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.
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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.