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America needs two functioning political parties to survive as a democracy

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What might the demise of a little-known language usage organization in the United Kingdom indicate for the future of the Republican Party? A hint might be found in the near-unanimous vote of House Republicans to support Arizona Representative and former dentist Paul Gosar for his vile conduct in posting a cartoon showing him murdering a fellow member of Congress.

In December 2019, an organization that was founded to push back against the misuse of the apostrophe in our language went out of business. In a statement, John Richards, the founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society, said that “we, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won.”

In a similar way, the nation has seen a continuing spectacle among a significant percentage of the population for displaying ignorance of facts through sole reliance on social media for news and information and laziness in not deploying critical thinking skills to fact-check content.

Adding to the peril the country faces with “alternative facts” and endless conspiracy theories, the Republican Party has exploited that atmosphere of ignorance and laziness by abdicating its responsibility for contributing to the well-being of a civil society.

However, instead of engaging in the exercise of governance, the GOP has chosen a strategy of obstruction rather than participation in the legislative process and for condoning reprehensible conduct among its congressional caucus.

The examples of recent reprehensible Republican conduct are legion.

U.S. Reps. Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene have spent their tenure in Congress promoting conspiracy theories and attacking their fellow members.

In her latest despicable move, Greene, who along with eleven other Republicans voted against awarding Congressional Gold Medals to the Capitol Police in honor of their heroism on Jan. 6, instead suggested that the vigilante who killed two people in Kenosha is a hero and should be awarded the same medal.

Worse yet, a number of Republicans, including a far-right insurrectionist congressional contingent comprised of Boebert, Greene, Matt Gaetz, Madison Cawthorn, along with Paul Gosar, have said they are considering making Kenosha killer Kyle Rittenhouse a congressional aide as a reward for his conduct in taking the lives of two protestors at the Kenosha rally.

Moreover, other Republicans like Mo Brooks of Alabama and Josh Hawley of Missouri actively encouraged the mob of insurrectionists on Jan. 6, while others cheered them on in a less demonstrative fashion. There are other perps, to be sure, but that’s a sufficient list of usual suspects to raise the blood pressure of the calmest person.

But let’s return to the subject of Paul Gosar.

The Arizona insurrectionist is a diabolical dentist who has infected the cranial cavities of countless individuals through his incendiary rhetoric and despicable demeanor, a miscreant so toxic that his own family urged his constituents to vote him out of Congress.

The Gosar family’s warning occurred in 2018, more than a year before the demise of the Apostrophe Protection Society. Even though Gosar has been reelected twice since that warning by his family, you can’t say his constituents, indeed all of us, weren’t warned.

A  New York Times story said it all:

“Six of nine brothers and sisters of Representative Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona, publicly endorsed his Democratic opponent in the midterm elections in videos on Friday, in what one of them said was nothing short of a moral imperative.”

In their unwavering support of the deranged and diabolical dentist, however, the Republican Party and Gosar’s constituents have demonstrated no imperative, moral or otherwise, for removing an amoral abscess from the body politic, an individual deemed dangerous by members of his own family.

The Gosar contagion, shared with the other pathogens present in the amalgam formed from fellow insurrectionists, leads us right back to the warning provided by the death of the Apostrophe Protection Society.

That lesson tells us in the case of language conventions and correct usage, ignorance morphs into abuse, as the Apostrophe Protection Society itself claimed its very purpose was to challenge the “abuse” of this punctuation mark.

And in the case of social awareness, when you add laziness to the equation, where people believe everything they read on social media without further checking of information sources and are therefore ignorant of the true facts, the result, like the abuse of the apostrophe in written language, is the abuse of our democratic system through the spread of harmful misinformation and conspiracy theories.

Our democratic system has indeed been the target of much abuse by the crazy party in our political system. But unlike its gullible rank-and-file Trumpian base, which strongly believes that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, the Republican leadership is anything but ignorant and lazy as it continues to spread The Big Lie.

And like the supposed abuse of the apostrophe, the GOP leadership encourages the abuse of our democratic system in the form of manipulation, lying, and bullying, making it harder for many citizens to vote.

An added element to this manipulation is the blatant and aggressive gerrymandering of state and congressional districts. These tactics serve to disrupt and subvert the process of governance, as seen in the aftermath of Jan. 6 and the actions of the party’s insurrectionist core.

If all of this weren’t enough, the signs for future conflict in the form of militias and their Proud Boys and Oath Keeper allies are disturbing. Faced with this alarming trend toward armed confrontation and division, you would think that a responsible political party would tone down its incendiary rhetoric and urge its supporters to moderate their zeal.

That is not what Republicans are doing. Instead, the party continues to fan the flames of hatred, violence and division. A recent piece in the Washington Post put it this way:

“It’s not too late to avert a wider insurgency, but it will require Republicans to dial down their violent and apocalyptic rhetoric — which they show no sign of doing.”

If all of this is disturbing, it should come as no surprise that the whole world is watching. A few days ago, the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) published a report about a number of countries that show tendencies toward becoming “backsliding” democracies. Here is IDEA’s view of us:

The visible deterioration of democracy in the United States, as seen in the increasing tendency to contest credible election results, the efforts to suppress participation (in elections), and the runaway polarisation … is one of the most concerning developments.”

Whether it is the incorrect use of a mark of punctuation or the deliberate spread of lies and voting restrictions, the result is not only the abuse of the apostrophe but of the process of democracy itself.

We can wonder about the death of the Apostrophe Protection Society and what it means for us and the future. But we must also think about the ramifications for a society which at times demonstrates both appalling ignorance of the present state of the nation, where laziness with facts and a lack of curiosity for finding accurate news and information imperils our democracy.

It is a great irony of history that exactly 160 years ago, it was the Republican Party under the leadership of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, that confronted insurrectionists intent on destroying the union.

By contrast, we have a Republican Party that today seems to be led by a team of insurrectionists loyal to a twice-impeached former president, all determined to exert their will at all costs, including the killing of democracy.

So in musing about the death of the Apostrophe Protection Society, it’s interesting to think that the present-day Party of Lincoln, in its unwillingness to moderate its tone, its abuse of facts as seen in the Big Lie, and laziness in abrogating its constitutional duty as a contributor to the democratic process of governance, might suffer the same fate of dissolution.

This nation needs a strong two-party system to function as a democracy. A true conservative and not an insurrectionist party will sustain our present system for years to come.

If it takes the death of the current Republican Party to heal our nation, so be it. Our democracy will be healthier with another, less toxic and more contributing member to the governance process, in its place.

It took the demise of the Whigs in the mid-nineteenth century to help create the conditions for the emergence of the Republican Party that saved the union of states from dissolution in the Civil War.

Today, since that party is incapable of change from its current destructive and anti-democratic behavior, let us hope that if there might be the death of one political party, there will also be renewal and rebirth for our system and life ahead for our challenged and backsliding democracy.


Denis Smith is a retired school administrator and served as a consultant in the Ohio Department of Education’s charter school office. He has additional experience working in marketing communications with a publisher and in association management as an executive with a national professional society. Mr. Smith is a member of the board of Public Education Partners.

This commentary was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.

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