I‘ve said many times that when I moved to Wallowa County in 1971, there were more registered Democrats than there were Republicans. I think it’s important to remember this as we look at today’s strange politics. Party allegiances — and allegiances to individuals and ideas — change.
The very popular — in Wallowa County and across much of rural America — Franklin D. Roosevelt was gone 26 years when I arrived. Memories of the initiation of farm aid and rural electrification programs, the CCC program that had built roads, water troughs, ranger stations and the wall around the Chief Joseph Cemetery, were a generation removed.
Most liberals and Northern Democrats had not realized that excluding agricultural and domestic workers from FDR’s Social Security program meant excluding almost half of American workers — most of them black. This, according to modern historians, was Roosevelt’s deal with the devil that made passage of the legislation possible — and kept the South Democratic.
The turbulent ‘60s jostled political parties and politicians: Civil Rights marches and demonstrations and the brutal reprisals of Southern Sheriff Bull Conner outraged much of white American, and President Lyndon Johnson pushed the most dramatic Civil Rights legislation since the 14th Amendment through Congress. The solid South went from Democrat to George Wallace Independent and then slid Republican. We now know that Johnson, a ruthless dealmaker when in Congress, knew that he had lost the South to his party, but believed it was in the interests of his country.
I didn’t understand all that at the time. I, like so many others, had gone Democrat with the words of John Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
Those words and Kennedy’s idea of service have given me a home for almost 60 years. I’ve voted mostly for Democrats, but often for Republicans, on those grounds. Sen. Hatfield was a favorite; he was a man of conscience who looked out for the interests of the nation and its citizenry. Local offices used to be partisan, and it was with no reservations and great pride that I voted for Clifford Johnson, Ben Boswell and Mike Hayward — all Republicans. I believed, and still believe, that these men had a will to serve.
Fortunately, on a local level where we know our candidates personally. Integrity and community interest are easier to evaluate. We in Wallowa County have a history of good public servants, and for the past half-century, knowing that many would have chosen Republican if the county offices were still partisan, I have been able to talk and joke with our commissioners about our differences on national politics and agreement on most things local.
Today, I tell them and other Republican friends that a liar, a man interested in his own wealth and power — and not in you, hijacked your party. A journalist friend who interviewed Donald Trump more than once in the 1980s said that he was a pathological liar, giving you the story at every turn that put him in the best light. When you wanted to know the details of his organization’s activities — mundane things like hotel openings — you called an assistant to get the facts.
Mr. Trump went through lawsuits, marriages and bankruptcies, all the while developing hotels, golf courses and other commercial properties. I know, Trump never declared personal bankruptcy, but hotels and casino businesses of his declared bankruptcy six times between 1991 and 2009. There are also stories of extramarital affairs and payoffs, and there’s a long list of lawsuits dismissed, settled out of court or still being litigated.
His 14 seasons on the reality TV show, “The Apprentice,” gave Donald Trump name recognition and fame, and allowed him to not only buy and sell properties, but to sell his name. A “Trump Hotel” is not necessarily owned by Mr. Trump. His fame vaulted him into the presidency, and it is personal fame and notoriety, and not the country’s best interests, that he still craves.
I believe that Donald Trump believes that the election was fraudulent — how could he not have won with the crowds and testimonies on social media and support of friendly TV personalities? The man who ghost wrote his 1987 autobiography, The Art of the Deal, says today that in the decades he’s known Donald Trump, he’s “never seen the man more frightening, out of control and disconnected with reality than he is now.” Pathological liars don’t know when they are lying.
Trump’s speech and his two big pathological lies — that he won the election and that COVID-19 is under control — precipitated the assault on the Capitol. I write this two days before Inauguration Day. May it go smoothly, may we overtake the pandemic and may the rehabilitation of the Republican Party begin.