Opinion | Campaign

Colin Powell's example to the GOP — and to America

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It will be some time until the Republican Party turns the page on Donald Trump and returns to its more mainstream, conservative principles.

Eight months after the Jan. 6 insurrection, Trump still has the soul of the Republican Party. On Oct. 18, the former president filed a federal lawsuit against the Jan. 6 select committee seeking to block the panel from obtaining his administration's records from the National Archives.

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Having fundamentally shifted away from its axis of reasonable conservative and libertarian archetypes, the Republican Party continues to relitigate America's ugly past without any logical orientation or ideological reasoning to shape the party's future. There is no pablum platform or component figurehead, and the GOP doesn't have leaders but sycophants, afraid to challenge the distortion of the party's axis.

Very simply, it feels as if our federal republic is slowly eroding, and Jan. 6 was the breaking point.

The loss of Gen. Colin Powell is an unfortunate reminder that we are grieving our national political party system and an America that once was - a collective bipartisanship. Nine months ago, in the wake of the Trump-inspired riot at the U.S. Capitol, Gen. Powell said that he could "no longer call myself a fellow Republican." He castigated not just Trump but his enablers within the party. Ironically, a quarter-century before, the Republican Party's nomination had been Gen. Powell's for the taking - if he had wanted it.

Gen. Powell knew that the nation's political landscape had become highly polarized, but he also knew that average citizens must engage to hold elected officials accountable; that the people dictate the terms of American politics. Moreover, citizen engagement is critical now more than ever, with Republican efforts systematically rolling back voting access in states following Democratic victories in the 2020 election.

Gen. Powell helped a generation of young people understand civic engagement. Furthermore, while he never denied the unfortunate role race played in his life and in our society more broadly, he repudiated the idea that race could end his dreams or the dreams of others, and through his balanced and moral leadership, helped pave the way for so many who would follow.

Our country is now teetering between the tyranny of elites and the tyranny of irrationality - a societal bipolar condition that threatens to crash down on us. Moreover, representative democracy both domestic and abroad is being degraded by rampant populism being exploited by malicious forces to enshrine the dominance of political minorities over prevalent (not populist) will.

This anti-democracy craziness does have roots in a willingness of the Republican Party to leverage the structures of national governance to effect rule by the minority. But Republicans aren't only at fault here; Democrats continue to be too "soft" during both campaigning and legislating and they fail to organize effectively. For a few decades now, it's been apparent that both parties are continuing to move to the extreme, turning to political gangsterism instead. This is worsened by the number of Democrats retiring and the few moderate Republicans like Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) leaving Congress altogether.

Gen. Powell served Republican administrations but was willing to endorse then-candidate Barack Obama for president in 2008. And when conspiracy theories were trolling, and many Republicans were questioning Obama's faith, Gen. Powell replied in a resonant way, exemplifying his ethical clarity: "The correct answer is, he is not a Muslim; he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, 'What if he is?' Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Thus, is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?"

Gen. Powell is the standard-bearer for what it means to be a great American regardless of political affiliation, race or creed. Could we as the American people emulate his example? Or could we as a country get back to what it truly means to be great - the way in which Gen. Colin Powell made it great?

Quardricos Bernard Driskell is a former Republican operative and an adjunct professor of legislative politics at The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management. Follow him on Twitter @q_driskell4

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