A Call for Statesmen

“Pop Staebler was serious when it came to politics, and he thought Republican was the only way to vote. That seemed to be his one interest and obligation outside of the farm and his family. He was on the local township governing board and the year I lived there [during the war] he worked on the election board. When he needed another person to work at the polls for the presidential election, I volunteered. I didn’t tell him I was going to vote for Roosevelt!” Stellajoe

I found this memory written by my mother in a box full of old calendars, notebooks, and “unmailed letters.” I barely skimmed the contents of the box as I emptied it into one that would fit better on the shelf in the storage cabinet, but I was thrilled to find a few pages about her months on the farm in 1944 after her new husband left to fight the Nazis.

My father’s family were die-hard Republicans in Michigan; my great-grandfather was a Michigan state senator at the turn of the last century. My father voted Republican too, he and my mother cancelling out each other’s votes most every election, so far as I know. He did like Roosevelt, though, and voted for him for a fourth term in 1944. For whom he voted four years earlier, the first year he could vote, I don’t know; I suspect Wilkie. But my mother voted for Roosevelt, four years after women won the right to cast a ballot.

Serendipitously, I had been thinking about this post earlier today, before I found my mother’s jottings, and the quote provides a perfect entry. I don’t speak my political leanings in social media much—though I have broken with that a couple times lately—but I am so disheartened, afraid, and angered by the current administration and the bullying of senators, that I can’t help myself.

I believe in our two-party system. It is what makes us a democracy. It is supposed to be our checks and balances. Maybe I’m naive—I’m neither historian nor political scientist—but it seems like when Congress listens to one another, debates civilly and thoughtfully, is true to the Constitution, maintains separation of the three branches of government (i.e. the president stays out of Congress’s business), things work as they are meant to.

“Well, are you going to vote Republican this fall? Were you glad to see the lawyer get nominated? Confidentially I think I will vote for Roosevelt. Even if Dewey is a Michigan man. How about it Pa can I come home if I vote for Roosevelt? But even with Roosevelt in for a fourth term I’m afraid the war will last long enough for it to blow over and I’ll be able to come home. I’m afraid that it’s come to pass that a poor Republican isn’t quite so good as a good Democrat after all.” George

I’m listening to an audio book, Hivemind: The New Science of Tribalism in Our Divided World (Sarah Rose Cavanagh, PhD.). On my drive to yoga this morning, the author talked about the culture of meanness the current administration has ushered in. How sad is that, to live in a “culture of meanness”?

I’m also reading novels set in World War II, learning how Nazism happened. A culture of meanness and hive mind (a single mind controlling the behavior of an individual organism), taken to the extreme. Are we far from that now? When a president bullies the one Republican member of Congress who dares listen to evidence, make up his own mind, uphold his oath and vote his conscience?

It seems to me the Republican party is no longer true to its own beliefs and values. I’m reminded of the Baptist church I attended for many years, which, in the early 90s, broke from the Southern Baptist Convention because they no longer stood for Baptist origins. Other Baptist churches have done the same, forming a new denomination. Presbyterians did it as well, and it seems Methodists are heading there. Maybe Republicans need to split from the radical right. Maybe there needs to be another choice for conservatives. America needs to save itself from becoming Nazi Germany.

April 14, 1945
Dear folks —

“The big news yesterday of Roosevelt’s death really took us back. I first heard about it at breakfast about 6 or 7 hours after it happened. You would be surprised at the solemn faces and the real sadness it brought. I don’t know what you thought or said but if I thought for a minute you Republicans said “good riddance” I’d surely be mad as hops and I mean it.

“Everyone is pretty thoroughly preoccupied with winning the war and thoughts of getting home. Yet there isn’t a one who in his more thoughtful moments didn’t also think of the winning of the peace and really making this the last war. The war will go on and be won as though nothing had happened but the peace is a different story. If there was ever an indispensable man it was Roosevelt. At least that is what I think and I’m sure I’m not alone.

“I hope everything turns out for the best but a lot of politicians have got to become statesmen over night.” George

Debbie Stabenow (D-MI): “We know who Donald Trump is. The question is ‘who are we?'”

It’s not too late. I hope it’s not too late. We are a nation of hopefulness and resilience. But a lot of politicians have got to become statesmen overnight.


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