion and sexual orientation rather than seeking to strengthen one of the world’s most diverse cultures. What I see now is a Republican Party that does not consider those citizens with opposing views of how best to improve our country as the loyal opposition, but that views any opposition to their raw desire for power as treasonous and worthy of ridicule, mocking and scorn.
What I see now is a Republican Party that no longer views the country as a whole that requires common actions that would raise the standards of living for all, but a Republican Party that views the country as but a collection of votes to be exploited and pandered to in order to instill the “fear voting” that seems to be their new currency of elections. What I see is a Republican Party that does not believe that those less fortunate are a burden for the country to share and to work together to lift, but a Republican Party that sees those less fortunate as a group to be held up to public fears and to be blamed for the actions of those who actually have had the power and resources to make lives better yet have chosen another path.
Probably most saddening is that I see a Republican Party that is being driven by a few toward positions that are the most destructive for our country.
The Republican Party I used to know is being driven toward religious intolerance, ethnic divisiveness, cultural bigotry and intellectual bankruptcy by those who are not conservative, are not religious and are not in the least patriotic. When a party begins to believe that not coming to the aid of citizens in distress in order to win elections is a better strategy for our country than compromise and civility, we are seeing the collapse of a party and the birth of a cult.
A glimmer of hope?
I’m hoping that my new “independent” status will bring a glimmer of hope. I ultimately believe in the collective wisdom of Americans over the long haul. I’m hoping, as the Republican Party moves further and further away from civility, compromise and conservatism, that those who, like me, have kept the faith for decades will finally take the step and leave the broken promises and hollow platitudes that have become the hallmarks of that relationship.
Best of luck to us all.
Bernie Digman is a native of New Mexico who has lived in Farmington, Albuquerque, Gallup and Las Cruces, where he and his wife own Milagro Coffee y Espresso, Inc. He’s still an active member of the Las Alturas Volunteer Fire Department and spends time traveling and with their son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons in Minnesota.