Why are Democrats accused by Republicans as being un-American or un-patriotic?

When I was growing up, everybody knew that everybody else was patriotic.

Maybe my father was a liberal, and yours was conservative, and mine was in the Army in WWII, and yours was in the Navy. But everybody wanted the best for America, and expected you to do so as well.

The disagreements were mostly about policies and methods.

Even my uncle, who was a card-carrying member of the John Birch Society, thought liberals and hippies, who were clearly destroying America, were merely naive deluded tools of Communist Russia.

Senator McCarthy had given a bad name to accusations of treason. By the early 1960s, most people would have been embarrassed to accuse somebody of being unpatriotic.

Sure, there were exceptions, but they were widely viewed as cranks, and they weren’t very influential.

That started to change with Newt Gingrich in the early 1990s.

Newt Gingrich

Gingrich had developed the sense that the reason that Republicans weren’t winning enough was that they weren’t nasty enough. So he distributed a memo[1] to the freshman members of the House, encouraging them to “speak like Newt.”

The memo encourages fellow Republican legislators (and aspirants) to memorize a list of “contrast” words, and to make a point of associating those words with Democrats at every opportunity. The word included the following:

decay, failure (fail) collapse(ing) deeper, crisis, urgent(cy), destructive, destroy, sick, pathetic, lie, liberal, they/them, unionized bureaucracy, “compassion” is not enough, betray, consequences, limit(s), shallow, traitors, sensationalists, endanger, coercion, hypocricy, radical, threaten, devour, waste, corruption, incompetent, permissive attitude, destructive, impose, self-serving, greed, ideological, insecure, anti-(issue): flag, family, child, jobs; pessimistic, excuses, intolerant, stagnation, welfare, corrupt, selfish, insensitive, status quo, mandate(s) taxes, spend (ing) shame, disgrace, punish (poor…) bizarre, cynicism, cheat, steal, abuse of power, machine, bosses, obsolete, criminal rights, red tape, patronage.

Don’t take my word for it, go read the memo.

Under his leadership, Republicans became much more bitter, accusing Democrats of deliberately destroying the country. Republicans re-took the House, and in 1995, they made Newt Speaker.

At this point, Speaker Gingrich instituted some new rules. (Technically not House rules, but rules within the Republican caucus.) Prior to his Speakership, both parties had actively championed collegiality. Members were encouraged to host and attend social events with members of both parties: barbecues, dinners, drinks after work, poker games, you name it. When Congressman Smith spoke of “My good friend, Congressman Jones”, he meant it. It led to common understandings and to compromises.

Speaker Gingrich knew that wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted a caucus where it was clear that any Democrat was the enemy. So, if you liked your committee assignments, you stopped going to parties where Democrats might show up. You stopped inviting Democrats to your back-yard barbecue. You went for drinks after work with Republicans only.

Newt Gingrich was a professor of history. He understood about how collegiality leads to compromise. And he didn’t like it. He understood how demonization works. And that was just fine.

Newt Gingrich deliberately whipped up today’s hyperpartisan politics so that he could ride it into office. He hoped it would make him President one day. In the meantime, there are generations of Republicans who have grown up hearing their leadership preaching that Democrats are evil. How could they not believe it?

Q: Why are Democrats accused by Republicans as being un-American or un-patriotic?