Thanks xogfog for the compliment.
Like you, I grew up in an era where mainstream Republicans were considered people of stature, of character, people who stood for a rational philosophy based on small government, individual rights and the free market of goods, but also ideas and opportunity if one worked hard enough and contributed positively to society.
They also agreed with Democrats on many of the fundamental supports for the rule of law and our constitutional freedoms. There were always fringe elements including the white supremacists, the isolationists, the American Firsters who did not care if the world burned as long as they were safe, but they were rejected by the majority of Republican voters as outside the norm and thus not representative of the party, the country and American culture.
Since roughly 1994, that has gradually and, at times like the last 7 years, suddenly, eroded away to almost nothing. The Republican party and, naturally most of their base voters, no longer stand for any type of philosophy, no longer believe in ideas or policies, no longer care about the rule of law or the Constitution and certainly no longer believe in limited government or the free market.
They have played to the lowest common denominator of culture war, to emotion, to anger and frustration and to the fear and anxiety that fuels that anger. They will say and do anything to manipulate voters, to retain power and to exercise their plan for sustained minority rule. They wield government power with abandon - look at what Trump did in office & what governors like DeSantis are doing every day. They use the instruments of government to reward cronies & sycophants while punishing anyone who stands in their way or dares to question what is going on.
It is an authoritarian anti-intellectual approach using effective Goebbels level messaging to freeze our country in the 1920s when people of color knew their place, when women shut up and played their roles, when the rich partied while the rest struggled and politicians knew which side their bread was buttered on. They are now the fringe American Firsters they used to laugh at and scorn.
Therefore, there really is only one true political party in our country left: the Democrats. Unfortunately, they are horrible at communications. They have good policy chops and some good ideas and they still believe in the power of ideas, but they also have an active fringe wing that continues to pull the party left in reaction to the same forces the Republicans are facing: the middle or mainstream of American politics has been hollowed out. There is no energy, no appetite and no power in moderation or consensus anymore. That is very very dangerous for the viability of our representative democracy. Biden was a small step back to the middle in response to the Republican's Trumpian flirtation with dictatorship, but it is largely viewed as a failure. If the Republicans regain Congress in 2022 and lock up even more state & local level control, we are looking at a likely Republican President in 2024 and a very unstable future.