What the National Republican Party Can Learn from Vermont: a response to David Brooks

In his November 13, 2015, New York Times column, David Brooks wrote about the future of the GOP and the party’s positions on immigration. Brooks writes, “The demographics of this country are changing. This will be the last presidential election cycle in which the G.O.P., in its current form, has even a shot at winning the White House.” The GOP’s base is older and far less racially and ethnically diverse than the population as a whole. So Brooks begins his column with the question for his fellow Republicans, “Are we as a party willing to champion the new America that is inexorably rising around us, or are we the receding roar of an old America that is never coming back?” (New York Times online, November 13, 2015).

Like the Republican base, Vermont as a state is older and aging and is far less diverse than the rest of America. And yet, Vermonters—Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike—would likely respond to Brooks’ question that they will champion the new America. As Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin reaffirms the state’s willingness to accept refugees from Syria, even while some of his fellow governors are expressing obstinate refusals, Vermonters generally express openness to immigrants, minorities, and, to use the colloquial term, flat-landers from everywhere.

Vermont was an early adopter of same-sex unions. In a June 2013 poll by the Castleton Polling Institute, 66 percent of Vermonters expressed the view that same-sex couples should have the right to marry, and 74 percent thought that same-sex couples should receive the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples. These views represent a sense of comfort with, rather than reaction against, changing times.

A Seven Days article from January 15, 2014, discussed the process of resettling refugees from all over the world in Chittenden County (Kevin J. Kelley, “Twenty-Five Years and 6,300 People Later: A Vermont Refugee Report”). The article proclaims that the settlement of people from Africa and Asia into the largely homogeneous communities of Vermont had come about with very little xenophobic or reactionary activity. “Vermont is regarded as such a welcoming place that many immigrants move here from elsewhere in the U.S.,” notes the deputy director of the Association of Africans Living in Vermont, according to the article.

In a recent talk at Castleton University (October 13, 2015), Lieutenant Governor and gubernatorial candidate Phil Scott suggested that Vermont would benefit from an influx of immigrants who are younger than our average age. On that same page, Governor Jim Douglas has said that at the base of the problems facing Vermont is demographics. The same can be said of the GOP, but the responses to what Brooks calls “the new America” from GOP presidential contenders, contrasts significantly with the responses from Vermonters who embrace the new.

Demographics are not determinant.