Ernie Witter was Mr. Republican in my hometown. He owned a dairy farm and like generations of his family before him worked the land. The man had an intimidating and fearless presence. I would’ve avoided him altogether, but many of his grandchildren were schoolmates and they loved the old fellow. It put some humanity into his often stone-faced presence. Mr. Witter was a devout Baptist, and it was said he and not his pastor led his church. The ordained came and left. Ernie was a rock for generations.
One hot summer night I saw him driving his tractor on South Street before sunset. His face was serene. He enjoyed the austere life. He was devout, self-reliant and self-disciplined.
The summer of my first reporting job I was sent to the county fair, a week wandering the grounds and gathering stories about anything catching my fancy. I met some Democrats. They were a rare species in my county. Always on the verge of extinction. They didn’t say nice things about Ernie Witter. Later the very same day in passing the GOP booth I found it manned by Mr. Republican. When I told him the Democrats didn’t seem to like him he betrayed no emotion and sat motionless. “I don’t care much for them,” he explained.
The very same week at the fair I met an old woman who worked for an alternative newspaper. Memory is fading but I believe it was called the Ridge Runner. She warned family farms were endangered and believed government was to blame. Not long after I graduated college the first corporate farm appeared north of my town, in the isolated Rawson Valley, and there were 6,000 head. My counterpart from the newspaper believed in exchange for the population growth in cattle the human count along the back roads would decline. Fewer small farms. Fewer rural families. Fewer back roads needing maintenance. A way of life was receding, and she and our Republican leader had been watching the culture change radically for the previous 30 years.
There aren’t many Republicans in New York State. The largest city has a socialist mayor. The old Rust Belt cities cling to notions the Democrats will sock corporate executives in their noses and bring back the factories. The big city Republicans consider themselves “cultured” and look a lot like liberals. Only in the rural outback will you find truly conservative politics. Or you would’ve 30 years ago. I’m not at all sure what time has wrought. I’ve been gone so very long. Those country folks share much with Western ranchers and farmers. Here the threat is the ever-present impingement of the federal government. On the eastern front it’s a joint attack from both federal and state regulators.
We’ve lost. The Culture War brought forth change even in rural conservative outposts. Mr. Witter’s Republican heirs label themselves fiscal conservatives and complain about regulators but most grew up in a changed landscape. Influenced by entertainments and mass media and peer pressure, it’s impolite to “judge” those who lack self-discipline, have alternative lifestyles and fail to respect the flag.
When President Trump spoke about our civilizational values in Poland he was mocked and pilloried as a racist. I’m no longer surprised. Five years ago the opposition party booed God at its convention. Godless, globalists and grappling to govern every aspect of our lives I suspect the future is only temporarily sidelined. The beast will be back when it removes the threat it perceives in the Oval Office.
An Eastern friend teaches at a small college in New Jersey and after years away from the practice of law is considering a return. She also raised lawyers. It’s a small world. One of her sons represented me in a minor legal matter some years ago and also drafted a will for our current president before Mr. Trump made it to the White House. During a telephone conversation with the professor, the subject of the Bundy Ranch and Malheur Wildlife Refuge came around. She was delighted when I suggested some of the juries have nullified the government’s arguments. But is it only temporary? When the indigenous tribes of the Americas, Africa and Australia were threatened by cultural extinction they did not go gentle into that good night. Aside from a few ranchers, the fighting spirit appears a relic of the past.
Mr. Witter died long ago and I imagine the newspaper reporter I met at the fair also went to her maker before the 21st century arrived. Some days I’ll be driving home from work and suddenly feel a sense of loss. And that I let them down. I didn’t stay and keep up the fight. The grandchildren of Ernie Witter also mostly packed up and moved away. The old culture had no appeal when we were young. Much like the graves of my late family members, the burial spot for Mr. Republican is an isolated place on a hillside overlooking the north side of town and the new interstate taking people far from home and leaving the old roads behind.
The wind blows through the seasons, and in a few generations like all the headstones before the names and dates will be scrubbed clean. All that will be left of the forgotten will be a field of weathered stones.
Why baseball? It’s a family activity. It’s wholesome, and having spent many a summer night watching balls and strikes, it reduces stress.
Bill Colley is the host of Top Story on Newsradio 1310 AM.
I read with amazement your article about the union needed at Lamb Weston. In your one-sided, pro-union article, there was not a positive word about Lamb Weston the company or the many positive things that they bring to our community. Why would you print an article that does not fairly present both sides?
I was an employee for Lamb Weston from 1990-2011. In the 21 years that I worked there, the Teamsters tried to unionize the plant twice. Other Lamb Weston plants are union and that’s fine, but there was no need for one in Twin Falls. We always received a 3 percent wage increase annually and company-paid retirement benefits. They donate generously to local food banks, the Boy Scouts, county fair food booths, and anyone who asks. The Fry Booth, which they send out free of charge to events like Western Days, local school sporting events, etc., donates all of the proceeds to each organization or non-profit.
Lamb Weston has always been a great place to work. I always enjoyed the annual employee picnic. They employ over 600 people and have always been generous with compensation, insurance, and benefits. So why would Lamb Weston need a union? A union could not add one thing that Lamb Weston does not already offer. The union would only keep bad employees from losing their jobs, which doesn’t help anyone, and it would just be an extra cost to the employees. I hope the union realizes that they are not needed. They weren’t needed the previous two times and they are not needed now.
I did not leave the Republican Party. The Republican Party left its senses. The political movement that once stood athwart history resisting bloated government and military adventurism has been reduced to an amalgam of talk-radio resentments. President Trump’s Republicans have devolved into a party without a cause, dominated by a leader hopelessly ill-informed about the basics of conservatism, U.S. history and the Constitution.
America’s first Republican president reportedly said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity. But if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” The current Republican president and the party he controls were granted monopoly power over Washington in November and already find themselves spectacularly failing Abraham Lincoln’s character exam.
It would take far more than a single column to detail Trump’s failures in the months following his bleak inaugural address. But the Republican leaders who have subjugated themselves to the White House’s corrupting influence fell short of Lincoln’s standard long before their favorite reality-TV star brought his gaudy circus act to Washington.
When I left Congress in 2001, I praised my party’s successful efforts to balance the budget for the first time in a generation and keep many of the promises that led to our takeover in 1994. I concluded my last speech on the House floor by foolishly predicting that Republicans would balance budgets and champion a restrained foreign policy for as long as they held power.
I would be proved wrong immediately.
As the new century began, Republicans gained control of the federal government. George W. Bush and the GOP Congress responded by turning a $155 billion surplus into a $1 trillion deficit and doubling the national debt, passing a $7 trillion unfunded entitlement program and promoting a foreign policy so utopian it would have made Woodrow Wilson blush. Voters made Nancy Pelosi speaker of the House in 2006 and Barack Obama president in 2008.
After their well-deserved drubbing, Republicans swore that if voters ever entrusted them with running Washington again, they would prove themselves worthy. Trump’s party was given a second chance this year, but it has spent almost every day since then making the majority of Americans regret it.
The GOP president questioned America’s constitutional system of checks and balances. Republican leaders said nothing. He echoed Stalin and Mao by calling the free press “the enemy of the people.” Republican leaders were silent. And as the commander in chief insulted allies while embracing autocratic thugs, Republicans who spent a decade supporting wars of choice remained quiet. Meanwhile, their budget-busting proposals demonstrate a fiscal recklessness very much in line with the Bush years.
Last week’s Russia revelations show just how shamelessly Republican lawmakers will stand by a longtime Democrat who switched parties after the promotion of a racist theory about Barack Obama gave him standing in Lincoln’s once-proud party. Neither Lincoln, William Buckley nor Ronald Reagan would recognize this movement.
It is a dying party that I can no longer defend.
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jon Meacham has long predicted that the Republican and Democrats’ 150-year duopoly will end. The signs seem obvious enough. When my Republican Party took control of Congress in 1994, it was the first time the GOP had won the House in a generation. The two parties have been in a state of turmoil ever since.
In 2004, Republican strategist Karl Rove anticipated a majority that would last a generation; two years later, Pelosi became the most liberal House speaker in history. Obama was swept into power by a supposedly unassailable Democratic coalition. In 2010, the tea party tide rolled in. Obama’s reelction returned the momentum to the Democrats, but Republicans won a historic state-level landslide in 2014. Then last fall, Trump demolished both the Republican and Democratic establishments.
Political historians will one day view Donald Trump as a historical anomaly. But the wreckage visited of this man will break the Republican Party into pieces—and lead to the election of independent thinkers no longer tethered to the tired dogmas of the polarized past. When that day mercifully arrives, the two-party duopoly that has strangled American politics for almost two centuries will finally come to an end. And Washington just may begin to work again.