If you watch the BBC-produced Downtown Abbey on PBS Masterpiece Theater, you can’t help but like the clan’s patriarch, Lord Grantham. Even when he’s doing the wrong thing, you hope that modernity will slap him in the face and detour him from the wrong decision.
As I watched this past Sunday’s episode, it occurred to me how analogous Lord Grantham is to the current state of the Republican Party.
For the uninitiated, I will explain. Downtown focuses on a family of British aristocrats in the early 20th Century and the trials and tribulations of feudal-style life for the nobility and their servants. Season three covers a period following World War I where enormous change is thrust on society, including women’s suffrage and the end of tuxedos at dinner.
Lord Grantham, as the lord of the manor, feels a sense of obligation to protect tradition and in so doing, often finds himself swimming against the tide and making decisions based on protecting the past rather than embracing the future. You root for Lord Grantham because you can see that he is intent on doing the right thing and that he is a good man, confused by societal change.
Such is today’s Republican Party. There is a sincerity in our ranks’ desire to protect – even celebrate – our traditions and customs. And there is genuine fear that changing demographics equal a change in those that things that make us exceptional. Are we wrong? Yes and no.
There is no doubt in my mind that American values do make us exceptional and I have genuine fear that as our nation changes, we are abandoning those customs and moving toward a European-style socialism, both economically and culturally. We are throwing off these values and traditions and making ourselves less exceptional and more similar to those failing states of Europe struggling for an identity in a global economy and global society.
The challenge we face is not unlike the challenges facing Lord Grantham. How do we modernize without abandoning important traditions? How do we remain exceptional even as we move away from those values that make us exceptional? To me, that is the challenge facing our party.