Dear Donald (if I may),
I suspect you have heard this from others; but for my part, you have really come along at the worst possible time. You see, I have been planning a return to the Republican Party for a long time, and you are standing in my way. Let me explain. In the fall of 1992 I was 12 years old. My father was a Naval Intelligence Officer who had served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and my mother was a stay-at-home mom who volunteered every week at our church’s crisis pregnancy center. We were as Republican as you get. That fall I wrote an impassioned editorial for my school paper championing the merits of President George H.W. Bush over the other guy I had never heard of.
Then, a few days later, the school held a straw poll: the other guy destroyed my guy. And a few months after that, the other guy was president. I couldn’t believe it. A year later my parents were divorced, and I found myself in a new sphere of influence that probably saved my life from complete disaster; it was rooted solidly among Democratic partisans. I felt like a fool for having been what I was just months before. Bill Clinton became my new guy.
But lots of conservative things in my life never went away, despite my newfound progressive verve. I was a Christian. My heroes were imaginative, high-minded traditionalists like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. A lot of people in my family were in the military, and I was proud of them. Also, my abhorrence for abortion never went away. I remember mixed feelings of relief and concern when I heard President Clinton talk about “safe, legal, and rare.” Well, let’s be sure it’s extremely rare, I thought. I also found solace in a tight-knit community of family and church. It never occurred to me that government could or should solve any of my problems — and yet I knew there were so many problems. My own experiences were teaching me that lasting solutions came from the ground up, not the top down.
I won’t bore you, Donald, with the next several years. I know you’re a busy man. Deals and things. But eventually I took comfort in a faux-pious disdain for the whole system, even as I found myself teaching American government at a high school and preparing for ordained ministry. I was interested in the kingdom of God, not the absurdities of so-called democracy.
And then, suddenly, I was a grown man. I was invested in society: a father, a taxpayer, an earner and provider. And in October of 2014 I stood at the grave of my grandfather, Captain Floyd R. “Pete” Petiprin — an exemplary specimen of the Greatest Generation — an orphan who had made his way in the world via scholarships, hard work, and 13 battles in the Pacific during World War II (including Pearl Harbor). A lifelong Republican, he believed in the institutions of America, beginning with the traditional family and the Church. My grandfather was the epitome of what Roger Scruton describes in How to Be a Conservative (2014) — among those whose “position is true but boring, that of their opponents exciting but false.” Donald, I came to realize that even if the kingdom of God wouldn’t map onto the politics of 21st-century America, there was much to fight to conserve. And I realized that it could be done with civility and even kindness. My grandfather, a shrewd and dignified veteran and churchman, was recently departed proof.
Almost as if on the wind of my grandfather’s death came the shifting sand of 2015: gay marriage, the Planned Parenthood videos, political correctness run amok on college campuses, and the unabashed return of the word “socialism.” As you know, Donald, something changed. And I was resolved not to have my head in the clouds. I love my community and my country. I am determined to help conserve what is best about both, and I shudder to think of the world my children may be stuck with. If my grandfather and so many of his generation fought and died for the liberties of those not yet born, the least I can do is risk unpopularity to pass on this wonderful, intangible property to my own posterity. Again to borrow from Roger Scruton, “Good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created.”
And so, for the first time in my adult life, I was really looking forward to voting for a Republican presidential candidate this year and never looking back. But then you came along, Donald. And try as I might, I can’t see anything of a holistic, conserving vision in what you say. When I manage to listen beyond your foul epithets, I don’t hear conservatism at all. I don’t hear a ground-up strategy for flourishing. I don’t hear an alternative vision of the common good to contrast with the progressivism I have happily abandoned. I hear phony, narcissistic scapegoating — quite unlike the cautious and principled but also generous and sacrificial ideal that emerged as I reminisced about Captain Pete Petiprin. And while I know that you might pick a Supreme Court justice or two whose discernment could help achieve various holy ends, that just isn’t enough. I’ll hold out for ending abortion without your inhumane rhetoric.
Here’s one more from Roger Scruton (whom you really must read, Donald).
We recover the truth by re-covering the void … not staring into it mournfully until we faint and fall, but by turning away from it, and shoring up the structures that it threatens. … And we should resist those who wished to turn their backs on loss completely, to sweep away the shadows and the corners and the old loved doorways, and to replace the city with a great glass screen above the chasm, into which we will stare forever more.
Donald, I look at you, and I see the void growing. So I will waste my vote on someone with no chance of success and wonder if there really is any kind of movement afoot out there to make America great again. I hope (and expect) that there is. And maybe you won’t get the nomination after all. Or if you do, maybe no one will have enough votes in the Electoral College.
Or maybe you will indeed be the next President of the United States.
If so, I will hope for the best. Maybe it will usher in a new era; maybe your opponents in both parties will learn to hold the executive branch within the constitutional limits that have been flagrantly disregarded over the last 16 years. In that case, maybe your timing isn’t so bad after all. Or at any rate, maybe your dark cloud has a silver lining.
God only knows. And he really does, Donald. God made you and me and rules the whole universe. He will be your judge and mine. He is so beyond “yuge” it would make your head spin.
The Rev. Andrew K. Petiprin
Other posts by Andrew Petiprin are here. The featured image comes via Rolling Stone.