The Resurrection and the Life of the Republican Party by Robert Day

Casa Botin, Madrid, 2016 – We are four at a Holy Week dinner at Ernest Hemingway’s favorite Spanish restaurant and, over bread and wine, we have consecrated ourselves as saviors of the Republican Party. None of us are now, nor have ever been, Republicans; but our parents were in the days of a lot of Ike and a bit of Taft–as the writer among us put it. We believe in the two party system. Beyond the writer, one of us is a painter, another a psychologist, and the fourth a medical doctor.

The psychologist proposes a bolt of Electroconvulsive Therapy for the Republican Party and be done with it: Remember the scene in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” she says. Randle McMurphy is an amusing version of Donald Trump. Think of Hillary as Nurse Ratched. They deserve her.

We could, says the painter, gesso over the Republican’s recent past. Cover up the canvas of Billy Graham, Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon’ s Southern Strategy; Reagan’s speech at Philadelphia, Mississippi; Lee Atwater bragging about the success of the racist code in “state’s rights”; Willy Horton; Fox News; Russ Limbaugh; Glenn Beck–and make for the Republicans a better painting of themselves. Or at least give them a blank canvas to see what they can do on their own. So long, see you never again: Karl Rove, George Bush, Mitt Romney and Ted Cruz et al. The painter is the only one among us who is also clairvoyant.

Over Casa Botin’s famous suckling pig and with more than a bottle of Rioja Alta, we talk about these ideas and wonder among ourselves if it is worth it to save the Republicans from themselves. Why not just let them slice and dice themselves into the garbage disposal of history: Think of the Whig Party. But then the doctor has an idea:

All disease is either self-limiting or fatal, he says. And even if it is potentially fatal, you can sometimes cure it by treating the symptoms. Rabies is a rare example. If the patient survives the treatment, the body is purged of the disease and it can recover. But the cure has to run its course.

Then is it true, I say, that in this case the Republican Party is the patient and Donald Trump is rabies? And if that is true, and if we can cure the Party of the disease by treating the symptoms so that it is purged of Donald Trump, it might recover to its former, non-religious, non-racist self after the fever has broken.

There is some talk about writers making metaphors in excess, but after we get a third bottle of Rioja Alta we toast the idea and start on making it work.

Station one: to convince all the Republicans from Brownback in Kansas to Kasich in Ohio, to William Kristol on television and everyone in between, to not only stop bashing Trump, but in a moment of televised unity on the Megyn Kelly’s Fox News show declare themselves in full and active support of Donald Trump: Pan to Trump smiling. Continue to “The Morning Joe”: Pan to Joe Scarborough smiling—not that it would be new. For 24/7 on the split and half split and full screens all over America with lines of text scudding across the bottom we see and hear the likes of Peggy Noonan opine thatTrump is tres tweet. And Anne Coulter says: Hair we are, at last, at last.

Station two: The Republican editorial writers and Talking Heads stop nattering on about the party of Lincoln and Reagan and Goldwater (a oxymoron in last two cases) and get with the program. No more speeches about how Trump doesn’t have the temperament to be President like nuke em Henry!- Nixon. No more pious lectures from New York Times writers about Trump, No, Never with quotations from the Bible to make the point. Or the resurrection of the Lincoln Battalion to ride to the non-communist rescue. Stop the mantra of Conservative Values (whatever they are). No more Third Party plots (Trump is his own Third Party). “Get over it,” as Justice Scalia sneered.

Station Three: The liberal press needs to deep-six its grin. No chortling about how the Republican Party is so worthless it could not even defeat a presidential candidate who was a Black Socialist Muslim born in Kenya. Like foxes with a mad dog on the loose: go to ground. Write columns and editorials about sunshine and rain, clouds parting, patches of blue sky and the benefits of a liberal arts education. Do not (DO NOT) go on talk shows either in person or by phone.

But, we wonder, what will the cure-in-progress look like? How will we know the fever of Rabid Trump is infecting the Republican Party, and when will we know the fever has broken?

There will be six signs, says the painter.

Like the red calf, says the writer. If she is the psychic among us I am the cynic. Meanwhile the Doctor is getting concerned that our systemic metaphor is making a mess of medical science. I don’t want the AMA to know about this, he says.

The first sign is that Jeb! drops out after spending x to y $$$$$ per vote. The second sign is that Trump says Japan and South Korea should have their own Atomic bombs; the third sign is that Ted Cruz chooses Carly Fiorina as his running mate; the fourth sign is that William Kristol goes on national television where he claims Trump must be stopped and is told by the program’s host that he needs to move on from “denial,” “anger”, “bargaining” and past “depression” straight to “acceptance”. The fifth sign is people burning their Republican Party Membership cards. The sixth sign is that Paul Ryan, the Republican Speaker of the House, observes that Donald Trump exemplified a “textbook definition of racism” and then Ryan endorsed Trump to be President of the United States.

Three of us shake our heads in disbelief.

There will also be an apparition, the painter continues.

Jung writes about signs, dreams, and apparitions, says the psychologist who still thinks a bolt of Electroconvulsive Therapy is the best bet. Just let the Republicans have that dead stare in their eyes like Jack Nicholson while Political Science Professors take their students on field trips to have a look-see at recent American History.

So, I ask, in the end, Hillary wins two elections in a row, the fever breaks and the Republican Party is cured and resurrected?

I’m glad I’m retired, says the Doctor.

What about the apparition? The psychologist asks. There is some excitement among the waiters near the front door not far from our table. A young woman will appear before us, the painter says. She will be wearing a black beret over her blond hair. It is as if she has been studying Spanish for a semester in Madrid and sometimes comes into Casa Botin to cheers of ‘Rubia!,’Rubia!’ ‘Blond! blond!’ We will make of her what we want her to be.

‘Wouldn’t it be pretty to think so,’ says the doctor, as into Casa Botin arrives a vision of youth, health and well-being.

Robert Day is the author of ten books, including novels, works of literary non-fiction,, collections of short stories, novellas, and poetry. His most recent book is Robert Day for President: An Embellished Campaign Autobiography

The Myth of Good College Teaching by Robert Day

At some point during the upcoming college graduation ceremonies there will be a moment when a member of the faculty is honored for excellence in classroom teaching. The chances are, even given local college politics, that the teacher deserves the recognition. That there is good college classroom teaching is not the myth: that it has any value in academic marketplace is. Think trading in Rubles.

Consider my friend for forty years, the brilliant American novelist John Barth. Over time I have met more than a few of his students from his Johns Hopkins teaching career. All of them praised the precision of his advice, his candor, his careful reading of their work.

Yes. And because of who he was as an important novelist he held their attention with Coleridge’s “glittering eye.” And because of who was he could have obtained distinguished professorships at a number fine colleges and universities. Now consider this:

How about we create a doppelgänger of John Barth albeit with few (if any) publications? Let us make him a teacher with deep knowledge of his subject; a teacher who prepares his classes with care. A teacher who is honored at graduation for his dedication to his students. And now let us imagine that this John Barth seeks the same professorships that author of The Floating Opera (among many other novels) is seeking. Futility to the x times y power.

But of course John Barth’s Hopkins students had the best of his glittering eye. Think about the well-published scholars and scientists in all academic fields, the specialists who are never going to be honored for their classroom teaching because they are neither good at it, nor care much about it. Imagine they have won national and international prizes and awards far beyond their college and university. It doesn’t take much to imagine that they too will get “the jobs, the dollars” to quote a line from Dee Snodgress’ poem April Inventory.

Each year I drive west on Interstate 70 from the East Coast to a remote town in Northwestern Kansas and along the way I see billboards advertising universities and colleges: One school claims a celebrated basketball player starred on its team; a small college asserts that it has a business program that will get its students jobs; a state school announces it is a nationally recognized “Research University;” another college brags that a famous speech had been given there; and, (my favorite) a university shows a massive picture of two clinched bare knuckled fists sporting ten championship rings from various NCAA playoffs. Taken together these billboards are fifteen minutes of fame for the colleges and universities that line the interstate highways of America (well, 15 seconds at 7O mph).

To be fair, you can’t put a picture of a celebrated teacher on a billboard (who would pay the bill?—not the athletic department), nor would any good teacher want that: Praise to face is open disgrace, as the old rule would have it. And if you were an honored teacher, you would probably not want to be celebrated at the half time ceremony of a football game—something I once witnessed.

So what’s to be done? Not much as it turns out. There is of course satisfaction in itself from teaching well; not unlike the pleasure of learning is the pleasure of learning—thus a liberal arts education, also not a valued currency.

Or there is this, again from April Inventory:

“There is a gentleness survives
That will outspeak and has its reasons.
There is a loveliness exists,
Preserves us, not for specialists.”

Robert Day is the author of ten books, including novels; works of literary non-fiction; collections of short stories; novellas; memoir; and poetry. His most recent book is Robert Day for President: An Embellished Campaign Autobiography. He has lived on the Eastern Shore since 1970. 

This essay was originally published in the Baltimore Sun and used with its permission.